"The Acer Aspire 5 is an ultra-cheap laptop and it feels like one."
Comfortable keyboard and touchpad
Thin and light
Good choice of ports
The battery life is poor
Feels cheap and pliable
Windows laptops under $ 500 are usually sad, low-performing devices. But the Acer Aspire 5 has always been an exception.
Last year's model, which was only $ 400, combined impressive performance in terms of price, battery life, and build quality to make it the best budget laptop you could buy.
Acer has a new model this year, but this time I'm testing a more expensive $ 550 version. The configuration includes a Core i5-1035G1 instead of a Core i3, 8 GB of RAM versus 4 GB, and a 256 GB solid-state drive (SSD) instead of just 128 GB. The same $ 400 configuration is still available, as is an option for AMD's Ryzen 4000 CPUs.
Time did not stand still. I've been reviewing some excellent budget laptops lately and the pressure on the Aspire 5 has increased. Does the new model keep its high status or has it fallen behind?
As before, the Acer Aspire 5 is mainly made of plastic. The aluminum lid supposedly adds stiffness, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. The lid is still very flexible and can easily be bent in the middle with light pressure. The keyboard deck has some yields that aren't that outrageous, and the bottom of the case also yields to light pressure. It's not uncommon to see laptops at this price point, like the all-plastic Dell Inspiron 14 5000 I recently reviewed for $ 650.
However, other devices like the Lenovo Yoga C640, Lenovo Flex 5 14, and Acer Swift 3 all cost the same price as the Aspire 5 I'm reviewing – although they are 13- and 14-inch laptops, and we don't have them seen a superior 15-inch budget laptop – but they offer much better build quality. With the Aspire 5 starting price at $ 400, that's not that big of a deal, but with only about $ 50 separating the models, the difference in build quality becomes a bigger issue.
There's no bling to speak of, which is good on a plastic laptop.
The aesthetics of the Acer Aspire 5 are okay for the price, at least in the silver color I tested. There's no bling to speak of, though that's not a bad thing on a plastic laptop. Too much counterfeit chrome can make a laptop look cheap if there are no authentic materials to secure it. The Aspire 5 is also available in red and black, which are more visually appealing and offer a little more interest.
One advantage of the Asprie 5, however, is its size. It's not thick for a budget 15-inch 0.71-inch laptop. At 3.97 pounds, it's not overly heavy either. That's in his favor. The display bezels may be narrow on the sides, but the top bezel is quite large by modern standards and the chin is just big, period. That gives the laptop more width and depth than more premium laptops – no surprise, but it has to be said.
Connectivity is a strength. You get a USB-C Gen 1 port (not Thunderbolt 3, which is unsurprising at this price point), two USB-A 3.1 ports, a USB-A 2.0 port, an HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP support, and an RJ-45 Ethernet connector. With the Aspire 5, you don't need many dongles.
The wireless connectivity is up to date with Wi-Fi 6 on board and Bluetooth 5.0.
The Core i5-1035G1 in my review unit is a mediocre performer and is best for basic productivity, web browsing, multimedia consumption, and the like. They are the latest quad-core processors from Intel and are standard on portable laptops like this one. However, as I ran the Aspire 5 through our benchmark suite, it became clear that Acer's implementation is a bit slower than average here.
In Geekbench 5, for example, the Aspire 5 achieved 1.1129 points in the single-core test and 2.899 points in the multi-core test. This is a step behind the 1,169 and 3,197 points found on the Dell Inspiron 14 5000, and even further behind the 1,215 and 3,615 points managed by the Intel-based Acer Swift 3. Note that the Lenovo Flex 5 14 for $ 600 with an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U CPU scored 1,096 and 4,543 points, demonstrating AMD's new dominance in this price range. That's what you get with two additional cores.
It's not a speed demon, but the Aspire 5 is fast enough for its intended purpose.
The same was true for our more realistic test, which used Handbrake to encode a 420MB video as H.265. The Aspire 5 took a little more than five minutes to complete the test, while the Inspiron 14 finished almost 30 seconds earlier and the Spin 3 was almost a minute faster. The AMD-powered Flex 5 14 finished in less than three minutes and blew the rest of the field.
The Aspire 5 is fast enough for its intended purpose and certainly faster than the previous year's model with a dual-core Core i3. It's not a speed demon, however, and that's why you'll want to keep your expectations in check.
It also uses Intel's lowest UHD graphics so all but the lightest games are out of the question. Other laptops with 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processors have faster Iris Plus graphics, but Acer went for the cheaper option. If you want a faster (and more expensive) laptop but otherwise like the Aspire 5, consider the AMD Ryzen 4000 versions – you get much better performance.
I called last year's Aspire 5 display "better than budget". Nowadays that description feels less appropriate.
