Not so very long ago, paying less than £500 meant having to put up with dire input devices, little performance, and a lacklustre screen. The Acer Aspire V3, though, is throwing out old preconceptions, and shows that a budget price doesn’t necessarily equate to limited aspirations.
The V3-571 isn't a total success in terms of its design, and the grey/black combo isn't the most pleasing colour mixture. The casing is wonderfully slender though, and the beautifully polished lid appears to point towards a higher price tag. It weighs a not insubstantial 2.6kg, although the slim casing made it very to carry around.
The two-button trackpad melts beautifully into the casing. It works very effectively too, and while many budget laptops suffer from rough and inconsistent trackpads, the Acer's is extremely responsive. It’s also well-sized, giving you enough room to navigate successfully while also giving you room to rest comfortably on the glossy wrist-rest. (The latter does attract smudges badly, so make sure you have a cloth to hand.)
The Scrabble-tile keyboard is similarly triumphant, and the properly spaced keys make this, unusally for a laptop, a joy to type on. A few of the keys (particularly the cursor buttons) are a little small and difficult to hit properly. Thankfully the letter and number keys are suitably proportioned, with a light but noticeable feel that makes for a high level of accuracy.
The LCD screen is a good size, although its top resolution (1366 x 768) is a mite disappointing given the the 15.6in panel size. The colour palette is adequate, if a touch light. Detail levels are good though, and the Acer makes an excellent job of photos. Clarity is very notable, and it's an easy laptop to work from. The viewing angles aren’t as poor as on many screens we’ve seen, although the picture will quickly deteriorate if you start moving far from the screen front. The main drawback with this panel will come if you work in sunlight, as the glossy CineCrystal panel picks up a host of unwelcome reflections. For darker environments, though, we could recommend it.
The Acer’s general performance is strong. The V3 name doesn’t refer to the processor, and the 571 carries an i5 processor – a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M. Allied to a healthy 6GB of DDR3 memory, this throws up a very good score of 123 points in WorldBench 6.
For a sub-£500 model, this is remarkably fast. Storage capabilities aren’t as ample as on some laptops, with a 500GB 5400rpm Western Digital hard disk provided. Nonetheless, 500GB is ample for many users, so this is no great compromise.
The Acer is no gaming paradise and (much in keeping with other sub-£500 models) is saddled with an Intel HD 3000 graphics controller. In fairness, the Acer gets more out of this than many other laptops we’ve seen, and a score of 16fps in FEAR is respectable for last year’s HD 3000 integrated graphics.
It’s still going to cut very little ice in the gaming world though. The Crysis figures are underwhelming, but potentially usable. With DirectX 9 and Low quality settings, the laptop achieved a highly playable 59.5fps. It did slump to 27.2fps in Medium, and a quite unplayable 14.7fps at High.
In DX10 mode, even the Low and Medium quality settings yield just 36.6 and 22.2fps respectively.
So, the Acer won’t be much of a choice for gamers. However, they shouldn’t write off the range altogether, as an enhanced model, the V3-571G, comes with discrete graphics, and may be worth hunting down.
The V3-571’s Dolby Sound System supposedly gives the Acer an extra burst of audio quality, although this wasn’t evident in testing, with the tinny speakers offering rather painful reproduction. They’re fine for informing you that you’ve got new mail, but you won’t be wanting to use them for trying out your latest music.
Ports and connectors are straightforward. Of the three USB ports, only one is USB 3.0. You also get VGA and HDMI external output, and the versatile front-mounted memory-card drive covers MemoryStick and xD-Picture as well as the ubiquitous SD cards.
A gigabit port takes care of wired network users, and those that like to roam can choose from Atheros Wi-Fi (covering 802.11a, b, g and n) or Bluetooth 4.0. The built-in DVD writer is a standard Matshita UJ8B0AW. A little noisy, it burns up to speeds of 8x. An Acer Crystal Eye HD webcam is built into the top of the screen.
The 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium is provided as standard, and the Aspire comes with a range of software that includes Microsoft Office Starter and a number of useful Acer utilities.
The Acer recorded a very adequate figure of 318 minutes (5 hours and 18 minutes) in our MobileMark Productivity test, which should give enough juice for hours on the road.
The Acer Aspire V3-571 is a great example of just how much can be achieved within the constraints of a severely limited budget. Gamers will need to set their sights a little higher, and it isn’t particularly convincing in sound reproduction. Overall though, it does a remarkable job, providing pace and a pleasing user experience enhanced by the appearance of some of the better input devices we’ve seen at this price level. Snap one up while you still can.