So, here's the situation: I walk up to you at a coffee shop and put an 11-inch laptop on the table. It's compact. It looks like a Netbook. I tell you it has a Core i5 processor, a 500GB hard drive, 6GB of RAM. Then I tell you it's $550. You're interested, right? At that price, why wouldn't you be? (Acer also says the Aspire V5 will initially be available for $500 through a limited-time Facebook promotion.)
The Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 is a "Wait until I tell you the price" laptop. I call it that because, until that price floats past your ears, the V5 is just another unattractive little plastic gadget, a laptop that seems at first to be lost in a time warp from the days of Netbooks and before iPads. Our expectations for what a portable gadget can look like have changed, the bar has been raised -- but, pure performance and price are areas where a computer like the Acer can still shine.
Remember the Acer Aspire Timeline X 1830T? This is the successor to that 11-inch laptop, an ultraportable that compared extremely favorably at the time to Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air. This new Aspire V5 has the same appeal; after all, it shares the specs of full-blown 13-inch ultrabook. The hard-drive space matches what you'd see on a regular mainstream computer. Yes, there's an Ethernet jack; yes, there are HDMI and USB 3.0 ports. You're getting a no-compromise machine under the hood, at more than $100 (maybe $200) less than any equivalent ultrabook costs. Compared with the 11-inch MacBook Air at $999, the Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 literally costs half as much.
There are drawbacks, of course. The keyboard feels cramped because of a narrow palm rest; the touch pad is small; the larger 500GB hard drive isn't a fast solid-state drive (although, compared with the puny 64GB of space on the entry-level MacBook Air, you're getting a king's ransom of space), and the internal speakers are terrible. The biggest letdown might be battery life: the Aspire V5-171-6867 lasted only 3 hours and 49 minutes in our video playback test, while the Timeline X 1830T I reviewed two years ago -- the V5's predecessor in spirit -- ran for more than an hour longer.
However, if you want a power ultraportable that gives you all the performance you're looking for from a mainstream laptop at a fraction of the size and price, the Acer Aspire V5 is unbeatable. You just have to live with a lot of hand cramping and maybe some squinting. Many people might simply prefer to either go with an iPad or a larger ultrabook instead.
|Price as reviewed||$550|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||6GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.2x8 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.98 pounds / 3.38 pounds|
There aren't many Windows PC makers exploring 11-inch ultrabook-quality ultraportables at the moment, for whatever reason. This isn't the first time that Acer's delved into 11-inch laptops: the Acer Aspire One was a similarly sized device with a Netbook-level AMD processor, and a near-equivalent to the Acer Aspire V5 from a couple of years ago, again, is the Timeline X 1830T, a laptop I prized at the time for its performance.
The metallic gray plastic body recalls 11-inch AMD-powered budget machines and Netbooks more than sleeker, better-designed ultrabooks. Standard matte-black plastic underneath, a grille vent on the left side of the base, and a slightly bulging rear where the removable four-cell battery is attached all feel like design throwbacks. This laptop won't turn many heads; in fact, it looks like a machine that got fished up from 2009.
This Acer Aspire V5 is thick for an ultraportable, 1.1 inches at its thickest spot. You notice the difference when you hold it in your hand. Its weight, at 3 pounds, matches what you'd find in a 13-inch ultrabook more than a supersmall 11-inch ultraportable. That said, this Acer slides neatly into even a small bag, although the tiny bit of added bulk and weight can be felt when carrying it around for a while. Even the included AC charger is small, a little three-pronged wall wart.
There's no technical problem with this Acer's raised chiclet keyboard: wide keys, good key travel, and properly proportioned keys are all what I'd look for, plus the edge-to-edge keyboard makes the most of the Acer's narrow dimensions. (It's not backlit, though, which is frustrating.) My problem came from the keyboard's positioning, which affects the available wrist-rest space and touch-pad size. Instead of the MacBook Air approach, which pushes the keyboard right up to the display to offer as much touch-pad and wrist-rest space as possible, this Acer's keyboard floats in the middle (probably because of the large hinge/battery taking up space in the rear), making for a cramped front end. This happened in previous 11-inch Acers, and the result is largely the same: typing feels less comfortable, and access to the clickpad becomes more difficult.
The multitouch Synaptics clickpad is actually quite good for such a small, budget laptop, and it's an improvement on previous Acer ultraportables. I just found it hard to pull off two-finger gestures because of the limited surface area. This laptop screams to be connected to a Bluetooth mouse or even an external keyboard for desktop use.
If you went ahead and did that, this Acer could be intriguing option as a home computer: add a monitor and tuck the Acer away in a corner, and you have a solid home machine for a reasonable price. The price of the Aspire V5-171-6867 is close to those of budget desktops. It's not nearly as versatile, but it's smaller. Still, what it would really be useful for is travel. Just be forewarned that the keyboard feels cramped because of the palm rest.
One small detail that helps in narrow spaces is that this Acer's screen can be bent back nearly 180 degrees, which can be helpful when lap-typing in a tiny space, such as a bus seat. The 11-inch glossy display has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, standard for screens up to 13 inches (and even bigger than that). Text and video look readable and nothing feels crowded. This screen doesn't offer good viewing angles, though -- looking off-axis turns the screen into a mushy, glare-filled affair. The screen quality is good enough for everyday portable use, and videos looked fine as well.
The speakers are another story: they're terrible. Stereo speakers located on the Aspire's underbelly push out weak, tinny sound, almost as if there were an AM radio installed there. Maximum volume is extremely soft, even in a quiet room. An iPad speaker sounds better. Wear headphones.
An included 1.3-megapixel camera offers a good Web-chat-ready experience, especially for this system's size.
This is as good a place as any to discuss preinstalled trialware: Acer includes it without shame, and pop-ups will frustrate you. In a budget Windows laptop, this generally comes with the territory.
|Acer Aspire V5-171-6867||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|