The sea of Windows 8 laptops is a rough one, full of confusing twists and turns. Do you buy a touch-screen laptop, or a regular one? Do you pick a clamshell, a convertible, or a hybrid? Sometimes it's best to play it safe.
That's exactly what the Acer Aspire M5 481PT-6488 is: a safe bet. At $729, this Best Buy-exclusive laptop configuration isn't too expensive. It's not too large. It still has classic, "old-school" features such as a DVD drive and a large-capacity 500GB hard drive -- both of which ultrabooks often don't have. It has a touch screen, too, but still operates like a regular old laptop if you want it to. Even the battery life is strong.
It's not particularly stellar in any one area, but as a total package, this feels flat-out reliable. And when you compare with the similarly configured and priced Acer Aspire V5 CNET recently reviewed, you get the same processor, hard drive, and screen resolution, but gain better battery life and 2GB more RAM in a smaller and lighter 14-inch-class aluminum body. And it's far more affordable than the thinner, sexier Acer Aspire S7; in fact, it's less than half the price.
Much like the Windows 7 version of the Acer Aspire M5 I previously reviewed, the touch-enabled Aspire M5 481PT with Windows 8 is a very good all-around laptop, even if it lacks the Nvidia dedicated graphics included in the last model. It's definitely worth a look for the risk-averse and budget-conscious Windows 8 laptop shopper who doesn't want to pay through the nose for touch.
|Price as reviewed||$729|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||6GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB, 5,400rpm + 20GB SSD hybrid|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.4x9.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.4 pounds / 5.1 pounds|
Design, display, keyboard/touch pad
Smooth dark-gray aluminum with a subtle brushed-metal finish covers all parts of the Acer M5, much like its predecessor. It doesn't scream sexy, but it's a good deal more solid-feeling and minimalist-chic than your average budget laptop. And it's thin-ish, too: 0.81 inch thick may not set your world on fire, but keep in mind that's including a tray-loading DVD drive. Weighing in at 4.4 pounds, it's above the standard ultrabook weight, but lighter and trimmer than the average midsize laptop. It'll slide easily into any bag.
The clean design continues on the inside: a large multitouch clickpad and chiclet-style (aka MacBook/Vaio-style) keyboard are surrounded by more of that gray aluminum. The side edges at the base are ever-so-slightly raised toward the rear, letting the lid nest a little when closed.
The upper lid is nearly all glass, framing a 14-inch 1,366x768-pixel display surrounded by a black bezel. Despite holding a touch screen, the upper lid manages to feel pretty diminutive; you'd never guess the touch capability was there until you made finger contact.
Multitouch capacitive gestures work excellently on the screen: finger contact is smooth and precise, and as crisp as on an iPad. I wish the same could be said for the screen quality itself. It's not terrible, but it's not IPS: the picture quality deteriorates at extreme viewing angles, and colors and brightness sometimes seem a bit washed out. The lid bends back nearly a full 180 degrees, allowing you to get comfy and maneuver that touch screen into a more lap-friendly orientation. It helps with some of the awkwardness of using touch navigation on a standard laptop with a keyboard in the way, but it's nothing like what the Lenovo Yoga can do.
I found myself getting used to using touch pretty quickly, and on a laptop this small, you can reach up and thumb-navigate while working very easily. In fact, where possible, I rarely used the touch pad -- but the clickpad is functional enough to work well on its own, although as it's slightly recessed, it's a little hard to pull off from-the-edge Windows 8 swipe gestures for Charms and the like. It also doesn't always pick up two-finger scrolling gestures that easily.
The backlit keyboard is quite comfortable, though. The keys have good travel and are well-spaced, and no keys are oddly misplaced or shaped, with the exception of some media-control keys that sit on the right side in front next to the Shift/Enter/Backspace keys.
Where's the power button? It took me a while to find it. Hint: it's a narrow little pill-shaped thing on the front edge of the Acer M5, nearly invisible to the naked eye. It's a bit of a cruel design practical joke.
Stereo speakers situated under the front of the Acer M5 have good-enough sound that you can enjoy a movie with someone else or stream music in a large living room. It's hard to tell what impact the "Dolby Home Theater Professionally Tuned" branding has. They're fine, but not great.
|Acer Aspire M5 481PT-6488||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Ports, features, performance
The Acer M5 has a spare but useful set of ports, almost all of them tucked away on the back edge: dual USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and Ethernet. An SD card slot and headphone jack are on the front of the right edge, while a tray-loading DVD drive is on the left. A lot of Windows 8 software and apps are well past the optical-drive age, but DVDs can still be handy for movie playback and burning backup discs.