Acer has been quick to embrace high-resolution displays. The company currently offers the least expensive mainstream 4K monitor and the first 4K monitor to provide G-Sync support. Now it’s taking ultra HD mobile with its Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition.
Don’t try to parse the name; a lot of it doesn’t make sense. But it does conjure thoughts of speed and performance that are backed up by the hardware. Our tricked-out review unit came packing not only a 3,820 x 2,160 display but also a Core i7-4710HQ processor, 16GB of memory and a 256GB solid state drive joined by a 1TB mechanical drive.
All this hardware jacks up the price. While a stripped-down model can be had for $1,099 (with a 1080p display) our review unit shipped with an MSRP of $1,799. That’s just $200 south of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina and Dell’s extravagant XPS 15 Touch. Can Acer’s new luxury laptop compete with these entrenched systems, or is it less impressive than its specifications suggest?
Hands on video
Black Edition isn’t just a name
Guess what? The Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition is black. Very black. A dark, matte coating dominates both the interior and exterior, broken up only by a slim strip of gunmetal etched with the title “Aspire V Nitro” along the display hinge.
The intended effect is subtle luxury. At a glance Acer achieves that, but the handsome exterior becomes less attractive the moment it’s touched. Plastic is the material of choice. Handsome plastic. Solid, rugged plastic. But plastic none the less. Panel gaps are quite visible, as well, and the display itself feels light and a bit flimsy.
In the context of the competition, at least. Compared to any random assortment of laptops the Aspire V15 would do well, but the MacBook Pro with Retina and Dell XPS 15 Touch are tough to beat. Both do a better job of delivering a truly premium feel. Acer should’ve spent more on design even if it meant upping the price.
Along the right flank of the Aspire V15 lurk three USB 3.0 ports along with HDMI, Ethernet and a combo audio jack. The SD card reader lives a lonely life on the system’s front edge. Wireless connections include 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Wi-Fi adapter has twin-adapter MIMO support, which should allow for quicker and more reliable results.
We’re pleased with the port selection but not with their locations. Placing every single port on one flank means cords are more likely to tangle and USB devices with unusually large connectors are more likely to block their neighbors. This arrangement also makes a mouse less convenient, because USB device cords will always be near where a right-handed user places their mouse.
There’s nothing premium about the Aspire V15’s keyboard. Key travel is shallow and each stroke bottoms out with a spongy response. The layout is large, but a small numpad is crammed into the right side. I had no problem typing accurately, but the experience is no better than that of Acer notebooks selling for over a thousand dollars less.
The price tag sets expectations the design doesn’t fulfill.
Backlighting is standard, but only available in red. You can’t turn it up or down, it’s either on or off. Light leak is obvious under numerous keys, but the function keys are the biggest offenders. Several keys in that row let more light escape the edges of the key than the actual key cap, creating a distracting glow.
The touchpad doesn’t come to the rescue. While large (I measured it at four and a half inches wide by three and a half deep) the texture has an unpleasant grainy quality. I also had problems with Windows multi-touch gestures activating when they weren’t desired. The left and right mouse buttons are integrated into the touchpad surface and aren’t pleasing to use, so most owners will rely on tap-to-click instead.
Watch out, Retina
4K resolution (3,820 x 2,160) has been available in monitors for about two years, but it’s so far been a rarity in laptops. Toshiba was first to the mark with its Satellite P50T, released in spring of this year, and only a few manufacturers (including Lenovo and Asus) followed suit. The Aspire V15 is the first laptop from Acer to make the leap.
This resolution, when packed into a 15.6-inch display area, offers an incredible 281 pixels per inch. That’s higher than any Retina display on a Mac and approaches the high-resolution displays on many tablets. At this density pixels are essentially invisible. Even sticking your nose to the screen won’t reveal them.
And there’s more to this notebook than resolution. Our tests found the screen can render 98 percent of the sRGB gamut and 73 percent of AdobeRGB. These numbers are the second-best Digital Trends has ever recorded (the HP Spectre 13t x2 and Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro tie for the top spot). The contrast ratio came in at a respectable 690:1 and maximum brightness measured 261 lux. All of this was made more impressive by the display’s reflection-free matte finish. Most displays of this caliber require a glossy coat to achieve their results.
4K is just the start; the V15 also delivers solid contrast and beautiful colors.
The display is so good it makes most content look bad. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s a common problem with top-notch displays. Acer’s Aspire V15 is so sharp, so beautiful and so accurate that every flaw is noticeable. Nothing is obscured by the limitations of the panel. Feed this laptop high-quality 4K and it’s like looking through a window. Watch 1080p YouTube and you’ll end up with more artifacts than a museum.
There are a few small problems with the display itself. Viewing angles aren’t great on the horizontal axis, so frequent display adjustments are required. Uniformity can be an issue in very dark scenes. And we ran into a few applications that did not scale to the resolution well. Still, I was happy with what I saw. Switching back to a 1080p display after witnessing the V15’s majesty is a dreary experience.
Surprisingly, the speakers live up to the display. Loud, clear and full of bass, they provide a better soundtrack than many gaming laptops. The Aspire V15 isn’t just a laptop; it’s a mobile 4K theater.
Our review unit arrived with an Intel Core i7-4710HQ quad-core processor. While the V15’s three different configurations cover a variety of hardware this, along with the GTX 860M graphics chip, remains the same across all three. The test rig also had 16GB of DDR3 RAM, a 256GB solid state drive and a 1TB mechanical hard drive.
