Sunday, 15 November 2015

HP Omen Review: A Slim, Sophisticated Gaming Machine

Suddenly, it seems as though every PC manufacturer in the country is pushing a gaming laptop or two. Maybe it's because of recent advancements in mobile graphics capabilities, or maybe it's because there's only so far you can go in the thin-and-light category. Either way, we're glad to see the comeback of powerful machines. HP seems to agree, but unlike some of the other products we've seen of late, the HP Omen is really trying to be the best of both worlds.
Gaming laptops are generally portable, but you wouldn't want to carry them around every day. That isn't necessarily true of the HP Omen, which at 2.12kg and just 20mm thick, isn't too much of an inconvenience. What this machine does have in common with its counterparts though is aggressive styling, an abundance of LEDs, and a very ambitious price tag. Let's see how it stacks up.
Look and feel
The HP Omen comes in a distinctive trapezoidal box with a graphic printed sleeve. The laptop is nestled under a foam-padded lid, and the charger and bundled USB Ethernet adapter fit into a cavity below it. The Omen itself follows the same design cues, with a wide top and sides that taper down and inwards to meet a much smaller base.
The Omen's lid is matte black metal with a pattern of embossed triangles. It looks great at first, but the tiny indentations quickly fill up with dust. Hewlett Packard's name is spelt out in bold, off-centre lettering. The other thing you'll notice at once is the bright metallic hinge, which protrudes a little from the back and has a unique burnt effect on the ends. Flipping the Omen over, you'll see that HP has paid just as much attention to the design of the bottom. There's a huge vent in the same triangular pattern and large rubber legs that seem to encircle the entire device.
When opened, you can see that the angular design results in the lid being wider than the base. This looks a little odd, especially because the screen appears to have an extra border around its frame. The keyboard deck is also metal, but is devoid of texture other than the perforated speaker grilles running down the sides. All attention is meant to be focused on the multi-coloured lighting effects.
The keyboard has a standard layout with an additional column of programmable shortcut keys on the left. Sadly, the available space wasn't used to make the core layout any better, so you'll have to deal with a ridiculously squashed arrow cluster.
The keyboard has six different lighting zones - the power button, the programmable keys, the WASD keys, and the rest of the main QWERTY block in three sections. The two speaker grilles are another independent zone. HP's preloaded software lets you tweak the colours and intensity of the lighting - more on that later.
There isn't any other laptop that looks quite like this, and with good reason. The sharply tapered sides make it impossible to have any ports there, so they're all on the rear; out of reach. From left to right, you have the power inlet, four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort video outputs, and a 3.5mm audio socket. They're all very closely spaced, so you might have a tough time especially with larger USB devices. The only thing that isn't on the back is the SD card slot which fits in a cutout on the right.

