The Acer Aspire E15 might not look like much at first glance, especially when comparing its all-plastic body to the sleek aluminum exterior of systems like the Dell Inspiron 15 5000. It tries to compensate with a fabric-like pattern that adds grippy texture, but there is no doubting the plastic feel of the notebook when you pick it up.
Add in how the empty the optical drive slot feels (if you opt out of getting one), and the Aspire E15 ends up with an almost toy-like quality to it.
The notebook's charcoal color exterior and white interior has an attractive, minimalist, aesthetic. But part of me wishes that the computer came in all black, or even the solid metallic color like the Lenovo Z51. Anything but white, since it contrasts so heavily with minor blemishes, along with any dust or crumbs that get stuck in the tiny cross stitch pattern.
However, there is a lot more to the system once you sit down with it.
Fortunately, there's a lot more going on under the hood that compensates for the notebook's toy-like feel. There is a fast 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, a whopping 16GB of memory, a 1TB hard drive, and a 15.6-inch screen that supports 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. Furthermore, the system has a discrete Nvidia GeForce 940M video processor to play some games.
It isn’t always powerful enough to crank gaming settings up all the way, but it's adequate enough to play games like Civilization Beyond Earth and even Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare at medium to low settings. Colorful games, like Ori and the Blind Forest, render spectacularly on the glare-proof screen.
Unfortunately, the screen has terrible viewing angles. Unless you're looking straight on, the picture ends up looking distorted and washed out. Even looking at the screen a few degrees off center brings out the worst in this display. It's just good enough for watching movies while only shifting slightly in your seat, so this isn't a notebook to use on flights.
Additionally, the downward firing speakers need a solid surface to bounce sound off of, which limits where you can place the laptop and how you use it. I could hardly hear anything with the notebook resting on my lap.
A granite countertop works a lot better, but even then, I have to turn the volume up all the way to watch Netflix. There isn't much bass to speak of either, so you’ll definitely need headphones or an external speaker to go with this system.
Fortunately, the chiclet keyboard is relatively comfortable to type on, even though the keys are a tad small for my taste – especially the top row of function buttons. There's a numeric keypad, which is a welcome feature, but it pushes the Home keys into the tiny top row, where it's easy to accidently hit the other keys. Also, the keys aren’t backlit, so the laptop’s usability takes a major dip in dark environments.
Specifications and performance
Coming at 5.29 pounds (2.39 kg), the Aspire E15 is on the heavier side for a notebook of its size. I hoped that the all-plastic exterior would make more of a weight difference, but that's not the case. By comparison, the Lenovo Z51 and Dell Inspiron 15 5000 weigh 5.07 pounds (2.3 kg) and 4.4 pounds 2 kg), respectively.
The Acer Aspire E15 has a 15.6-inch screen glare-free screen would be great if it weren't for its poor viewing angles. But some might forgive that fault when taking into account the hardware that comes packed in.
Here is the Acer Aspire E15 configuration given to techradar:
Storage: 1TB 5,400RPM SATA hard drive; SD card reader
Optical drive: None
Ports: 2 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x USB 2.0 port, HDMI, VGA port, headphone jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO; Gigabit Ethernet; Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 720p webcam
Weight: 5.29 pounds
Size: 15.02 x 10.08 x 0.98 inches (W x D x H)
The Aspire E15 retails for $800 or AU$1,499 (about £526), which is a good value, considering how much it is more powerful it is than its competitors, like the Lenovo Z51 and Dell Inspiron 15 5000. Unfortunately, the updated model is not yet available in the UK and Acer only has Broadwell-powered machines as of this writing.
The Lenovo Z51 is more affordable at $589 (but you’ll have to be willing to compromise with a slower processor and half the storage space. While the Z51 isn’t available in Australia, Lenovo UK offers a much better specced version of this notebook for £699.
The hardware presents a significant value, since it closely matches the similarly priced competitors, like the $649 Dell Inspiron 15 5000. Dell’s 15-inch notebook uses a lower-end Intel Core i5 chip, but on the plus side, it weighs a little less. However, with double the memory, a higher resolution screen and a more powerful 3D video card, the Aspire E15 pulls ahead in the graphical performance department.
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 is better equipped in other territories. You can get this laptop fully stocked with a Core i7 processor for £699 and AU$1,039.
If you're looking for performance, then the Acer Aspire E15 is certainly equipped to impress. It gets high scores in both processor and graphics benchmarking tests.
Unsurprisingly, the Aspire E15 features some impressive graphics scores, which handily beat what the Lenovo Z51 and Dell Inspiron 15 5000 put up. The Inspiron 15 5000’s discrete AMD graphics delivers 3DMark Cloud Gate score of 5,558; a Sky Diver score of 4,249 and 1,211 for Fire Strike. This means that the Aspire E15's Nvidia 940M outperforms it in every graphics test, most by over 1,000 points.
However, that's tempered by how the Cinebench score shows only a marginal difference, with the Aspire being the slower of the two. But, no matter what the test, the Aspire E15 positively blows the Lenovo Z51 away, which has a Cloud Gate score of 4,228 and 549 for Fire Strike.
The E15’s battery is rated for about 5 hours, and you might get four hours or so out of it, if you stick to low-power tasks like watching videos. Battery life plummets once you switch to more intensive tasks, like copying data from a flash drive.
If you plan on doing any traveling or commuting with the Aspire E15, you’ll need to make sure there's always an outlet available.
With a PCMark 8 estimate of 2 hours and 30 minutes of lasting power, the Aspire E15 only marginally beats out the Lenovo Z51, while the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 wins out with up to 3 hours of battery at high performance settings.
abDocs - An included backup system that automatically syncs Office documents to Acer's cloud service.
abPhoto - Software for editing, organizing, and sharing photos across multiple devices using Acer's cloud service.
McAfee Livesafe - Notebook comes with anti-virus software and a free 30-day subscription.
I consider the Acer Aspire E15's bad viewing angles and poor speakers to be real deal breakers. The system almost makes up for its shortcomings with its powerful graphics chip and abundance of memory, but great specs aren’t enough to make you forget about the laptop’s irritating annoyances.
The hardware offered here presents a great value, with 16GB of memory, a power Core i7 CPU, and Nvidia 940M graphics. This computer is good for both function and fun, at a price that’s easy on your wallet.
There are faults that are frankly hard to look past. The laptop’s matte screen is ruined by poor viewing angles. Then there are the weak speakers, no backlighting on the small keys and how its plastic body makes it feel like a toy. This wouldn't be my first choice for an on-the-go entertainment system.
You'll have to weigh out your priorities when considering whether or not to pick up the Acer Aspire E15. On one hand, it features impressive hardware and performance for a reasonable price. On the other hand, nagging problems, like the viewing angle, are bound to become more annoying over time. Consider this budget notebook only if you don't intend to move it very much.