Mid-2016 is a good time to be shopping around for a new computer without spending a fortune. Between Chromebooks, tablets and budget Windows laptops, there’s a bunch of different options to suit the budget-minded customer.
The Acer Aspire R11 is an 11-inch, Windows 10 laptop-tablet hybrid that falls right into budget territory at £220 (at the time of writing), but while the pricing seems awfully tempting, does this affordable laptop deliver?
A tough build… mostly
The Acer Aspire R11 has a very nice plastic, textured shell and when you pick it up, you can definitely tell that this thing is built like a tank. Because it’s so hefty and not exactly the thinnest laptop around, it’s not the kind of machine you’d envision taking on a business trip or casual trip to the coffee shop — but rather the kind of laptop you’d use on the sofa at home.
Take a few pokes at the main body of the Aspire R11 and you should be pleased with how sturdy it is, and until now I’ve noticed only two small nitpicks. Firstly, if you press down enough on the keyboard or trackpad, the entire surface of the laptop bends a little; and the display is far from rock solid either.
However neither of these will make you lose sleep at night, especially at this price.
All the necessary ports
On the left flank of the Acer Aspire R11 you’ll find one ethernet and one HDMI port, two USB ports, and an audio jack. Flip to the right side and there’s the power button, a volume rocker and a port for the power cable. Acer have cleverly squeezed in an SD card slot on the base of the laptop, but directly under the display. It’s unusual and not very eye catching, so you’ll need to look for it!
A disappointing display
A good display is one of my main priorities when buying a laptop, and unfortunately the Acer Aspire R11 really disappoints in this department. And in this case it’s not even about high resolutions, it’s just that the viewing angles are poor; you need to position the display at a very precise angle in order to view it optimally.
When you do set up a nice angle, colours actually look vibrant and for evening or casual use, the display is bright enough too. In brighter conditions however, you may wish you had a brighter display.
Now here’s the thing: you could argue that this laptop doesn’t cost very much, but taking into account that the Acer Aspire R11 is supposed to turn into a tablet too, the display feels very limiting.
Use as a tablet or laptop
That brings me to the next thing: the hinge. Acer have actually built a really good hinge for the Aspire R11 that enables you to use it as a tablet or in ‘tent mode’ for comfortable viewing, and it provides just enough resistance to make it feel strong, yet fluid enough to make the laptop-to-tablet transition easy.
Windows’ auto-rotate feature works quite well here and responds fairly quickly, but once again the display causes problems. Unless you’re at a very particular angle, you can’t actually see what’s on the display — so if you’re on an airplane intending to watch movies on your seat tray with limited space to play with, forget it.
Once you do flip the display all the way around you’ve got a heavy and chunky tablet to play with. You probably won’t be able to use this for prolonged gaming sessions or binge watching, but it’s perfectly usable if you want to pass along a video of your family weekend or give a presentation.
So let’s start with the hardware. Acer’s ‘chiclet’ style keyboard feels very good to type on; the keys are well spaced and have a good amount of travel to them. The trackpad is unusually wide for a Windows laptop (and that’s a good thing), and apart from the times when the entire system is being slow, it actually performs well.
The Aspire R11 is packing two decent speakers on the base of the laptop which are surprisingly loud. It won’t be the most clear set of speakers you’ve ever listened to, but because they’re downward-facing they’ll use the surface beneath to amplify the sound.
With only 4GB of DDR3 RAM, an Intel Celeron processor and 500GB of hard drive storage, the Aspire R11’s general performance has been quite sluggish. Booting up this laptop can take over a minute at times, and simple tasks like opening up an app can take more than 10 seconds. It’s fine for a casual user who just wants to reply to emails in the evening or log onto Facebook, but you’ll struggle to get anything serious done on the R11.
The front-facing HD camera is more than good enough for Skype video calls and finally, battery life has been surprisingly positive on the Aspire R11. I have been able to go for a few days of casual use before needing to charge it back up, and on constant use (depending on what you’re doing) I could squeeze between 5-6 hours of use from it.
Acer Aspire R11 laptop: verdict
Although there are plenty of options at the lower and mid end of the laptop market, the reality is that you’ll always need to make some sort of compromise on quality or performance. That’s something I can accept. However the Acer Aspire R11 is one of those machines that, unfortunately, seems to make one too many compromises which makes it difficult to recommend. The slow performance and poor display is enough to put me off.
If you’re really set on going Windows, my suggestion is to spend a little more and go for something with a SSD (Solid State Drive) and 4GB to 8GB of RAM (or more). Even if the display isn’t super high tech, you’ll have a device on your hands that performs well and is future proof.