HP has made some interesting choices in order to balance power, physical design, cooling, weight, and maybe to some extent, cost. The CPU is a pretty high-end Intel Core i7-4720HQ - the same as we saw in the MSI GT80 2QE Titan SLI. It runs at 2.26GHz with the ability to turbo up to 3.6GHz for short bursts. The four cores support Hyper-Threading for a total of eight concurrent threads.
There's 8GB of DDR3 RAM though we would really have liked to have seen 16GB on a machine of this calibre. The only storage option is a 256GB SSD which again seems like it might run short especially considering that each top-tier game can occupy 60GB or more these days.
Graphics duties are handled by an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M with 4GB of dedicated VRAM, which is a decidedly mid-range solution. The touchscreen measures 15.6 inches diagonally and has a comfortable resolution of 1920x1280.
There's also an HD webcam, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet via an included USB adapter. HP has a tie-up with Bang & Olufsen and all its laptops now come with B&O enhanced sound, which should be a suitable replacement for Beats. The Omen ships with Windows 8.1 which you can upgrade to Windows 10 for free.
We spent quite a bit of time getting to know the HP Omen. It seems clear that HP wanted its gaming laptop to be refined and sleek, rather than an all-out beast like the MSI GT 80. It definitely wins points for style and we felt that we could carry it around and use it for all kinds of tasks other than just gaming. However, there were certain compromises.
We found the screen to be far too reflective - it needed constant adjustment even under ordinary indoor lighting. Having all the ports on the rear proved to be quite inconvenient - at least the audio jack should have been more accessible.
HP might say the keyboard is designed for gamers, but we found it to be too shallow to really allow for quick flicks. It also wasn't that great for regular typing. On the other hand, the extra wide trackpad was a pleasure to use.
The lighting effects are a bit over the top, but that's perfectly normal for a device like this. If you don't like it, you can turn it off for some or all zones. We turned off the colour cycling animation pretty much immediately and then turned down the brightness. We also found that the on-screen colour picker wasn't really accurate, so a lot of experimentation is needed. The programmable keys can be set up for different games (or anything else, really) using profiles. We also liked the ability to disable shortcuts via the Advanced panel.
Fan noise is always a concern with high-end components, and we found that HP could have done a better job with the Omen. The fans were never too loud during games, but they did ramp up very sharply and suddenly; sometimes even when nothing was going on. Fan noise was definitely noticeable - maybe a design with more vents would have helped.
HP has gone with the same processor we saw in the MSI GT80, and yet the final package is much slimmer, lighter, and less expensive. The significantly lower-end graphics solution has a huge part to play in this, but we're eager to see the differences resulting from HP's approach. We noted very similar scores between the two in CPU-intensive tests. In fact the HP Omen came out very, very slightly ahead with a CPU score of 667 in Cinebench and an overall trace time of 3 minutes, 16 seconds in POVRay. HyperPi and SiSoft Sandra's CPU arithmetic, multimedia and encryption tests also showed negligible differences between the two. PCMark showed a slight difference in the Work scenario but much more pronounced ones in the Home and Creative runs which test multimedia as well.
So in terms of CPU power, the HP Omen matches a device that's nearly twice its size, weight and price. However, that doesn't tell the whole story. HP has gone for a much wider appeal, not the same all-out, no-compromises approach. There's no way to compare the two on any other parameters. Tests of the memory, storage and graphics subsystems show clear differences between the two.
We got a score of 3,904 overall in 3DMark's Fire Strike test. The higher-end Fire Strike Extreme and Ultra tests gave us scores of 1,967 and 962 points respectively. Unigine Valley ran at an average of 20.2fps with dips as low as 8.7fps when run at 1080p with 8xAA and the quality set to Ultra. As expected with the GeForce GTX 960M GPU, we were unable to push quality settings to the limit and had to go easy on the special effects for a smooth enough experience.

Tomb Raider, one of our favourite titles and also one that doesn't need top-end hardware, gave us a very playable 51fps average in its internal benchmark. At its lowest point it still manged 42fps - that's with 16xAF and the quality set to Ultra at 1080p. Desktop GTX 960 cards perform only a little better than this, so you're actually getting excellent performance.
Far Cry 4 also ran pretty smoothly at 1080p with Ultra quality, SMAA and HBAO+ enabled. Using FRAPS during an unstructured gaming session, we recorded an average of 28fps with minor stuttering in places. Frame times varied between 35.8ms overall and 50.6ms for the 99th percentile of frames. Lowering settings a bit worked well again.
Battlefield 4 also ran well enough with moderate settings. For benchmarking, we ran it at native 1080p with 4xMSAA and HBAO enabled, and averaged a reasonable 31fps. Gameplay was smooth and enjoyable. Crysis 3 on the other hand showed its demanding side and ran at barely 15fps with the average frame time as high as 66.1ms and wild inconsistency in pacing, all the way up to 102fps for the 99th percentile. We couldn't enjoy this game at 1080p without drastically lowering settings.
Sound was pretty impressive in movies and games alike. We didn't find it entirely immersive, but it managed to get quite loud without crackling or getting tinny. The battery lasted 1 hour, 47 minutes in Battery Eater Pro's standard test, which should translate to about 4-5 hours of casual usage. You won't be gaming on battery power anyway.
We've compared the HP Omen to MSI's GT80 in some aspects, but the two are very different animals meant for very different buyers. Doing so just serves to illustrate that "gaming laptop" doesn't mean one specific type of device. While MSI went for all-out power with no worries about cost or practicality, HP knows that the mainstream audience it is targeting would never put up with that.
The HP Omen strives to be stylish and versatile, and while it does pull that off completely, it sometimes feels as though too much attention was paid to those aspects of design and not enough to core usability. We think the balance of gaming power and portability is just right - you can carry the Omen around and get all your day-to-day work done as well. It isn't the most comfortable laptop for that purpose, but it will make heads turn.
If space is more of a constraint than budget, you'll really like the HP Omen. However, if you need something for hardcore gaming and want it to run top-tier titles even a year or two from now, you might want to keep your options open.
Price (MRP): Rs. 1,59,990
  • Relatively lightweight and portable
  • Looks fantastic
  • Can run modern games at medium settings
  • Shallow keyboard
  • Inconvenient design
Ratings (Out of 5)
  • Design: 4.5
  • Display: 4
  • Performance: 4
  • Software: 4
  • Value for Money: 4
  • Overall: 4

