Looks aren't everything, just ask the Acer Aspire 5. It may not have slim bezels, nor does it have a shiny stylish glass design or brushed metal detailing, but what it will give you is great value, reliable performance and very useful functionality features. Because of that, it's still one of the best laptops under £500.
The Aspire 5's beefy bezels and dated chassis may not make a great initial impression. But under the hood, this Acer packs a serious punch with its 10th Gen Intel Core processor with a fast M.2 SSD, plus a 1080p IPS panel, and all for a reasonable price. Factor in 8GB of RAM and a decent 48Wh battery, you'll have a laptop you can count on.
What's more, as tested this is the 14-inch Acer Aspire 5 A514-52-582Y model (15-inch models and variants running AMD processors are also available), so despite the mediocre screen to body ratio this remains a pretty portable device.
Connectivity isn't bad either, with USB Type-C and ethernet in the mix. It covers most bases. There are certainly better-looking laptops at this price (head to our general best laptops ranking for more of those). But despite that, the Acer Aspire 5 presents a pretty strong overall package. Read on to find out more.
To see how this compares to its cheaper sibling, head to our Acer Aspire 5 vs Acer Aspire 3 faceoff.
Acer Aspire 5 review: Design and build
On first acquaintance, the Acer Aspire 5 feels like a refuge from circa 2015. The slightly dated design is notable chiefly for big, fat bezels top and bottom of the 14-inch display. That said, slim side bezels at least ensure fairly compact overall proportions. At 1.7kg and 17mm thick, portability is decent and is aided by the compact 45W power supply. If you want something more stylish, head to our Asus Vivobook 15 vs Acer Aspire 5 comparison – the Asus is a slicker looking laptop for a similar price, but there are compromises elsewhere.
It's worth noting the power supply uses an old school barrel connector. The Aspire 5 does have USB Type-C connectivity, but only for data. You can't charge it via USB-C, more's the pity.
Still, one fringe benefit of the relative bezel bulge is plenty of space up top for proper webcam location. Your Zoom accomplices won't have to suffer the up-nose angle that blights some slim-bezel laptops, at least.
Another design throwback is the somewhat stingy plastic trackpad. If you've tried one of the modern-style larger glass topped trackpads, it's awfully hard to revert. The Acer's trackpad feels constrained, limiting and a little cheap by comparison.
Still, it's reasonably solid which is a sentiment that applies more broadly to the Acer Aspire 5. With its metal keyboard surround and screen enclosure, it feels ready to take a beating. The only exception is the keyboard. The bed is prone to a bit of bounce.
The screen hinge is likewise robust, if anything it's a bit too stiff. Try to lift the Aspire 5's screen lid single-handedly and the entire chassis comes along for the ride. Bummer.
As for ports and connectivity, on the right hand side of the chassis you'll discover a plain old USB Type-A 2.0 socket and a headphone jack. On the left there's HDMI, a pair of 5Gbps USB 3.1 ports, plus a USB Type-C connector, again running at 5Gbps. The only conspicuous omission is an SD card reader.
Audio wise, the Acer Aspire 5 is configured with a pair of bottom-firing stereo speakers at the front of the chassis. In terms of clarity and soundstage imaging, they're not actually all that bad. But the total absence of anything akin to bass and also very little by way of mid-range results in a very thin overall audio experience.
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Acer Aspire 5 review: Specs and hardware
Acer Aspire 5 A514-52-582Y: Specs
CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-10210U (quad-core, eight threads, 6MB cache 4.2GHz Turbo)
Graphics: Intel UHD integrated
Screen: 14-inch IPS 1,920 x 1080
Storage: Kingston 256GB PCIe M.2
Ports: 1x USB C 5Gbps, 2x USB 3.1 5Gbps, 1x USB 2.0, HDMI, headphone
Connectivity: Ethernet, Intel WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
Size: 17 x 329 x 236mm
Quad-core CPU, eight gig of RAM, decent SSD. Yup, the Acer Aspire has all the makings of a proper, no-compromise computing experience. The CPU in question is Intel's Core i5-10210U. While it is strictly speaking a member of Intel's latest 10th Gen family, it's an older 14nm chip rather than one of Intel's newer 10nm Ice Lake or Tiger Lake processors.
Meanwhile, the 8GB of RAM is reasonable at this price point and allows for a decent level of multitasking, while the 256GB M.2 SSD is likewise a solid storage solution and as much as you can expect at this price level.
Arguably slightly more impressive is the 14-inch display. It's 1080p, which is par for the course at this price point. But it also uses IPS panel technology, which should put it a cut above many value-orientated laptops in terms of colours and contrast.
The final piece of the spec puzzle is battery life. The Aspire 5 as reviewed packs a pretty generous 48W lithium pack which Acer claims is good for an impressive 12.5 hours. Head to our Acer Aspire 5 vs Lenovo IdeaPad 3 face-off to see how this similarly-priced competitor compares.
Acer Aspire 5 review: Performance
The Aspire 5's Intel CPU might not be the very latest tech. But you still get four proper high performance cores, eight threads and boost clockspeed up to 4.2GHz and sustained frequencies under full load across all cores of around 2.2GHz to 2.3GHz.
Acer Aspire 5: Benchmarks
3DMark: Night Raid: 5,246 Sky Diver: 4,493; Fire Strike: 1,123; Time Spy: 426
Cinebench R20 CPU: 1254
GeekBench 5: 1060 (single-core); 3231 (multi-core)
PCMark 8: 3593 points
PCMark 10: 4,007 points
PCMark 10 Battery Life: 10 hours and 43 minutes
Granted, this laptop wouldn't be a great choice for really heavy duty rendering or encoding. But it's a strong all rounder that will turn it's hand to light content creation on the move. Certainly, it's good for more than just web browsing and streaming video.
That said, it's best to keep expectations in check when it comes to graphics performance. No integrated graphics is up to the job of proper gaming and this CPU doesn't even offer Intel's best integrated graphics.
Storage, however, is another plus point thanks to the kKingston M.2 SSD. OK, there are far faster M.2 drives available. But our testing extracted 1.6GB/s reads and 900MB/s writes, making it far faster than any SATA drive.
As for that 1080p IPS 14-inch display, it's most good news. The IPS tech delivers on its promise in most regards, with excellent viewing angles, natural colours and decent contrast. Brightness is a slight weak point and the Aspire 5 wouldn't be much fun to use in indoor environments with high levels of ambient light. Outdoors? Pretty much forget it, the backlight isn't powerful enough to cut through direct sunlight.
As for battery life, the Aspire 5 delivered over 10 hours in PCMark 10. In the real world of web browsing and video playback, it's good for that 12.5 hour claim. In other words, this is a genuine all-day device. Impressive.
Acer Aspire 5 review: Verdict
It's not the prettiest portable PC, the Acer Aspire 5, what with it's beefy screen bezels and dated chassis styling. But where it really counts, this laptop usually delivers.
There's strong performance from the combination of Intel quad-core CPU, 8GB of RAM and M.2 SSD. The 14-inch IPS display is a cut above in most regards at this price point, too. Then there's the bona fide all-day battery life. For the money, that's one heck of an all-round combination.
Even the chassis isn't so bad if durability rather than style are deemed the more critical metrics. For sure, we wish the Acer Aspire 5 were a little easier on the eye. But if you're looking for a laptop with a great feature set, strong performance, a good screen and proper all-day battery life, all four around £500, the Aspire 5 definitely delivers.