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Acer Nitro 5 Spin review

The Acer Nitro 5 Spin tries too hard to be a gaming notebook and a 2-in-1

Acer Nitro 5 Spin review
Acer Nitro 5 Spin
MSRP $999.99
“The Acer Nitro 5 Spin tries mashing a gaming notebook into a 2-in-1 chassis, with mixed results.”
  • Solid build quality
  • Attractive gaming design
  • Solid productivity performance
  • A better display than similarly priced gaming notebooks
  • Mixed gaming performance given the GPU
  • Mediocre battery life
  • Keyboard lacks sufficient travel
  • Large and heavy for a 2-in-1

The Windows 2-in-1 market is showing remarkable flexibility (no pun intended), with a wide variety of form factors and configurations aimed at all kinds of users. There are 2-in-1s for productivity, 2-in-1s for creativity, and 2-in-1s that can act as gaming notebooks in a pinch. And then there are even more niche machines, like gaming 2-in-1s that can also do productivity work. As an example, Acer has its Nitro 5 Spin, a 2-in-1 that’s clearly designed for gaming while offering the ability to spin the display all the way around.

Our review unit came equipped with a quad-core eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), a 1TB 5400 RPM SATA hard disk drive (HDD), and a 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 141 PPI) IPS display. It’s priced at $1,100, inching it into premium territory and pitting it against some serious competition.

Is it possible to make a great convertible 2-in-1 with gaming as its primary focus? Read our Acer Nitro 5 Spin review to find out.

A design that’s gaming first, 2-in-1 second

The Nitro 5 Spin’s deep black chassis with red trim along the keyboard deck and red hinges immediately gives it away as a gaming-focused notebook. Open the lid and you’ll see copious amounts of red on the keyboard as well, along with the telltale dedicated WASD keys that stand out whether the backlight is on or off. But while it’s clearly a gaming aesthetic, it doesn’t sport any weird angles or jet exhaust venting like with the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 that will stand out in a coffee shop.

And, unlike many gaming notebooks, Acer utilized an all-metal build in the Nitro 5 Spin that’s similar in quality to pure productivity notebooks like the Lenovo Yoga 720 15 and HP Spectre x360 15. There’s just the slightest bit of flex in the lid, but otherwise it’s a robust enough build that it inspires confidence carrying it around. The hinge is well-designed with good grip and a fluid motion, allowing the display to be lifted into clamshell mode with one hand while holding things together in multimedia, tent, and tablet modes.

Of course, it’s a large 2-in-1 thanks to its 15.6-inch display and large bezels that make the chassis almost an inch wider than it might have been. It’s relatively thin, coming in at 0.70 inches – that’s just slightly less than both the Yoga 720 15 and the Spectre x360 15. But it’s also heavier than both of those 2-in-1s at a hefty 4.85 pounds. That means that you’ll be less inclined to use it as a tablet, at least while it’s tucked away in the crook of your arm, unless you spend plenty of time in the gym.

The Nitro 5 Spin’s deep black chassis with red hinges and trim along the keyboard deck immediately gives it away as a gaming-focused notebook

As with most larger notebooks, the Nitro 5 Spin makes good use of its chassis size and packs in plenty of ports. There’s a USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port (unfortunately, without Thunderbolt 3 support), two USB-A 3.0 ports, a USB-A 2.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, and an Ethernet jack. For wireless connectivity you get the usual 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac and Bluetooth radios. Oddly enough, there’s no SD card reader, which would have been nice to have.

Input is mediocre, but those WASD keys are nice to have

As mentioned earlier, the red-trimmed and backlit (one brightness level) keyboard sports handy WASD keys for gaming, and that’s where the major accolades end. The keys lack travel and have an abrupt bottoming action that’s a bit jarring, but they’re snappy which again likely appeals most to gamers. Fitting in a numeric keypad meant squeezing the layout a bit, with some keys on the right-hand side – notably the Alt and Ctl keys – smaller than we’d like.

Acer Nitro 5 Spin review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The touchpad is a decent size and is a Microsoft Precision version. Windows 10 multitouch gestures are therefore reliable and precise, and the surface is conducive to fast swiping. The Windows 10 Hello fingerprint scanner is in the upper right-hand corner of the touchpad, which means it’s a bit in the way, but it responds quickly for password-less login.

