Hybrid computers are everywhere, but we’re so used to seeing the 360 degree hinge, it’s nice to see someone doing it differently. This time, it’s Acer, taking its Ezel concept from the R7 and improving it with a frame for the screen. Does it work, and is this the future of portable computing?
For Acer’s second take on the Ezel computer, the company has employed a slightly different design to make the system a laptop and tablet hybrid.
We’ll get into this shortly, but Acer is relying on a hinge for the display itself positioned in the centre, making it possible to change the angle of the display and where it aims: front, back, top, and any other way.
The screen in this section is a Full HD 1920×1080 In-Plane Switching (IPS) 13.3 inch display, protected by Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 coating both the front and the back.
This display supports touch, too, and there’s even a wireless pen included in the box in case drawing or writing on the tablet grabs you more than the keyboard or finger-touch input ever will.
Next up is the backlit keyboard, the wide trackpad mouse, and then the guts of the computer, and here you’ll find an Intel Core i7 processor from the “Haswell” generation, also known as generation four clocked at 2GHz. Memory is set to 8GB RAM, with storage relying on a 256GB solid-state drive, and Windows 8.1 pre-installed out of the box.
Connections for this computer are relatively fleshed out for a small computer, with one USB 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 ports, a single HDMI port, an SD card slot, and a 3.5mm headset jack for both headphone and microphone. Wireless is also catered for with Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi part of the package.
A small power pack is included with the laptop, built to charge the machine through a small circular charge port, with the battery provided a maximum run time of eight hours, according to Acer.
Making a computer more modern can’t be easy, but we’ve seen some interesting ideas turn up in the past few years as Microsoft tries to encourage PC makers to think out of the box and come up with some neat ways to innovate in the world of Windows.
Most of the innovative ideas we’ve seen tend to focus on the screen hinge, with much of the design making it possible to get the screen to butt up against the back of the keyboard, effectively turning the laptop into a tablet, albeit a bit one, but Acer’s approach is a little different.
We saw it a few years ago in its first “R” series product, the R7, which went with a very futuristic look and feel to produce a computer that had its hinge come out from the screen itself, connecting to the base of the machine and essentially making the system a sort of all-in-one desktop and laptop hybrid.
Interestingly, this “R” product follows a totally implementation to the previous model, though both support Acer’s “Ezel” design, with the screen sitting above the keyboard, a laptop layout no other machine takes advantage of.
Instead of making a massive hinge that moves the display in different ways — which is what happened on the R7 — the R13 takes advantage of a screen frame sitting on a regular laptop hinge with a display that can rotate the full 180 degrees inside that frame.
In a way, we’re reminded of what Dell tried to do with its XPS 12, incorporating a screen that can flip around in position inside the frame.
Acer’s take on this is a little tighter than Dell’s option, which worked only as a touchscreen laptop or a tablet, and as such you’ll find the display hinge can remain in position at different parts of the screen flip, meaning you can change the screen position to work in different ways.
For instance, there’s the standard 90 degree angle for the laptop, showing information and letting you operate the computer with the typical perpendicular screen.
But because the display can be pushed at angles inside its frame, you’ll find you can position the display closer to you, with the screen sitting above your fingers and closer to your eyes, which some will no doubt appreciate.
In the first incarnation of the Ezel computers, Acer even pushed the mouse to sit behind the keyboard and closer to the hinge, which meant you could bring the display closer and forget about the mouse if all you wanted was
the screen and the keyboard, but in this model that is no longer the case.
Instead, the trackpad is in the same location you’d expect it to be – just before the keyboard — and so while you can bring the screen down close at an angle, the computer wont really go to a tent mode.
What it will do, however, is lie down flat, turning into a 13 inch tablet when you want it to be one.
That’s a big tablet, and a relatively heavy one too, coming in close to 1.5 kilograms, so we don’t expect you’ll want to use this regularly, but the option is there when the screen is pushed down out of its frame and the lid closed.
You can also open the lid up and position the screen on the other side of where the display would be, which is handy if you’re going to watch things, especially since there are speakers on the back of the machine.
