- Review Date: 6/24/2013
- Bottom line: The Acer Aspire R7-571-6858 has an innovative hinge mechanism, but the overall design is dragged down by the decision to swap the touchpad and keyboard, resulting in a design that is awkward at best.
- Pros: Innovative design places touch front and center. Beautiful 15-inch 1920-by-1080 resolution display. Excellent sound with surprisingly loud volume.
- Cons: Flipped keyboard and touchpad is a flop. Mediocre performance.
The Acer Aspire R7-571-6858 might be the first desktop replacement laptop for the all-in-one desktop generation. Featuring an adjustable easel-style stand/hinge combination, it's the first laptop I've seen with a fully adjustable monitor, and more closely resembles a desktop than a laptop, with a flipping, folding, floating display design that is certainly unique. While this new design will turn heads and may hint at the shape of things to come, the overall design is dragged down by the decision to swap the touchpad and keyboard, resulting in a design that is awkward at best.
With so many ultrabooks on the market, it's refreshing to see a full-bodied desktop replacement in the labs. The Aspire R7 is by no means svelte, measuring 1.1 by 14.8 by 10.0 inches (HWD) and weighing 5.22 pounds. The construction blends lightweight plastic on the lid and chassis with a metal hinge.
The most prominent feature on the Aspire R7 is the unique combination hinge and display stand, which Acer calls the "Ezel" hinge. Much like the multi-mode Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, the Aspire R7 uses the Ezel hinge to offer four different usage modes: Notebook Mode, Ezel Mode, Pad Mode, and Display Mode. In each mode, the 15.6-inch display flips and folds to present the 1,920-by-1,080 touch display at the most comfortable angle. As desk-bound systems go, it's one of the most comfortable implementations of touch that we've used.
Notebook mode is the closest of the four to a regular clamshell laptop, with the display lining up with the back edge of the laptop chassis. In this mode, it functions much like any other touchscreen-equipped laptop, aside from the unusual keyboard layout (more on that in a moment).
In Ezel mode, the display stand allows for a monitor-like setup much more like a desktop display. In addition to looking cool, this mode has the benefit of best utilizing the touch display, letting you bring the screen closer and put it at an angle more comfortable than a regular touch-enabled laptop screen. The Ezel hinge features two adjustable hinges, and both hold firmly enough that when touching and tapping the screen, there's no noticeable screen wobble. The unfortunate side-effect of the sturdy hinges, of course, is that they are just as stiff when adjusting the angle of the display and opening the closed laptop.
Folding the Ezel hinge flat with the screen out puts the laptop into Pad Mode, which converts the Aspire R7 into something like a tablet. It's too large to simply pick up and use on the go, though it can certainly be moved from one room to the next with relative ease. Though not exactly mobile, Pad mode does make for a more comfortable table-top touch experience, and the bulk of the hinge sets the display at an angle, more like a small All-in-One system laying nearly flat. Getting the Aspire R7 out of Pad mode is sometimes difficult, with the sturdy hinges requiring some force to pry the display up and manhandle it back into position.
Finally, the display can be tipped back and flipped over, to show the screen to someone on the opposite side. We've seen similar screen-sharing concepts on the Lenovo Yoga and the Asus Taichi 21, but the Aspire R7 doesn't do much to make this dubious concept seem more reasonable—showing someone else the display requires giving up your own, and it still seems like more trouble than looking at the same screen while standing side-by-side. As with the Asus Taichi, the display sharing feature feels more like an afterthought based on the fact that the stand allows flipping the screen, added to pad out the feature list.
The layout—keyboard on bottom, touchpad on top—is almost as weird as the bizarre easel/stand and display/monitor. While the reasoning is at least logical—with a floating touchscreen you don't necessarily need a touchpad, and the angle of the floating display would block part of the keyboard in normal use—there's no ignoring the fact that the switch is otherwise difficult to justify. The traditional keyboard and touchpad arrangement wasn't arbitrary; properly placed palm rests make typing more ergonomic and on-the-go laptop use easier, and a touchpad located below the spacebar lets you navigate without having to hover over the keyboard or worry about unintentional keystrokes. This new design eliminates those important touches, and just feels like change for the sake of change.