The 4710HQ is not Intel’s quickest mobile quad, but it performed well in Geekbench all the same.
Impressed? You should be. The Aspire V15 manages to hang with the Asus G751JY, a purpose-built gaming laptop, and it completely obliterates the HP Envy x360. To be clear, that’s not entirely a fair comparison; the HP Envy x360’s base price is $400 less than the V15. But including it shows what you’re receiving relative to a more mundane dual-core system.
The V15’s display is close to perfection. I fell in love with it.
A fast solid-state drive helps deliver load times that equal the processor’s grunt. I measured sequential read speeds of 487.3 megabytes per second and write speeds of 411.9MB/s. Those figures aren’t exceptional for a solid-state drive, but they’re plenty quick nonetheless.
The 1TB mechanical drive was slower, of course, hitting an average read speed of 116.1MB/s and average write of 113.6MB/s. Owners will want to install programs on the SSD and use the mechanical disk for music, photos and video.
Acer’s decision to include a GTX 860M in every V15 is interesting. Obviously it’s partially meant to help drive the 4K display, but the company could’ve done the same with a less powerful chip. 3DMark benefited from the powerful GPU, reaching a Cloud Gate score of 15,405 and a Fire Strike score of 3,610.
The V15 isn’t quick enough to keep up with Asus’ gaming laptop, but it does beat the Dell XPS 15 Touch with optional GT 750M GPU. The Toshiba Satellite Radius, which was reviewed with Intel HD 4600 integrated graphics, is three times slower in Cloud Gate and over five times slower in Fire Strike.
To test real-world gaming I fired up Blizzard’s massively popular Diablo 3. At 1080p resolution the game was no challenge, running at an average of 139 frames per second with detail settings at low and averaging 79 FPS with settings at high.
Upping resolution to the native 4K presented a more serious challenge, however. The game averaged just 38 FPS with details at low and 31 FPS with details at high. While gameplay was smooth enough to be playable, performance was borderline, and Diablo 3 is not a demanding title. More technically advanced games will only be enjoyable at 1080p.
Stay at home
The Aspire V15, unlike many luxurious laptops, doesn’t try to be portable. It’s almost an inch thick (which disqualifies it from Intel’s Ultrabook label) and weighs almost five and a half pounds. Both the Dell XPS 15 Touch and MacBook Pro 15 with Retina are two-tenths of an inch thinner and weigh nearly a pound less.
Want to travel? Forget it. The battery can’t keep up with the 4K display.
Keeping the weight was the right call. Peacekeeper, a Web browsing benchmark, sucked the battery dry in just two hours and 12 minutes. That’s less than many gaming laptops! Making the V15 extremely thin and light would’ve made the system better for travel, but would also mean a smaller battery and even worse endurance.
Excessive power draw is the cause of lackluster battery life. The wattmeter recorded up to 23.5 watts of consumption at idle with the display at 100 percent. Full system load pegged draw as high as 90.5 watts. That’s as much as some all-in-one computers and roughly twice an average 15-inch notebook like the Toshiba Satellite Radius, which uses only 13.4 watts at idle and 41.5 watts at full system load.
Noise and heat
The Aspire V15’s high power draw could have caused excessive heat, but the system proved rather tame. The maximum external temperature came it at 82.6 degrees Fahrenheit at idle and 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit at load. Not exactly cool, but it’s only a few degrees warmer than the Toshiba Satellite Radius and Lenovo IdeaPad Z40.
The fan is tolerable, too. The decibel meter recorded a maximum of 39.1dB at full load, which is less than most notebooks on the market. It’s only a decibel louder than the ASUS G751JY, a gaming laptop that stunned us with its amazingly calm operation. The Toshiba Satellite Radius is seven decibels louder at load!
Buyers should note, though, that peace and quiet is accomplished through the use of massive vents on the system’s bottom. That makes the V15 a poor choice for lap use, as cloth might block those vents and force the fan to work overtime.
Acer’s Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition delivers on the promise of 4K in a laptop. While it’s arguable the resolution isn’t needed on a 15.6-inch display (Apple’s Retina resolution of 2,880×1,800 already obscures pixels nicely) that dispute can be left for another day. The V15’s display is close to perfection. I fell in love with it.
The system also lives up to its “Nitro” name by delivering solid performance in every category. Graphics performance is a particular triumph. Dell’s XPS 15 Touch and Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina can’t compete with the Aspire V15 because both use Nvidia’s older and less power GT 750M (and even that isn’t standard).
That’s the good news. The bad news? Acer’s advantages are balanced by notable flaws. Battery life is abysmal, the keyboard and touchpad are mediocre at best and the system’s aesthetic doesn’t support the price tag. Left on its own, with the display closed, a layman could easily mistake the V15 for a $600 system. The $1,799 MSRP is lower than the competition, true, but only by a few hundred bucks.
I’d love to recommend the Aspire V15, but I can’t. It’s a system with extremely specific strengths and weaknesses. What’s good is amazing, but what’s bad is worst-in-class. A few design upgrades could make this a real MacBook killer. For now, though, it’s merely an alternative.
- Good port selection
- Excellent 4K display
- Strong audio quality
- Quick performance in all areas
- Doesn’t look its price
- Larger than the competition
- Very short battery life