By Jim Bray
The term convertible may be known better in regard to drop-top cars, but it applies as well to Acer's Aspire R 13 notebook computer, which is not only a good PC in its own right but which is also, thanks to its unique way of moving the screen from position to position, a unit that can fill many different needs.
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For instance, it can be great for the sales rep who not only needs a PC to take on the road, but also needs to use it for making demonstrations - PowerPoint, video, whatever - in the clients' places of business. It can also function as a tablet and a regular Windows laptop PC. A tour de force of flexibility, and a powerful tool for those who merely want a good laptop.
I wanted to get a handle on how the R 13 would work in the real life world of a busy businessman, to really put it through its paces as it would be used every day. Since I live in the bubble of a home office, I asked my best friend, Les, to help in the review by taking it with him while he was out doing his daily business. He loved the R 13 and I've incorporated his notes and opinions into this review - so thanks, Les!
At its heart, the Aspire R 13 is a modern Windows PC but, thanks to its ingenious Ezel Aero Hinge, Acer has designed it so you can choose between six user modes, including one that lets you crank the whole screen around to face away from the keyboard for those times you want to do demonstrations to a person sitting across from you without having to get more up close and personal than either of you may want. It's very cool, and a worthy successor to the Acer R 7 I reviewed in 2014; it's lighter and has a smaller footprint than that older under, and that makes it easier to pack around with you.
Acer makes a few different configurations of the R 13, ranging in price from $999 to $1299 Canadian. They sent me the $1299 R 13 R7-371T-71XP, which comes with an Intel Core i7-4510U 2 GHz microprocessor, full 1920 x 1080 video, eight gig of RAM and a 256 gig solid state drive. It has the 64 bit version of Windows 8.1 installed on it, but Acer's Canadian website says it's ready for Windows 10. I'm just not sure that I am…
The review R 13 didn't come with an optical drive (a lot of portables don't anymore, which I think is a shame - though it does allow for slimmer units), but other than that it has about all the connectivity you'd need, from wireless LAN to Bluetooth. It also has a built in webcam and microphone, an HDMI input and three USB inputs, two of which are USB 3.0. There's a memory card reader, the usual touchpad, and backlighting for the keyboard. Acer says the battery will run for eight hours before leaving you in the lurch, and Les said he did, indeed, get the eight hours Acer advertises.
At about a kilogram and a half weight, the R 13 is truly a lightweight, which makes it ideal for hauling around with you. Les thought the backlighting for the keyboard was a little dimmer than he likes, but I disagree. The last thing I need is to be able to read a book by my keyboard backlighting; a gentle glow is more than enough. I had my usual issues with the keyboard layout - I'm a curmudgeon when it comes to such things, having cut my typing teeth on typewriters - but it wasn't a big deal. That said, I find the Caps and Caps Lock keys on the left side a tad small for my stubby tentacles and the Escape key's also a tad diminutive. I also didn't like the size or positioning of the Enter key, but this is a common complaint I have and not an Acer thing at all. These are mere quibbles, of course, and your mileage may differ.
The R 13's keyboard feel - another thing I'm really anal about - is quite good and the trackpad (another thing I hate; I generally bring a mouse along with me to use instead) works well.
The screen is very good, including for off angle viewing (which could come in handy if you're doing a presentation), though the back lighting could be a tad brighter. And as it should, the LCD display also operates as a touch screen. I generally hate touch screens unless I'm using a tablet, but since you can use the R 13 as a tablet as well as a laptop, Bob's your uncle. There's also an optional stylus.
The extra size of the screen (compared to full size tablets such as the iPad) was great for videos, pictures and the like.
One minor complaint Les had was that when he was using the R 13 in tablet mode, there was no easy access to the "Windows" or Delete keys (which, in that configuration, are covered by the screen). He found this off putting while using stuff like Gmail - but again, he didn't think it would be a deal breaker.
We also thought the power input thingy a tad flimsy; it didn't always go into its receptacle nicely so we had to make sure we paid attention to plugging it in properly. The built in fan can jam if you press too hard on the case, too, so don't do that (it's undoubtedly because the computer is so wonderfully slim and light that its chassis tends to flex a bit more than some computers). If you're careful not to try folding it in half, though, you should be fine.
The Aspire R 13 has stereo speakers that fire from the bottom of the unit and the sound quality is about as good as I've heard on a laptop. Plug it into your home theatre and it should be even better.
As is normal with computers these days, the Acer comes stuffed with software, including a trial version of Microsoft Office. There's also stuff like Fresh Paint, which brings the artist out of just about anyone except me. You can use a pencil or various paint brush options to create your masterpiece, or even to capture your signature so you can turn it into a jpeg and use it for digital signatures (be careful where you distribute that, of course!). You can also use it to annotate or file the serial numbers off photos.
One Drive is a cool feature that allows cloud storage of files so you can access them from any device that can also exploit the cloud. It's not only convenient, it's a good way to back up files to ensure you don't lose them by mistake. I'm still not sure I trust the cloud, but it's there if you want it - and to be fair, if I had embraced the cloud a couple of hard drive crashes ago I wouldn't have lost my data.
There is also a plentiful supply of "lifestyle apps," such as MSN foods, Kindle, a Weather app, Tunein…
The Acer Aspire R 13 isn't cheap, but it's a great portable computer that offers so much flexibility that some people may never ever use all its permutations. That said, however, the R 13 also offers a lot of features and good build quality and it will undoubtedly serve its owners well.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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