Finally, the display support multitouch, and the Acer active pen is a $50 option. It’s nothing special, with only 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity versus the 4,096 levels and tilt support on competitors like the Microsoft Surface Book 2 15. It works, but you’ll want to use it with the Nitro 5 Spin laying on stable surface given the 2-in-1’s significant size.

A display that’s average for productivity but superior for gaming

The Nitro 5 Spin comes with a 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 142 PPI), which is becoming more and more typical of today’s notebooks. It’s also a good resolution for an entry-level gaming system, which can then play modern titles at native resolution with some level of performance.

[infogram-responsive id="438b231b-73d8-40fd-b0d2-c03a1816c98b" title="Acer Nitro 5 Spin Display Performance"]

When subjected to our colorimeter, the panel that Acer chose for the machine is just about average compared to run-of-the-mill 2-in-1s, it falls short against more premium versions, and it’s better than the typical gaming notebook. Compare contrast, for example – the Nitro 5 Spin is right in line with the Yoga 720, falls short of the ultra-expensive Surface Book 2 and Dell XPS 2-in-1, and beats out the Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming.

The same is true for brightness, where the Nitro 5 Spin is good but not great at 292 nits and color gamut. Color accuracy is a real weakness, and gamma is too dark at 2.4, which impacts video and photo viewing.

In our own daily usage, we didn’t have complaints about the display, but it didn’t knock our socks off either. That’s pretty much the definition of “average,” but it is worth nothing that gaming notebooks in this price range sometimes come up short in contrast, brightness, and color gamut.

Acer Nitro 5 Spin review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Acer spent some time creating a powerful audio system for the Nitro 5 Spin, and it shows. Two front-firing speakers mate with a dedicated subwoofer to provide quite a bit of volume and some real punch for watching movies and TV. Given the notebook’s size, there’s even some stereo separation, which adds to the audio experience. You’ll notice some distortion above 80 percent volume or so, but you don’t really need to turn it up that loud to fill a medium-size room.

Solid performance for both gamers and workers

Many gaming notebooks — like the HP Omen 15 — opt for 45-watt Intel CPUs, but the Nitro 5 Spin makes due with the eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U, a 15-watt processor. That means that it performs almost as well, but is far more efficient.

Acer tuned the Nitro 5 Spin quite well, and it squeezes out all of the CPU’s performance. It competes well against other similarly-equipped notebooks such as the Surface Book 2 15, and it even competes with the very fast Intel Core i7-8705G in the Dell XPS 2-in-1 with its higher power rating. That’s true in both the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark, although the Dell’s faster CPU managed a better score in our Handbrake real-world video encoding test.

Acer equipped the Nitro 5 Spin with a 256GB Micron 1100 SATA SSD and a secondary spinning hard disk drive (HDD). Unsurprisingly, the SATA SSD was considerably slower than the PCIe SSDs in our comparison group. It’s not something you’ll notice in most real-world tasks, and you’ll likely be loading your games from the larger HDD that’s going to be the real storage bottleneck.

[infogram-responsive id="5b295000-9856-4c63-9822-6bea9eee08f2" title="Acer Nitro 5 Spin Processor Performance"]

Overall, the Nitro 5 Spin is fast enough for most anything you’ll throw at it, be it productivity apps or gaming, and you’d hope to get some extra efficiency as well. But you’ll likely find faster PCIe SSDs at this  price point, particularly with most 2-in-1 competitors.

Somewhat disappointing entry-level gaming chops

Acer equipped the Nitro 5 Spin with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU. That’s usually good enough for solid entry-level 1080P gaming in most modern titles, as long as you’re willing to set graphical detail at a medium setting.

[infogram-responsive id="a5050b4a-8b66-4039-84b2-9f90390d25fe" title="Acer Nitro 5 Spin Gaming Performance"]

The gaming 2-in-1’s synthetic 3DMark benchmark tests are in line with what we’d expect for the GPU, competing with the Yoga 720 15, Microsoft Surface Book 2 13, and Asus VivoBook Pro N580. Unsurprisingly, it falls down against dedicated gaming systems with faster GPUs like the Dell Inspiron 15 7577, and it can’t keep up with the AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics in the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1.