The 2020 Aspire 5 has a very similar touchless display to the last one. The brightness was 243 nits versus 238 nits, and the color gamut was equally narrow at 64% sRGB (versus 62%) and 47% AdobeRGB (versus 46%). Color accuracy was also close to 2.49 versus 2.42, and gamma was almost equally dark at 2.6 versus 2.7 (2.2 is perfect). The only significant difference was in contrast to where the 2020 Aspire 5 only managed 720: 1 while the earlier model got a much better 890: 1.
This is still a fairly common result for budget laptops, especially in terms of color gamut, but we can see that some budget computers do much better. For example, the Lenovo Yoga C640 achieved 96% sRGB and 73% AdobeRGB with a color accuracy of 1.07 (1.0 and less are considered excellent). This is the field of premium laptops, and while there are still few such devices around at this price point, there is a real possibility that the displays will gradually improve.
I can't fault this ad too much though. The panels offered by the Lenovo Flex 5 or the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 are just as inconspicuous. And in everyday use, it's good enough for productivity work and internet surfing – although the gamma is too dark for pleasant Netflix bingeing.
The audio remained a strong point, with ample volume that didn't distort when cranked up, and a bit of bass to match solid mids and highs. You can watch your Netflix binge and YouTube videos without headphones or bluetooth speakers, although the latter has been recommended as usual if you want to listen to your music.
Keyboard and touchpad
The Aspire 5's typical backlit keyboard offers a lot of clearance, although the keycaps are a bit small. The mechanism is on the crunch side, however, which is a plus. Button presses are registered without too much pressure, and there is a comfortable floor movement that helps with precision. I had no problem typing at full speed.
Like many inexpensive 15-inch laptops, the Aspire 5 also has a number pad on the right. This is useful for some, but the touchpad moves uncomfortably to the left.
The touchpad uses Microsoft Precision drivers and has a smooth surface with just enough grip to make swiping and scrolling comfortable. Multi-touch gestures are triggered exactly as they should. This doesn't always apply to the touchpads on budget laptops. I'll count this in favor of the Aspire 5. You don't get the glass touchpad of a premium laptop, but for the price, the Aspire 5 does the cut.
The fingerprint scanner in the upper right corner of the touchpad didn't impress me. It worked well enough for Windows 10 login without a password, but the location is distracting.
Thanks to its energy-saving Core i3 CPU, the Aspire 5 received great praise last year for its long battery life. This year's Core i5 model has the same battery capacity of 48 watt hours and is nowhere near the performance of the previous version.
In our demanding Basemark web benchmark test, the 2020 Aspire 5 lasted just under three hours, compared to the previous year's model, which lasted four hours. The Lenovo Flex 5 with its Ryzen CPU also lasted almost an hour longer.
The 2020 Aspire 5 managed a little over four hours when switching to web browsing, a very disappointing score that is less than half of the 2019 model's nine hours. The Flex 5 outperformed again at eight hours, and the Acer Swift 3 with the same CPU lasted seven hours.
The battery life went from a strength to a weakness.
The 2020 Aspire 5 performed slightly better in the video loop test, which runs through a Full HD Avengers trailer, until the battery is empty. Here it took about 9.5 hours compared to the Aspire 5 2019 after 13 hours and the Flex 5 after 11 hours.
The bottom line is that battery life has gone from a strength to a weakness and it's not much better than the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 which had an even worse battery life. The Aspire 5 might get you through much of a day of typical productivity tasks, but you'll want to take your charger with you just in case. While I haven't tested it myself, the Core i3 model could get closer to last year's results.
The Acer Aspire 5 is much more attractive at $ 400 for a Core i3, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. This pricing is still tough to compete with. At $ 550, however, we expect more. Better build quality, better performance, better battery life, and better displays are becoming the norm even at low prices.
Is there a better alternative?
I haven't tested a better 15-inch Windows laptop than the Aspire 5, but there are plenty of powerful Chromebook options out there.
On the Windows side, the Lenovo Flex 5 14 with its AMD Ryzen CPU is a good choice. It has a slightly smaller display but is much faster, has better battery life, and more robust build quality. It's also a 2-in-1, which makes it a more flexible option for just $ 50 more.
Acer's Swift 3 Ryzen is another great option if you're looking to spend $ 100 more. It's also faster, looks better, has better battery life, and improved build quality.
Finally, if size isn't important at all, you can resort to a 13-inch model and get the Lenovo Yoga C640. The all-metal construction is superior and the battery life is much better. Performance will lag a bit thanks to the Core i3 CPU, but again, it's a very functional 2-in-1 for just $ 50 more.
How long it will take?
Despite the cheap chassis, the Acer Aspire 5 is built well enough to last a few years, there's no doubt about that. Apart from the fact that it lacks Thunderbolt 3, it has the latest components, including Wi-Fi 6. However, we always want more than the one-year warranty.
Should you buy it?
No. The cheaper configuration offers more attractive value, but there are cheaper laptops available.