Another option for the R13 exists in the form of a tent mode (above), which will have you position the laptop the edges of the screen and bottom of the laptop, similar to what existing 360 degree hinges can do with other laptops, but this mostly seems irrelevant, especially when the screen can change position in the frame of the display.
And really, that’s what this new display frame is meant to do: replace the 360 degree hinge, which on a number of current laptops is designed to let your standard laptop computer take on different forms, from the tablet to the entertainment machine and so on.
Here in the Acer R13, it’s a neat concept, and one that does feel like Acer has paid attention to the numerous things a computer can do, though the insides could do with a bit of an update.
While most of the computers we’re already seeing in 2015 are hitting the shelves with the latest Intel processors from the fifth generation Core technology, Acer’s Aspire R13 is running the last generation of technology, with the Intel Core i7 fourth-gen “Haswell” processor found here, clocked at 2GHz. That’s not a chip to sneeze at, and you’ll still get some work done, and possibly some entertainment too, but it’s not as high end as it could probably be.
Fortunately, there’s a good 256GB of storage included, with 190GB available from the get go, and 8GB RAM to work with, which should also be more than enough for most activities.
The feel is also not too bad, with a plastic body that is offset quite nicely by a screen that incorporates Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass along the front and the back, a feature Acer started using in its S series Aspire computers several years ago, but that we don’t always see.
Essentially, this will make the display a little more resistant and the lid of the computer a little harder to scratch, but can show up fingerprints pretty easily due to the fact that yes, this is glass.
The battery is also fairly strong, with around 6 or 7 hours of battery life possible from this computer for general productivity, though heavier work loads and entertainment will push the life down significantly.
One thing that feels like it could need a little work is the keyboard, which while it provides a good solid click, you really need to strike the keys noticeably to get a response.
We’ve had quite a few characters lost in action as we typed, and we blame the shallow keyboard, which really feels like you need to press relatively hard to always get the keyboard working properly. In our tests — and we write reviews on the laptops we’re reviewing at the time — we found one out of every 30 or 40 letters would be lost as we wrote, telling us that the depth of this keyboard was making a dent on what we wrote.
If you strike the keyboard hard, informing everyone of your presence by a loud and clacking stab with your finger, the Acer Aspire R13’s keyboard should be fine for you, but for the rest of us, you’ll either want to relearn how to type or get something else.
Overall, the keyboard isn’t one of the better things offered by this machine, and if you see a missing character in this review, it’s not just from a lack of proof-reading (even though it is), it’s also because the keyboard really isn’t that good, and made us want to switch to a different computer to finish the review (but that’s not how we write reviews on computers, so we persisted with our frustration).
Acer’s take on the mouse is a little better, though that wouldn’t be hard since the keyboard is just that hard to really work with.
The screen brightness is another one of those things that needs attention paid, though, because while the display sports a usable Full HD 1920×1080 resolution, and one that looks decent with larger fonts in Windows 8.1, there just isn’t a lot of brightness to the panel.
Even up at its full amount, the screen felt a tad underwhelming, and made it feel like you were staring at an old sheet of paper.
This isn’t enough, Acer, and the difference between the lowest setting and the highest level of brightness isn’t a terribly dramatic difference, at least not for a computer released in the past few months.
When it comes to redesigning the laptop to be a little more modernised, and more useful than just a typical clamshell computer, Acer’s take on the hinge is an interesting one, and was when the first model came to life in 2013.
The latest take on it is even better, with a more portable design and some better innards, but we’re now stuck because the keyboard just stops this computer from being completely comfortable to use.
It’s a shame, too, as the keyboard should be one of the things where attention is paid, and yet that’s missing here.
If you’re a strong typist, chances are you’ll be good, and if you crave the multiple form-factors offered by a machine of this style, you’ll love what Acer has provided, but we’d look around before settling, because if you type as often as we do — and we get a lot of writing done on our laptops — this computer won’t feel like it’s making your fingers terribly happy.