- Review Date: 3/31/2014
- Bottom line: The Acer Aspire V5-561PG-6686 is a modestly priced, midrange desktop-replacement laptop, but aside from better-than-average graphics performance, it fails to impress.
- Pros: Touch screen. Discrete AMD graphics. Full port selection.
- Cons: Bland design. Basic 1,366-by-768 resolution. Hard drive has smaller capacity and slows performance.
The Acer Aspire V5-561PG-6686 ($699.99) is a desktop-replacement laptop that wades in the shallow end of the midrange category, just crossing the line from entry-level systems on price. The slim laptop gets the price bump, thanks to an AMD Radeon R7 M265 graphics card, which boosts an otherwise mediocre laptop into slightly better territory on the strength of its graphics capability. If you're shopping around, and have been considering the $400 to $500 models at the top of the entry-level category, it might be worth ponying up a little more for a system that offers the same quality but with better graphics. Otherwise, there are plenty of other laptops that offer more in the way of features and performance.
The Aspire V5-561PG-6686 has a fairly plain design, with black plastic construction and a finish meant to resemble brushed aluminum across the lid and palmrest. The lid is a monotonous gray, but aside from a shiny Acer badge on the lid, it's nothing exciting. Measuring 1.5 by 15 by 10.1 inches (HWD), it's not the slimmest laptop on the block, but at 5.6 pounds it's light enough to carry to and from school or work, and 15-inch systems aren't really made for constant portability.
The 15.6-inch display is also pretty good. It offers 1,366-by-768 resolution and 10-finger tracking, giving you all the touch capability needed to make the most of Windows 8.1. The low resolution is a bit of a disappointment—the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch has better, with a 1,600-by-900 screen. It may not boast full HD, but it does have good color quality and relatively wide viewing angles. The accompanying stereo speakers have decent sound quality—enhanced with Dolby Home Theater v4 software—but not the best volume.
The laptop features a chiclet-style keyboard, with a numeric pad (helpful for anyone who enters a lot of numbers). The Enter key and the key above it combine into an old-fashioned L-shape, though they are separate keys, and the arrow and function keys are smaller than those on the rest of the keyboard. A touchpad is set left of center in the palmrest, just below the spacebar. Its textured surface looks nice, but it's no clickpad, with a button bar offering right and left mouse buttons. The touchpad offers some gesture support, but had a little trouble with swiping in from the edges, a basic Windows 8 gesture. Thankfully, most of those commands will be done with the touch screen, which is far more responsive and intuitive.
On the right side of the system, you'll find two USB 2.0 ports. On the left, there's one USB 3.0 port (with charging capability), along with VGA and HDMI outputs, a jack for Gigabit Ethernet, and a headset jack. On the front left corner of the system is an integrated SD card slot, and a Kensington lock slot lets you physically secure the laptop when using it in public places.
The laptop is equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity. The 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive offers a fair amount of storage capacity, but isn't particularly fast. Acer loads up the system with several preinstalled apps, with its own offerings, like Acer Scrapboard (for organizing photos and clippings), Acer Docs and Acer Remote Files (file syncing and sharing), and month-long trials of both McAfee LiveSafe security and Microsoft Office 365. But it doesn't end there; you'll also find the start page littered with apps like Evernote, StumbleUpon, Spotify, Music Maker Jam, Netflix, and Hulu Plus. There are several apps for ebooks and news, like Kindle Reader, Zinio Reader, Next Issue (magazine reader), and NewsXpresso, and links to sites like Ebay and Amazon. As a general rule, most of these preinstalled apps can and should be removed upon first setting up the machine, if only so that you don't have to deal with them twice. Acer covers the Aspire V5-561PG-6686 with a one-year warranty.
The Aspire V5-561PG-6686 is outfitted with an Intel Core i5-4200U dual-core processor (1.6GHz), the same CPU used in the Lenovo IdeaPad U430. Paired with 8GB of RAM, the resulting performance is good, but not great. In PCMark 7, the Aspire V5-561PG-6686 scored 3,020 points, ahead of both the Dell Inspiron 14R-5437 (2,314 points) and the Asus VivoBook V500CA-DB71T (2,840 points), but falling behind the Lenovo U430 (3,911) despite the similarities in hardware. It did, however, provide passable performance in our multimedia tests, completing Handbrake in a respectable 1 minute 37 seconds, and topping competitors by completing Photoshop in 5:11.
What sets the Aspire V5-561PG-6686 apart from other systems in this price range is the inclusion of AMD Radeon R7 M265 discrete graphics. With the extra graphics horsepower, the laptop finished 3DMark 11 with 3,109 points at Entry settings and 587 points at Extreme settings. With scores like these, you'll be well equipped for tasks involving video streaming and even some editing, and you'll even be able to enjoy a few games, albeit with the detail settings and resolution dialed way down.
Despite the enhanced graphics capability, the Aspire V5-561PG-6686's performance places it solidly in the middle of the pack, and this is true again in battery life. The system comes with a removable 37-Wh battery. In our battery rundown test, the battery lasted 5 hours 48 minutes on a single charge. While this is longer than the Asus V500CA-DB71T (4:23), it falls behind both the Lenovo U430 Touch (7:42) and Dell 14R-5437 (9:46).
As stated at the outset of this review, there are plenty of laptops that offer better performance. But if graphics capability is high on your list of criteria when shopping for an affordable system, the Acer Aspire V5-561PG-6686 offers better-than-average performance, thanks to its AMD graphics card. Otherwise, you'll be better off looking at our Editors' Choice Dell Inspiron 14R-5437, which is less expensive, and offers decent performance, better construction, and a battery that lasts hours longer.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.