Around November of last year, Acer started a campaign it called “a touch more”. The idea was to shed some of the negative image the brand has garnered over the past few years. With the release of Windows 8, PC manufacturers have been building many different hybrids in an effort to differentiate and move more units in this post PC era. Acer has come out swinging with the Aspire R7 and its “Ezel hinge”. But is the R7 a work of art or a work in progress? Lets have a look.
The first thing you’ll notice with the R7 is the fit and finish. They paid a lot of attention to the details. The chassis is made almost entirely of aluminum with some polycarbonate at the base and surrounding the glass screen. It is very solid and has a premium feel throughout. No seams are visible and there is no creaking anywhere to be found. Overall, it’s very well built. My first impression was very positive. Acer has done their homework here.
Hybrid Design/Ezel Hinge:
Like most hybrid designs, they are purpose built, you have look at what each offers and weigh the pros and cons against the norm and decide if it works for you. From my findings, the R7 design is more deserving of a “portable computer” moniker than a “laptop” or “hybrid tablet”.
The trackpad and keyboard are reversed so there’s no palm rest. When placed on your lap, the R7 is forward toward your knees just enough to make it feel unstable. It can be done but it requires some dexterity on your part.
The screen can be adjusted to sit almost completely flat at a 10 degree angle (tablet mode).
Moved upwards to about 80 degrees, parallel with the base.
Forward into a more traditional laptop style mode.
Swung all the way around so it faces back (Good for watching movies).
If you are the artistic type this “Ezel” hinge will most likely be very appealing to you. The IPS LCD has a resolution of 1920 x 1080. With only some slight colour shift at the extreme angles, the viewing overall is quite pleasing.
I found that Windows 8.1 worked really well with the R7’s unique design. The best way to describe it when I’m using it on my desk is that it feels like I’m using a floating tablet. It makes the various Windows gestures and multi-touch features feel very natural.
Part of this is due to the Ezel hinge’s strength. No matter what angle you’re using it at it holds true with no slippage.
To illustrate this I’ve placed some objects on its edge.
For desktop work, media consumption and movie watching this design scores big points, however, the heavy hinge means the R7 isn’t balanced the same way a conventional laptop is. So as I already mentioned, it’s not very stable if you’re trying to use it on your lap.
The R7 comes equipped with an Intel Core i5 4200U CPU with integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics. It’s not a powerhouse but for most tasks it’s no slouch. It has 8GB of RAM, and a conventional 750GB hard drive. I’m a little disappointed that there’s no SSD or hybrid SSD present especially since last year’s R7 had a hybrid SSD/mechanical hard drive combo.
With regards to input/output, there are 2 USB 3.0 ports, DisplayPort, HDMI, and a combo headphone/microphone jack along the left side.
On the right side are the lock slot, charging connector, power button, volume rocker, USB 2.0 and a SD card slot.
You also get a stylus that’s battery-powered. Despite the R7’s large size, there’s nowhere to store the stylus inside it.
Instead of running benchmarks, I just used the R7 like I would any other computer to gauge the battery life.
After I fully charged the R7, I unplugged it, set the display to 25% brightness, and the power management to “balanced”. I watched a 48 minute Episode of Dusk til Dawn in HD on Netflix, browsed the web, installed 30 or so software updates and used Word. The R7 managed to last 5 hours 48 minutes.
While the R7 is not really a road warrior, the battery life wasn’t bad.
To test the performance, stylus input and the integrated graphics, I installed AutoCAD. The R7 ran it without nary a hiccup. From the accuracy of the pen, to the speed at which it was able to render layers plus I was pleasantly surprised with the performance.
Now screen size aside, the R7 is able to handle tasks like minor tweaks and drawing on the go with relative ease.
I had trouble adjusting to the placement of the keys and trackpad. I did notice some occasional misses that requiring the odd double tap to fix. The keys are also slightly mushy feeling but overall, it’s very responsive, plus its nice and tactile. I also like the amount of key travel when you press them.
The trackpad is responsive but it’s where the keyboard normally is. To use use it, I have to position the screen like a conventional laptop. It’s either that or I have to position the screen so that it’s floating. I never got used to using the trackpad but then again, the R7 has a multi-touch display which is very smooth and registers touches and inputs quite accurately. Since you also get a stylus, you can just ignore the trackpad most of the time.
Sound is an area that the R7 excels at, this is the first machine I can say that you could easily do without external speakers. Sound is loud and crisp, bass levels obviously are at a minimum without a subwoofer but you could definitely enjoy movies on the road as well as some light music without complaint.
Like many of its contemporaries, the R7 only comes with WiFi and no Ethernet connector. If you require a LAN connection you’ll have to pick up an optional USB/DisplayPort connector. The onboard dual-band wireless supports A/B/G/N but not AC. To me, the lack of AC is not a deal breaker since most public WiFi and ISP provided modems are using the N standard or lower anyway.
Also included is Bluetooth 4.0. Connectivity shouldn’t be an issue. However, in my testing, I did notice there were times when the R7 wouldn’t connect to my 5Ghz network at home. I’d have to first connect to my 2.4Ghz network and then reconnect to the 5ghz. This would happen often after I woke the R7 from sleep or hibernate. I was however, able to use the R7 about 40m from my apartment on the first floor in the laundry room. Considering my apartment is all concrete walls this was a nice surprise.
While using the Aspire R7 for the past week, I found myself wondering where it fits in. Its keyboard/trackpad placement makes it an awkward proposition if you’re going to use it as a laptop for taking notes.
If you game, the lack of discrete graphics makes it unsuitable as a full fledged desktop replacement. And while it has somewhat of a tablet mode, the weight makes it unsuitable for doing most of the things you’d use a tablet for. This seems to be to be a common theme with the new Windows 8 hybrids. Yes, they try do many things but they’re not able to do any of them very well.
I can see how some people would really appreciate the R7’s sturdy design but overall, it doesn’t offer anything that would make me recommend it over any of the other hybrids available. In fact, depending on what you are looking for you may be better suited to look elsewhere. Still, I like the direction Acer is heading with the R7; It’s a solid, well-built, quality computer that does a lot to improve their image. Unfortunately, they just haven’t done enough to really set them apart from the competition.
Overall I’d give it 3.5 Howies out of 5
- Solid, well constructed premium design and finish
- Ezel hinge is very sturdy and viewing angles are good
- Multi touch response is fluid
- Sound is loud and crisp for a portable computer
- Keyboard/trackpad are reversed
- Some connectivity hiccups
- Battery life is average for an Intel Haswell offering
- Spinning hard drive no SSD or hybrid SSD