In real-life gaming, though, the Nitro 5 Spin was a bit disappointing. It only managed 41 frames per second (FPS) in Battlefield 1 at 1080P with medium graphics, for example, which is slower than the 63 FPS managed by the Asus VivoBook Pro N580, the 55 FPS scored by the Yoga 720 15, and the 53 FPS in the Surface Book 2 13 in “Best performance” mode. Its 44 FPS in Civilization VI in 1080p with medium graphics is also lower than most machines in our comparison group.

Acer Nitro 5 Spin review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Ultimately, while you can get a better gaming experience out of the Nitro 5 Spin than you will from even some other 2-in-1s, with the Yoga 720 15 being a prime example for most games. Acer’s 2-in-1 may look like a gaming machine, but in real-world testing its gaming chops are mostly skin deep.

Not bad for a gaming notebook, but heavy and short-lasting for a convertible 2-in-1

The Nitro 5 Spin has a relatively small 50 watt-hours of battery capacity tucked away in its generously-sized chassis. Although its CPU is efficient, that’s not a lot of juice for a machine with a 15.6-inch display even if it is “only” Full HD.

[infogram-responsive id="360032cf-2ac2-4883-82d5-8a9e28220b89" title="Acer Nitro 5 Spin Battery Performance"]

Unsurprisingly, battery life was unimpressive. Acer’s 2-in-1 managed only three hours in our Basemark test, which isn’t a bad score for gaming notebooks but falls well short of 2-in-1s like the Surface Book 2 15 and the smaller Asus ZenBook Flip 14. Only the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 was worse at just over two hours, although we’ll note that our review unit was equipped with a power-sucking 4K display.

In our web browsing test, the Nitro 5 Spin managed under seven hours, which fell short of the Yoga 720 and the Surface Book 2 15. Again, the XPS 15 2-in-1 fell short against other 2-in-1s. Finally, in our test that loops a local video until the battery runs out, the Nitro 5 Spin couldn’t make it to nine hours, where the Yoga 720 15 and ZenBook Flip 14 lasted for around an hour longer and the Surface Book 2 15 was spectacular at more than 20.5 hours.

It’s large, heavy, and the battery life is mediocre at best. That’s another knock against the Nitro 5 Spin as a convertible 2-in-1 even as it’s a decent enough result for a gaming notebook.

Our Take

The Acer Nitro 5 Spin has some serious aspirations. It wants to be both a gaming notebook and a productivity 2-in-1, and it certainly packs in the right components. Unfortunately, although it looks the part, it’s not a terribly competitive gaming notebook. And like many 15-inch convertible 2-in-1s, it’s just too big to use as a tablet, meaning you’ll mostly just be swiveling the display around for watching video. In the end, the Nitro 5 Spin is a Jack of two trades and a master of none.

Is there a better alternative?

The 15-inch 2-in-1 market is chock full of good alternatives. We’ve already mentioned the Lenovo Yoga 720, which is slightly lighter, packs in similar components, and performs just as well if not better. And, it’s a bit less expensive at $1,000 for a Core i5-7300HQ, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, and without the 1TB HDD.

If you can spend some additional money, you could consider either size of Microsoft’s Surface Book 2. The 13.5-inch model has a slightly faster CPU and a GTX 1050 that’s a bit faster in real-world gaming, and the 15-inch model has a significantly faster Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 that blows the Nitro 5 Spin away in playing modern games. Or, you could opt for a dedicated gaming notebook like the Dell Inspiron 15 7577 and eschew the 2-in-1 form factor completely. For $950 or so, that would net you an Intel Core i5-7300HQ, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with Max Q that will be a real step up in gaming. You’ll give up some things, though, such as in the svelte chassis, the display, and in battery life.

How long will it last?

The Nitro 5 Spin is built well enough that you shouldn’t worry about it falling apart on you, and it’s equipped well enough for years of productive use. It’s not a long-term gaming solution, though as its GTX 1050 won’t keep up with newer titles and it’s not the fastest implementation to begin with. The one-year warranty is standard, neither better nor worse than most competitors.

Should you buy it?

No. If you want a gaming notebook, then buy one. Don’t bother with a convertible 2-in-1 that just pretends to be for gaming. Even if that’s what you are looking for, this isn’t the best of the options.

Mark Coppock
Mark has been a geek since MS-DOS gave way to Windows and the PalmPilot was a thing. He’s translated his love for…
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