Ease of Learning: 3.5 / 5
Ease of Use: 4 / 5
Enjoyment: 3 / 5
Design: 4.5 / 5
Value for Money: 3.5 / 5
Acer have already released one of the best ‘laptops’ of the year, the Aspire S7 Ultrabook. Acer again pushed the boundaries in this category when they announced the Windows 8 convertible laptop, the Acer Aspire R7. We’ve already seen a few new designs when it comes to laptops, tablets and hybrids with their slidable, bendable and detachable units, but none as unique as the R7. With its flexible Ezel(™) hinge, the R7 is capable of being used in four different modes, and with the addition of the stylus makes it ideal for design. The Aspire R7 has quite a bit of new design features going for it, but is it all a gimmick, or is there some value in the design, and does the specifications under the hood meet the same standards?
Since the launch of Windows 8 in October 2012, the world has seen quite a big shake-up in regards to the type of devices being released on the market. Leading the pack are the Hybrids, a detachable notebook that turns into a tablet when you’re on the run. Acer’s attempt to go beyond this mark sees the Aspire R7 attempt to become the first 4-in-1 touchscreen notebook on the market. On first glance, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the 15.6” device, but you soon realise that it isn’t quite the end of the story once you’ve lifted the lid to reveal that the trackpad is located above the keyboard; this is part one of the Ezel hinge design. Learning to use the R7 as a normal laptop takes some practice, as you’re often left accidently pressing some keys when using the trackpad. Plug in a mouse and the problem disappears, quite literally, as you can fold the screen into position to cover the trackpad to only use the keyboard on the laptop itself: the Ezel hinge’s second function.
The third pose hides the keyboard and trackpad completely, as it can be flipped over to lie with the touchscreen facing up. Acer would’ve been hoping that this transforms the Aspire R7 into somewhat of a Slate PC or tablet, but instead is more of a flatbed screen largely due to its weight. At 2.4KG, you can easily carry around 5 other purposefully designed tablets before meeting the weight of the R7. Users should, therefore, not attempt to use the R7 as a tablet. The fourth mode depicts the R7 as a simple display to be used for presentation and the likes. Although useful, this is the least novel aspect of the device.
While the design may not be ideal for everyone using all angles, there should at least be one or two useful features about the Ezel hinge to make it worthwhile. One thing’s for sure though, the Aspire R7 looks good, even in the many marketing poses play a role in selling the device, despite many of those poses being totally unusable. The brushed-aluminum finish adds to the premium look and feel. If you’re concerned as to whether the hinge may crack or be rendered useless due to damage from all the rotating, rest assured that it is quite well designed and put together. There aren’t any creaks to hint that it may fall apart any time soon.
Completing the design aspect, the R7 includes a proprietary port with an adapter to connect your VGA displays, two USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 ports, HDMI port, microphone and audio jacks, SD card slot, a volume rocker, power button, DC-in for the charger, and a Kensington lock. These are all pretty standard ports to have one a laptop, but can make quite a big difference if they’re not included to begin with.
In terms of the performances, the Aspire R7 provides a bit of high-end and middle-range worlds. As mentioned, it has a 15.6” touchscreen display, which has a resolution of 1920x1080px. The colours are quite crisp thanks to the IPS technology with LED-backlit display, and will provide more than adequate picture quality for those HD movies. Because of its multi-functional display layout, it is important that the screen have a decent viewing angle, and the R7 doesn’t disappoint here. The sound quality isn’t bad either. Having experienced quite a number of low-quality sound performances on top-of-the-range laptop, notebooks and Ultrabooks, this comes as some relief. The R7 has four speakers with Dolby Home Theatre v4 support. The sound is capable of reaching high volumes before becoming distorted. There are, however, some limitations. While the sound quality is great for movies and speech, it doesn’t quite match up when playing music, where the voices are often drowned out by the background music. What’s interesting is that the channels reverse when you switch between the different display modes to ensure proper sound quality throughout.
Under the hood you’ll find an Ivy Bridge Core i5 CPU clocked at 1.6GHz, Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 4400 GPU, 8GB RAM, 1TB internal storage (some specs sheets include a 24GB SSD hybrid on the 1TB HDD), and a 3560mAh battery that has an expected runtime of 6 hours and 50 minutes. Users can expect longer battery life depending on the usage, and can reach up to 10 hours for simple functions such as editing or reading through mails.
At a recommended retail price of R12,999, the falls within the going the going rate for Windows 8 laptops currently available on the market. With the extra display features, thanks to Acer’s Ezel technology, this is quite a reasonable price, accounting for all other specifications. While these different layout features are novel as an all-in-one, there are two that aren’t all that useful in the long run. The build quality and finish of the device add to appeal, and without such standards could have produced an entirely different experience that may not have ended with positive reviews.
As it stands, the R7 won’t replace any of your purpose-built hardware, but provides a good middle ground when you can’t have them all. With a few hardware improvements for the internals and lighter frame, the next iteration of the R7 could be much more of a true all-in-one, and is definitely something to look forward to from Acer.