The Aspire R7 boasts four speakers for fuller sound, with Dolby Home Theater v4 adding to the overall quality. The sound quality was actually quite good, and the volume was impressive—loud enough to disturb the neighbors, and clear enough that you might want to. Flip the display from Ezel mode to Display also switches the right and left stereo channels, to match the right and left of the person viewing the screen.
The Aspire R7 places all of its ports and connectors in the bottom half of the system. While this isn't uncommon for a laptop, the desktop-like design makes it feel more like an all-in-one placing all of the ports in the monitor stand, as is seen on the Vizio All-in-One systems.
On the right is a power button and volume controls, one USB 2.0 port with power for charging devices, an SD card slot (SD, SDHC, SDXC), and a Kensington lock slot for physically securing the device. On the left is a mini DisplayPort and full-size HDMI output for connecting an external monitor or TV, and two faster USB 3.0 ports. Despite the Aspire R7's undeniably desktop-like nature, you'll have to use the built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi for networking because there's no Ethernet port to plug into. Also, the Aspire R7 has built-in Bluetooth 4.0, with support for stereo sound, as well as an integrated 720p webcam above the screen.
Though the Aspire R7 is pretty big, the storage is a bit on the small side, with a 500GB spinning hard drive paired with a 24GB solid-state drive (SSD) for snappy performance.
Acer loads up the Aspire R7 with a lot of media and social apps, like Zinio and Next Issue magazine readers, Ebay and Amazon for shopping, and an array of others, like iCookbook, Spotify, ChaCha, Netflix, HuluPlus, and Amazon Kindle all crowding the start screen. Dig in a bit more and you'll find some truely useful extras, like Skype, Acer Clear.fi (for networked media sharing), and Dragon Assistant (a voice recognition and dictation app). While the appeal of individual apps will vary by personal preference and usage patterns, it's clear that Acer has made an effort to be sure that there is plenty to do with the Aspire R7 right out of the box. Acer also covers the Aspire R7 with a one-year warranty.
The Acer Aspire R7 is equipped with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U processor paired with 6GB of RAM. It's the same processor seen in the Sony VAIO T15 Touch (SVT15112CXS), and actually did better in Cinebench, scoring 2.43 points to the Sony T15 Touch's 2.28, but the overall performance scores were very different. In PCMark 7 the Aspire R7 scored 2,702 points, falling behind every other 15-inch laptop with touch—the Sony T15 Touch scored 4,112 points in the same test, and the Editors' Choice Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51 scored 3,013.
The Aspire R7 planted itself firmly in the middle of the pack during multimedia tests, finishing in Handbrake in 1 minute 33 seconds and Photoshop in 5:43. By comparison, the Dell Inspiron 15z (I15Z-4801SLV) (1:33 Handbrake, 4:51 Photoshop) and the Sony VAIO T15 Touch (1:25 Handbrake, 5:21 Photoshop) both offer better performance with similar hardware. Though the use of Intel's integrated graphics solution isn't sufficient for high end gaming, a 3DMark score of 1,203 points (at Entry settings) indicate that it will do just fine handling Web browsing and video. Given the unusual design and layout of the Aspire R7, media consumption may be one of its best uses.
And while raw performance may not put the Acer Aspire R7 at the top of anyone's must-have list, it did eke out a bit more battery life than competitors, lasting 5 hours 41 minutes in our battery rundown test, outlasting the competition by nearly an hour or more.
In the end, however, the Acer Aspire R7 is a high-flying concept brought low by reality. While the design is daring and innovative, even among the many experimental designs being tried with convertible and touch-centric laptops, the end user experience shows it to be deeply flawed. With a swapped keyboard and trackpad layout that proves cumbersome, a floating touch screen display that adds little, and a bulky design that reduces portability, the Aspire R7 is more of a weird-looking proof of concept than a marketable product, and the middling to mediocre performance just cements it further as a product that may look cool on the shelf, but isn't the one shoppers should spend their money on.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.