With a stylish, textured lid, Acer's Aspire E5 looks more sophisticated than its low $380 price tag suggests. And it offers plenty more for workers to appreciate, including a nice 15.6-inch display, solid battery life and a full 10-key number pad. On the other hand, it's a bit on the heavy side, and business users might want to look for a laptop with more oomph than this notebook's Intel Core i3 processor can provide.
Budget laptops aren't known for great aesthetics, but the Aspire E5 still manages to be eye-catching with a cool faux-linen texture that gives the impression of overlapping cloth fibers. It helps give the all-plastic E5 a hint of premium appeal, while also warding off fingerprints. The interior keyboard deck, meanwhile, sports a textured woven diamond pattern.
You might not have many chances to show off the E5, though, since the machine is a little too hefty to carry around with you, tipping the scales at 5.29 lbs. Competing machines are more commuter-friendly, including the relatively lightweight Lenovo G50-45 (4.6 lbs.) and HP 15t Touch (4.73 lbs.). Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 is just a little bit lighter, though, at 5.11 lbs.
The E5's big, bright HD display might be its best feature. The 1,336 x 768-pixel panel looks sharp and vibrant, with good viewing angles. Text was crisp, and colors were nice and saturated. And at 15.6 inches, it provides plenty of real estate for screen-intensive tasks like editing large spreadsheets.
The screen is also brighter than average, topping out at 230 nits. That beats out the 192-nit average for budget notebooks, as well as the Inspiron 15 5000 (167 nits). Bright displays are good because they're easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight.
Keyboard and touchpad
The E5 keyboard is actually pretty good for a budget laptop. Key travel is about 1.6mm, which is better than the 1.5mm average. That's good, since deeper keys provide a more comfortable typing experience that resembles a desktop. Plus, the E5's keys are snappy, with a good amount of feedback on each keystroke.
If I have one complaint, it's that the Delete key is too small. I missed it several times while typing up this review, accidentally hitting the Home button instead.
While I appreciate the inclusion of a full 10-key number pad to the right of the standard QWERTY layout, there is one caveat. The number pad keys are actually narrower than standard, which will throw off touch typists and workers whose jobs involve heavy number-crunching.
Instead of offering dedicated left and right mouse buttons, the E5's buttons are built into the notebook's large touchpad. I like this setup, since it provides more room for cursor navigation. The E5's clicking mechanism feels a bit mushy, though. I like the smooth matte finish of the pad, which my finger glides over easily. Mouse movement feels very responsive, as do gestures like two-finger scrolling.
Unfortunately, a stylish design and a nice keyboard can't make up for Aspire E5's sluggish performance. The machine runs on a fourth-generation Intel Core i3 processor with 4GB of RAM, and it's less powerful (and cheaper) than its closest rivals.
The E5 performed reasonably well for light productivity tasks like browsing the Web and checking email. Still, I noticed lag while initially loading apps and even while opening the Start menu. And there was considerable slowdown during heavier multitasking.
Test results bear out my personal experience, showing that the E5 lags far behind competing laptops that run on newer hardware. On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, it scored a disappointing 1,677, far behind the category average of 3,522. Among similar notebooks, the $410 HP 15t Touch (3,420) and the $450 Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (4,432) were significantly speedier.
Other budget systems should aspire to match the Aspire E5's endurance. Acer's notebook lasted for an impressive 5 hours and 49 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's pretty good for a 15-inch notebook, easily beating the category average of 5 hours and 10 minutes, and besting competing machines like the HP 15t Touch (5:24) and the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (4:46).
Just about all the connectivity options that a worker could ask for are included here. The right edge of the E5 includes two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and VGA ports for connecting an external monitor or projector, an Ethernet port for connecting to wired Internet or office networks, and a Kensington lock for physically securing your notebook at your desk.
The left side, meanwhile, adds another USB 2.0 port, next to the notebook's power connector. There's no SD card slot, and hence no way to expand the machine's 500GB of internal storage.
Like most new Windows notebooks, the Aspire E5 ships with a relatively clean installation of Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft's desktop operating system. Windows 10 offers a bunch of nice productivity-boosting upgrades over the previous version, Windows 8. That includes the return of the traditional Start menu, as opposed to the touch-optimized full-screen Start menu that was introduced in Windows 8.
You also get access to Cortana, a personal assistant app that makes it easy to perform all sorts of tasks. I like using Cortana to quickly add appointments to my calendar, set reminders and search for specific documents on my hard drive.
A handful of useful productivity apps come installed on the E5, including OneNote for taking and saving notes, and Skype for basic videoconferencing. Unfortunately, you also get a bunch of useless bloatware from Acer along with a bunch of third-party games, but it’s all easy enough to ignore.
The Acer Aspire E5 offers decent bang for your buck, with a nice design, long battery life and a good keyboard for just $380. Unfortunately, its fourth-generation Core i3 processor is a bit underpowered next to its closest competitors, making serious multitasking feel sluggish. Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 is the more well-rounded work notebook, though it is a bit pricier than the E5 at $450.