Acer's Aspire R 13 isn't your typical 2-in-1 notebook. Its unique, screen-flipping design lets you spin the display around to get a nice, angled surface for taking notes right on the laptop's screen.
It's not as slim and sleek as some other ultraportable notebooks, but the R 13 is far more versatile than your average work laptop. Plus, you get fast performance, excellent battery life and a high-quality keyboard. And, starting at $899, it's a pretty good value.
The R 13 doesn't have a detachable display, nor does its screen simply fold backward like other hybrid laptops. Instead, Acer's machine has a unique design that lets the screen flip around 180 degrees on a floating hinge. The result is a notebook that's more flexible than even Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro, since it offers a few modes you won't find on that notebook.
The most notable feature is the low-angle "Ezel" mode, which positions the touch display over the keyboard at the perfect angle for digital note-taking. Switching between the standard notebook mode and Ezel mode is smooth and effortless, so you can easily toggle between typed and handwritten notes. There's also the usual tablet, notebook and "tent" modes that you'll find on typical folding hybrids.
In terms of appearance, the R 13 is a mixed bag. I love the look of the smooth plastic back, which has a reflective coating that almost makes it look like glass. That smooth look, combined with the machine's blend of curves and right angles, gives it a futuristic appearance. The notebook's gunmetal-gray deck is also pretty slick.
On the other hand, it's hard to deny that the R 13 is a bit clunky compared to the aerodynamic designs of some competing machines. The notebook is boxy, and the way the floating frame extends only halfway up the sides of the screen makes it almost look like Acer forgot to finish building the thing.
At 3.3 lbs., the R 13 is significantly lighter than Toshiba's Satellite Click 2 Pro (4.4 lbs.), which has a detachable display. It feels downright heavy compared to featherweights like the Yoga 3 Pro (2.6 lbs.), however. Likewise, the R 13's footprint (13.5 x 9 inches) falls right between the Click 2 Pro (13 x 9.8 inches) and the Yoga 3 Pro (13 x 9 inches).
Buyers can opt for either full-HD (1920 x 1080) or quad-HD (2560 x 1440) resolution for the R 13's 13.3-inch touch screen. My review unit came with the former, which is more than adequate for a screen this size. Text looked crisp, and the display offered plenty of screen space for split-screen multitasking.
It's not as bright as competing displays, topping out at 238 nits, compared to the 255-nit category average. That could only be a problem if you intend to use the device outdoors or in direct sunlight, though; it's fine for indoor use.
Keyboard and touchpad
Right off the bat, you'll notice that the R 13's keyboard layout differs from the traditional setup in some ways. The most notable difference is that there is no dedicated row of Fn function keys above the number keys. As a result, the Delete key was moved to the bottom of the keyboard, just to the left of the arrow keys. It's more than a little annoying for touch typists like myself who are used to reaching up and hitting that key on the top-right corner of most keyboards.
Otherwise, the R 13's keyboard feels pretty good, with individual keys providing a decent level of tactile feedback and the deck showing little to no flex during typing. Key travel is a bit on the short side, though — 1.1 mm, compared to the 1.5-mm average. That's unfortunate, since deeper keys are usually more comfortable for extended typing sessions. Overall, though, this keyboard is a winner.
I also liked the touchpad. Mousing around felt responsive, and the touchpad's smooth-plastic finish allowed my fingers to glide easily over it. Gestures like two-finger scrolling also worked well, and the pad is fairly large because the left and right buttons are incorporated into the pad itself. That's a trade-off: Dedicated buttons allow for more precise clicks, but integrated buttons give you more room to navigate.
One of the best reasons to choose a convertible notebook like the R 13 over something more traditional is for easier digital note-taking with a stylus. Unfortunately, Acer didn't include a stylus with the R 13, nor does the notebook include a digitizer, which would give the screen pressure sensitivity.
On the bright side, Acer's Aspire Active Stylus – which is sold separately for an extra $50 – can measure pressure on its own. In other words, it can tell how hard you're pressing down with the pen. That's important, because pressure sensitivity allows for more precise and natural handwriting than you'll get with a standard capacitive stylus. In this case, the pressure-sensitive comes from the tip of the pen itself, not the screen.
