Acer Aspire 5

With high-end laptops getting ever slimmer, lighter and more expensive, while budget laptops continue to show that they can still be perfectly capable options despite their rock-bottom prices, it can be easy to overlook mid-range machines such as the Acer Aspire 5.

Rather than packing cutting-edge technology and extravagant designs, many of these mid-rangers quietly and competently get on with the tasks you set them, while striking a balance between packing up-to-date and powerful components, and keeping prices as low as possible.

Midrange laptops are the laptops many of us are most likely to buy, and they’re ideal if you want something that’s future-proof, as they have more powerful and recent components than budget machines, but don't want to pay over the odds.

Acer has recently updated the Acer Aspire 5 range to include 8th-generation Intel Core processors, so now’s the perfect time to take a look at what this affordable laptop can do.

Price and availability

The Acer Aspire 5 comes in a range of configurations and price points, starting at $399 (around £300, AU$500) for the Acer Aspire 5 A515-51-3509, which comes with an Intel Core i3 7100U processor, 15.9-inch 1080p display, integrated graphics and 8GB of DDR4 RAM.

In the UK, the lowest-specced Aspire 5 comes with an older Intel i3-6006U processor, 15.6-inch Full HD display and 8GB of RAM, for £469.99. In Australia, the Aspire 5 A515-51G is the cheapest model, and comes with a new Intel Core i5 8250U processor, 15.6-inch 1366 x 768 display, 8GB RAM and a dedicated GeForce 940MX graphics card.

Beyond these budget options there's a huge range of Acer Aspire 5 configurations to choose from, which again vary depending on where you live, with top-of-the-line models like the Acer Aspire 5 A517-51G-8433 boasting an Intel Core i7 8550U processor, 17.3-inch 1080p screen, 12GB RAM, a HDD and SSD and dedicated graphics courtesy of an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU, for $999.99 (around £700, AU$1,200).

The version reviewed here is the Acer Aspire 5 A515-51-50Y5, which comes with an Intel Core i5 8250U, integrated graphics, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB SSD.

Design

The design of the Acer Aspire 5 is what you’d probably expect from a mid-range laptop: nothing too flashy, and not as svelte as ultrabooks such as the Dell XPS 13 or the Asus ZenBook 3. However, that doesn’t mean this is a chunky, ugly laptop. With dimensions of 2.16 x 38.16 x 26.3cm and a weight of 2.20kg (4.85 pounds), the Acer Aspire 5 is quite a large laptop, but it’s not too heavy or unwieldly to carry around. You may find it a bit of a struggle to whip out and work on a busy train, however.

It’s actually quite a nice-looking, understated machine with a few design flourishes. The chassis is mainly made out of plastic, with a textured surface on the lid, along with a reflective Acer logo. 

Opening the laptop reveals a decent-sized screen surrounded by fairly thick bezels, which some may feel is wasted space. It does, at least, allow for a large keyboard on the bottom half of the laptop, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The large bezels also mean the webcam can be positioned in the center of the top bezel, which in our opinion is the best place for a webcam to reside.

The bottom bezel holds another Acer logo, and below that is the nicely-designed laptop hinge that has ‘Aspire’ engraved on it – a nice touch, we think. The hinge allows for a decent degree of adjustment of the screen at a range of angles, although this isn’t a laptop on which you can flip the screen 360 degrees backwards, into a tablet-like position – for that you’ll want a convertible laptop, such as Acer’s own Spin 7 series.

The Acer Aspire 5 comes with two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0, a USB-C, Ethernet and SD memory card port, giving you plenty of options for connecting peripherals. 

We’d have liked maybe one of the USB 2.0 ports to be another USB 3.0, but the USB-C port is definitely a welcome addition that gives you some future-proofing.

Keyboard and touchpad

The bottom half of the laptop, where the large keyboard and touchpad sit, again has a plastic surface, but it has a brushed finish that, while not as premium as aluminum, is still quite pleasant. It didn’t take it too long to pick up fingerprints, however.

