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The Acer Aspire name has always been a bit of smart branding, since the series is positioned as a better-than-average pick among budget laptops—a notebook you can afford, but with the features and performance you aspire to. It hasn’t always hit the mark, but the company has managed to produce solid economy choices year after year. The latest Aspire 5 (starts at $369.99; $599.99 as tested) offers a 12th Generation Intel processor and reasonable RAM and storage. It delivers pretty good performance and battery life, though as you’d expect, some features are kept basic for the sake of affordability.
The Design: Just the Fundamentals
For 2022, the 15.6-inch Aspire 5 line starts at $369.99 with an 11th Gen Core i3 laptop processor and Windows 11 Home in S mode. Our $599.99 model A515-57-56UV features a Core i5-1235U chip (two Performance cores, eight Efficient cores, 12 threads) with Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB solid-state drive, as well as a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) non-touch display. It’s built to offer just-good-enough levels of quality in all but a few choice areas, and that’s reflected in the design, from the materials used to the connections and components inside.
Measuring 0.7 by 14.3 by 9.4 inches and weighing 3.9 pounds, the Acer is far from featherweight, but it’s not too bulky to throw in a laptop bag or backpack. The Asus VivoBook 15 is a little trimmer at 0.78 by 14.1 by 9.1 inches and 3.75 pounds. The Aspire’s construction combines metal and plastic, with a uniform finish that makes it hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The lid is covered in aluminum, but the rest of the chassis is fairly sturdy plastic. The laptop is large enough for a full-size keyboard with numeric keypad, though the latter has half-width keys.
The keyboard is backlit for visibility in dim rooms, and the tiled keys are reasonably comfortable to type on. The narrower keys of the keypad aren’t as comfortable, but any number pad is better than none if you’re doing a lot of data entry in spreadsheets. The touchpad is extra-wide, giving you a spacious surface for gesture controls as well as basic clicking and scrolling.
The Aspire 5 doesn’t skimp on connectivity, with plenty of ports that’ll free you from having to bring along a hub or adapter. On the laptop’s left side are three USB 3.2 ports (one Type-C and two Type-A), along with an HDMI video output and a compact Ethernet jack.
On the right, you’ll find a third USB-A port and a 3.5mm audio jack, plus a Kensington lock slot for physically securing the machine. Wi-Fi 6 handles your networking needs (assuming you don’t use the Ethernet port), and Bluetooth is available for wirelessly connecting headsets, keyboards, and mice.
No Feast for the Eyes and Ears
The built-in webcam is a bit pedestrian, meaning it’s your typical generic cam with 720p resolution and no face recognition support for Windows Hello logins. Nor is there a fingerprint reader, so you’ll be typing passwords the old-fashioned way.
The 1080p IPS screen is a little underwhelming in an era when higher-resolution and even 4K displays are offered on many laptops, but they’re not common at this price point, and full HD at least beats some ultra-cheap notebooks’ 1,366 by 768. The 15.6-inch size is adequate for everyday tasks like schoolwork, web browsing, and streaming videos and movies, but in this segment you shouldn’t expect dazzling brightness or better-than-bland colors. Touch screens are scarce in this price range, too.
The Aspire 5 is outfitted with a pair of downward-facing speakers. The clarity of the sound isn’t bad, but the speakers are surprisingly quiet. Watching YouTube videos online, I had to crank the volume to the maximum to get adequate audio.
Testing the 2022 Aspire 5: Performance in Line With Price
For this review, we compared the Aspire 5 to other budget-friendly systems, ranging from the affordable Asus VivoBook 15 to the AMD-powered Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14 and Intel-based Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i 14, two of the best models in this price range that we’ve seen in the last year. We also included the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 and the Gateway 15.6-inch Ultra Slim, two rock-bottom budget machines with less-capable hardware and limited specs.
Our primary productivity test is UL’s PCMark 10, which simulates routine workloads with such everyday staples as word processing, spreadsheet analysis, web browsing, and videoconferencing. We also use PCMark 10’s Full System Drive test to assess the access time and throughput of the system’s boot drive. Geekbench 5 also simulates popular apps like PDF rendering and speech recognition, with a little more emphasis on processing power.
Two other CPU tests that stress all available cores and threads are Maxon’s Cinebench, which uses that company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, and the open-source HandBrake, which we time as it encodes a 12-minute clip of 4K video (the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel) to 1080p resolution. Our final productivity test is workstation vendor Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud 22 version of Adobe’s popular image editor to measure a PC’s suitability for multimedia and digital content creation.
The Aspire 5’s up-to-date Intel Core i5 CPU is well suited to everyday applications, whether in the classroom, home, or office. Our test unit handily beat the bottom-feeding Inspiron and even topped the capable IdeaPad Flex 5i 14 in most tests.
We test PCs’ graphics capabilities with two game-like animations apiece from two benchmark suites. UL’s 3DMark provides the DirectX 12 tests Night Raid (less challenging, suited for laptops with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suited for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs). GFXBench is a cross-platform GPU performance test that uses both low-level routines like texturing and high-level image rendering. Its 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase subtests are rendered off-screen to accommodate different display resolutions.
Because the Aspire 5 relies on integrated graphics instead of an AMD or Nvidia dedicated GPU, it’s naturally limited in graphics performance. It’s fine for office productivity, streaming media, and even light photo editing, but if you’re looking to play the latest games, you’ll have to look elsewhere. That said, its graphics are quicker than those of most economy models, often leading the pack in our tests.
Finally, we test laptops’ battery life by looping a locally stored 720p video at 50% screen brightness and 100% audio volume, with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off, until the system quits. We also use a Datacolor SpyderX Elite monitor calibration sensor and software to measure the screen’s coverage of popular color gamuts or palettes and its brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).
With an unplugged runtime of 11 and a half hours, the Acer shows pretty good stamina for the price. Its screen, however, didn’t wow us—it’s a typical economy panel with limited color reproduction and barely adequate brightness, falling just short of the 300 nits we consider a baseline, let alone the 400 nits we prefer. To be honest, however, you won’t find much better in this class.
Verdict: A Budget Compromise, But Not a Bad One
Made to tread the line between budget and midrange laptops, the Acer Aspire 5 has a tightrope to walk, balancing an affordable price and capable features. The latest version handles that balance fairly well, though there are some rough spots that are hard to ignore, like the lackluster display and missing biometric and touch-screen features. But on the whole, it delivers what the Aspire line has always promised, a better-than-bare-bones laptop for consumers on tight budgets.
Whether you’re looking for performance that edges out other economy laptops or a port selection that lets you leave the hubs and dongles at home, the 2022 Aspire 5 hits those marks. It’s a strong option for a solid laptop that won’t cost you a fortune.