But although it's rated to measure 256 levels of pressure, it feels less precise than that in actual use. I also noticed that strokes have a noticeable amount of wobble to them, no matter how neat your handwriting is. Overall, the writing experience on the R 13 can't compare to digitizer-equipped machines like the Surface Pro 3. That disqualifies the pen for professional art and design tasks.
But let's not overstate things. Acer's stylus works pretty well for basic note-taking, highlighting and annotating — especially when coupled with the R 13's flexible design, which gives you the perfect angle for writing. The notebook also comes with Microsoft's excellent OneNote software preinstalled, which makes it easy to organize your notes and back them up to the cloud.
Ports and connectivity
The R 13 packs the usual ports you'd expect to see in a thin notebook like this one, including two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port for connecting peripherals like a mouse, keyboard or external hard drive; an HDMI-out port for linking the notebook up to a larger desktop monitor; and an SD card reader to expand the machine's internal storage.
Don't expect stellar picture quality out of the R 13's front-facing 720p webcam. A selfie I snapped in my naturally lit workspace was grainy, with a fair amount of visual noise.
That's typical for notebook webcams, though. And, in fact, the camera will more than suffice for basic videoconferencing with colleagues or clients. The R 13 also packs loud speakers that top out at 91 decibels — well over the 84-dB average for ultraportable notebooks — so you'll have no trouble hearing the person on the other end.
The R 13 is a good pick for business users who want a convertible notebook that lasts. The machine ran for a solid 7 hours and 36 minutes in our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set at 100 nits of brightness. That's better than the ultraportable average of 7:18, and significantly longer than similar hybrids like the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro (6:29) and the Toshiba Satellite Click 2 Pro (5:37).
Specs and performance
You can buy the Aspire R 13 in a variety of configurations, with the top-of-the-line model offering an Intel Core 97-5500U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB solid-state drive, all for $1,500. The sweet spot for most business users is the baseline Core i5 model, which sells for about $900 depending on which third-party retailer you buy from.
My review unit came with the following specifications:
- Intel Core i5-4210U 1.70 GHz
- 13.3-inch full-HD (1920 x 1080p) 16:9 IPS display
- Intel HD Graphics 4400
- 8GB, LPDDR3
- 128GB SSD
During my testing time, the R 13 felt extremely fast. It had no trouble handling a heavy workload, even when I tried to tax the system by streaming HD video, editing multiple large documents and juggling more than a dozen tabs in my Firefox Web browser.
Upgrading to the more premium models gives you even more speed. The top-end version comes with dual SSDs that provide blazing-fast drive performance, including sub-10-second boot times.
The R 13 comes with a fairly clean copy of Windows 8.1, without much bloatware (unwanted software that comes preloaded). You do get some handy productivity apps from Microsoft, including OneNote for digital note-taking, Skype for basic videoconferencing and OneDrive for keeping your files backed up and accessible from anywhere. The R 13 also ships with a one-month trial of Microsoft Office — including Word, Excel and PowerPoint — though you'll have to pay for a full license to keep using the software after that.
Buyers will also be eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it launches later this year. That's a big perk, since the software looks better optimized for a touch screen like the one on the Aspire R 13.
Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro is a folding hybrid notebook that's slimmer and lighter than the Aspire R 13, but it has slower performance and worse battery life.
Toshiba's Satellite Click 2 Pro is a speedy hybrid with a fully detachable display, but it's heavier than the Aspire R 13.
The XPS 13 from Dell is a fast notebook that crams a 13-inch display into a notebook with the footprint of a typical 11-incher, but it's a standard laptop that lacks 2-in-1 functionality.
Acer's Aspire R 13 is a high-performance hybrid notebook that justifies its folding design. For digital note-taking, the notebook's "Ezel" mode is a lot more useful than the standard tablet mode of folding hybrids like the Yoga 3 Pro.
The R 13 also offers a pretty good keyboard, fast performance and solid battery life. It's not the prettiest, slimmest or lightest work notebook around, and other machines provide better stylus tech, but it's an extremely well-rounded package at a fair price.