The keyboard itself is a nice size, which makes typing on it for long periods comfortable, although the flat keys and short travel distance mean it’s not the most responsive, or satisfying-feeling, keyboard we’ve tried.

The large form factor of the Acer Aspire 5 means it can hold a rather large touchpad, which is offset slightly to the left of the center of the chassis.

The large size ensures that using multi-finger gestures, such as pinching two fingers together to zoom out, is easy, although some people may find the larger size means they're more likely to accidentally rest their palm on it when typing, sending the curser flying around the screen. The touchpad also has a rather plastic and cheap feel to it when pushed, which is a shame, as the rest of the Aspire 5 manages to avoid that.

Acer bills the Aspire 5 as a laptop for day-to-day tasks, and for the most part it succeeds at these. The solid state drive (SSD) keeps Windows 10 feeling pretty fast, while the 8GB of RAM and quad-core Intel Core i7 8550U processor help with multi-tasking. For general Windows desktop applications, the Aspire 5 does a fine job – it doesn’t feel quite as nippy as more expensive laptops, but for regular use it’s absolutely fine.

As we just mentioned, the SSD in the model we tested helps to keep things running quickly, so if your budget allows we'd recommend going for a model with an SSD installed – and preferably with an additional standard hard drive as well. This is because the 256GB SSD our Aspire 5 came with was already pretty full without us installing much on it – you may find that you need to invest in an external hard drive to make room for your apps and media.

The IPS screen is decent, if a little washed-out, with contrast not being quite as strong as we’ve seen on other laptops. However, the Full HD (1920 x 1080) screen is welcome, making movies and photos look a lot better than on laptops with lower resolutions, and Acer has included its Color Intelligence technology, which it claims dynamically adjusts gamma and saturation in real time to make the screen look the best it can.

To be honest, we didn’t see much of a difference, and again for standard day-to-day tasks the screen will be fine, especially with that Full HD resolution; however, if you want to edit photos or videos, you may want to look at an alternative machine.

And if you’re a gamer then you should definitely look elsewhere, as while the integrated Intel 620 UHD graphics will handle photos and videos, and maybe a undemanding indie game or two, for the most part modern games won’t run well on this laptop – although, of course, that’s not what it’s been built for.

Battery life

Battery life was pretty impressive, with the Acer Aspire 5 lasting six hours and 48 minutes using the PCMark 8 battery test, which replicates medium to heavy use. If you dim the display a bit (we had it set to full brightness), and keep to light web-browsing and less strenuous tasks, you could eke out even longer life.

It at least means that you should get through most of a work day on a full charge, which compared to some laptops is really good, and a sign that the more power-efficient processor is paying off. In our own day-to-day use we found that the battery did a good job of letting us work on the Aspire 5 for most of the day.

The battery does take a while to charge, however – specifically three hours to get back to full capacity.

We liked

The Acer Aspire 5 has a nice design and good build quality – apart from the slightly loose-feeling touchpad. The large range of ports is welcome, and makes this a versatile laptop for using with a number of peripherals, and battery life is very good. It also remained cool and quiet during our tests.

For the price, you’ll feel like you’ve got your money’s worth with the Aspire 5, including some up-to-date components.

We didn’t like

The touchpad doesn’t feel as satisfying to use as those found on other laptops, and it’s an unfortunate reminder that this is not a premium device. 

The screen is also a little washed-out for our tastes, with contrast not as high as we'd have liked.

Final verdict

If you’re looking for a mid-range laptop that won’t cost the earth, but which isn’t compromised with cheap build quality and out-of-date components, then the Acer Aspire 5 is a great choice.

The range of configurations available means there’s a good chance you’ll find an Aspire 5 model that suits your needs and budget – while the model we tested wasn’t too capable when it came to graphical oomph, there are options to get an Aspire 5 with a dedicated graphics card.

Battery life was particularly good, so if you want an inexpensive laptop that can dependably handle day-to-day tasks without needing to be constantly plugged into a power socket, the Aspire 5 is definitely worth considering.

However, if you like your laptops to, well, aspire to something more, such as being able to run modern games or cope with heavy-duty image and video editing, then you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Matt Hanson
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