Acer Aspire V 13 budget laptop review

Acer Aspire V 13

Most laptops that cost under £400 tend to be quite large and clunky. Not so the Acer Aspire V 13, a lightweight cheapie of an ultrabook. Confusingly Acer names this laptop both as the V 13 and V3-371. (For more, see: Best budget laptops 2014.)

Whatever you'd like to call this budget laptop, it's not much thicker than 20 mm and weighs just over 1.5 kg. And as a new model from the budget brand, it ought to be in circulation for a while too.

The chassis is made from a not-unattractive matt plastic, and our sample was issued in a snowy white colour, lending it more than a flavour of Apple design. On the back of the display lid there's a hard textured finish, rather like wood grain but which catches the light to give a kind of pearlescent effect. Meanwhile the sculpted bottom that tapers the body edges is reminiscent of the original MacBook Air, but finished in similarly tough-feeling matt white plastic.

In the tradition of modern ultraportables, the battery is not accessible from the underside, nor is the storage drive or memory reachable through separate doors. Ambitious upgraders that wish to expand the 4 GB of memory or 500 GB hard drive will benefit from experience of tearing down a laptop's chassis. Also see: How to choose a budget laptop.

Acer Aspire V 13 review: memory and performance

While 4 GB memory may look stingy, it should be enough for the kind of lightweight tasks run by a typical user of this ultraportable. And while hard-disk based storage is often the slowest link in the budget notebook chain, Acer has juiced this component by selecting a Seagate SSHD – a 2.5in 500 GB laptop hard disk with an added 8 GB of fast flash, which helps accelerate performance. It's far from the level of performance of a real SSD, but a strong step in the right direction that did make programs launch faster, for example.

?On the left thin edge of the V 13 is an SD card slot and headphone jack. To the right are two USB ports – one each version 2.0 and 3.0 – and HDMI for connecting to a screen or projector. We were most impressed to find that Acer has also found a way to include a proper gigabit ethernet port on the narrow edge here too, with a spring-loaded flap that prises open to accommodate the RJ45 plug of a network cable.

Lifting the lid reveals the relatively clean deck around the keyboard (once you've peeled off all the POS stickers). The trackpad is a decent size at 105 x 65 mm, a buttonless design that pivots to allow left and right clicks. Unfortunately this hardware, perhaps abetted by the software that drives it, are of mediocre quality and control of the mouse cursor is not as precise as we'd hope. We also found the trackpad surface stopped responding to our fingers on more than one occasion, requiring us to plug in a mouse to continue operation.

The Qwerty keyboard is quite serviceable though, a minimal-travel Scrabble type with an easy action. Crucially there's precious little bending in the centre when pressing here, allowing heavy-fingered typing without disconcerting flex. It's a full-size keyboard that fills the deck without the need for a numberpad to fill the space, as we see on 15.6-inch Windows laptops. If you do need to tap out numbers with one hand, pressing Fn and F11 engages the number lock, with many keys on the right side (illustrated in light blue) doubling up as number keys.

A single fan draws air in from vents on the underside, and exhales through a grille behind the screen hinge. In use the Acer remained usefully cool and quiet.

Another feather in the Acer's cap is the best Wi-Fi adaptor in this group. It's still limited to 11n performance but while most cheap laptops sneak in the most basic of wireless cards, the V 13 is fitted with a dual antennae and dual-band capability.

Acer Aspire V 13 review: Lab report

At 2.0 GHz the Aspire V 13 may not look the fastest but in lab tests it proved to have the quickest overall performance, and the longest battery life.

The Geekbench 3 score of 1988 points was the least worst on test, which means it trails the benchmark's reference PC by only 26 percent in single-core mode; and 22 percent behind in multi-core mode.

In both PCMark 7 and PCMark 8 tests, the Aspire V3-371 also got top marks in this class, helped here not just by the relatively quick Intel chip but the additional flash in the main drive.

And so to the less welcome news. Like most budget laptops Acer has elected to fit a low-grade display, which here returned the joint worst results among a uniformly bad bunch. With only 55 percent coverage of the least demanding sRGB standard, and a contrast ratio of just 80:1, this is not a display that gives a close resemblance of reality. And like its budget brethren, viewing angles are very limited.

Gaming is also tricky in spite of the Intel Iris Graphics. This graphics solution is a step-up from older Intel chips but should not be confused with Iris Pro, which is a match for many dedicated discrete processors. Here the Acer could manage 34 fps in Tomb Raider 2013, but only at very low resolution and detail settings. Move up to Normal though, and the game averaged a stuttering 19 fps.

Battery life was found to be more respectable than any other here, at 6 hour 35 mins, making this laptop the best choice for portable use. Also see: Best laptops 2014 and Best gaming laptops 2014.

Acer Aspire V 13 review: Test scores

Runtime    6 hr 35 min
Contrast ratio    80:1
Colour gamut sRGB    55 %
Geekbench single    1988
Geekbench multi    4188
PC Mark 7    3420
PCMark 8 Home    2358
PCMark 8 Work    3396
Batman: Arkham City 1280 x 720, Low    29
Batman: Arkham City 1366 x 768, Med    24
Tomb Raider 2013 1280 x 720, Low    34
Tomb Raider 2013 1366 x 768, Normal    19

Acer Aspire V 13: Specs

  • Windows 8.1
  • 13.3-inch (1366 x 768, 118 ppi) matt TN LCD
  • 2.0 GHz Intel Core i3-4158U (2C/4T)
  • Intel Iris Graphics 5100
  • 4 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
  • 500 GB ST500LM000 SSHD with 8 GB flash
  • 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • HDMI
  • SD
  • non-removable 48 Wh lithium-ion
  • 327 x 227 x 20.6 mm
  • 1527 g
  • Windows 8.1
  • 13.3-inch (1366 x 768, 118 ppi) matt TN LCD
  • 2.0 GHz Intel Core i3-4158U (2C/4T)
  • Intel Iris Graphics 5100
  • 4 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
  • 500 GB ST500LM000 SSHD with 8 GB flash
  • 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • HDMI
  • SD
  • non-removable 48 Wh lithium-ion
  • 327 x 227 x 20.6 mm
  • 1527 g

OUR VERDICT

Acer has a winner here, leaving out dumb extras like touchscreen tech and focusing on better wireless and faster storage. The use of recent Intel chip also rewards the user with slightly better graphics and system performance, including more usable battery life. Besides these components choices, the casework and design as a whole have a simplicity that really benefits the product. Only the trackpad and display let down what could still make a budget classic.

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