HP 15-ac101TU Review

Soon after Microsoft unveiled its Windows 10 devices on October 6, its OEM partners started taking turns unveiling their own Windows 10-ready devices. HP was one of the first hardware partners toannounce its new line of laptops and 2-in-1 devices. The new operating system (OS) from the Redmond-based tech giant was just the shot of adrenaline needed to jump start the PC industry, which had been in a slump for a long time. The new features added to Windows 10 also give OEMs added incentive to think outside the box and come up with new ways of interacting with PCs.
These new and exciting devices are yet to hit store shelves in India and we should probably expect them around the end of 2015. However, this hasn't stopped OEMs from launching refreshed versions of older models with Windows 10, and that's exactly what we have today with the HP 15-ac101TU. This is the first laptop we're testing to come with Windows 10 pre-installed. It's a budget offering from HP designed for those looking for a general-purpose computer at home. We'll be referring to the laptop as HP 15 for the rest of the review to keep it simple.
Look and Feel
For alaptop at this price level, the HP 15 looks really good. We received the 'Turbo Silver' variant but you also have a choice of 'Flyer Red' and 'Nobel Blue', which have different model numbers. Instead of a simple texture, HP has gone with a diamond pattern for the lid which enhances the aesthetic appeal and keeps fingerprints at bay. There's also a large 'HP' logo prominently displayed in the centre.
Opening up the lid reveals a cross-brush pattern for the keyboard deck. The laptop is made primarily of plastic but thanks to the clever patterns and textures, it doesn't appear tacky. You get a full-sized keyboard along with a number pad. The chiclet-styled keys have good spacing although we're not a big fan of HP's design of the arrow cluster as the keys are too close together. 
We didn't like the tactile response of the keys too much; they feel too hard when you type. The travel is decent and even though they aren't sculpted, you'll rarely hit the wrong one. We really liked the fact that the entire palm rest, trackpad and keyboard tray is just one piece of plastic. It makes the keyboard very rigid and the keys don't deform even when you're typing rapidly. There's also very little chance for dust and dirt to accumulate.
The trackpad is very roomy and you get two physical buttons for left and right mouse clicks. We often found ourselves hitting the edge of the laptop when we needed the buttons, thanks to their placement. It's just something that will be better once you get used to it.
The ports are spread on either side of the laptop. On the right, we have an SD card slot, one USB 2.0 port, DVD writer, Kensington lock slot, and LEDs for power and hard disk activity. Over on the left, we have the headphones socket, one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port, HDMI v1.4, a LAN port, the charging inlet, and exhaust vents. We would have liked to see more USB 3.0 ports since this is amodern 15.6-inch laptop.
Underneath, we have the two speaker grilles, which are front-firing but angled downwards. HP doesn't provide a hatch to easily get to the RAM or HDD. However, the battery is removable.
Overall, HP has done a decent job with the design and finish of the 15-ac101TU. It's quite slim, measuring around 22mm in thickness, but is fairly large and heavy at 2.1kg. HP ships a charger and backpack with the laptop, although you can pick it up without the bag from online stores and save a few rupees.
Specifications and Software
The HP 15 is powered by a 5th Generation Intel Core i3-5005U CPU. This is a Broadwell chip which borrows the same basic architecture from Haswell (Intel's 4xxx series CPUs) but uses the smaller 14nm fabrication process. It's a dual-core CPU with a maximum speed of 2GHz (no Turbo) and supports Intel's Hyper-Threading. You also get 4GB of DDR3 (1600MHz) RAM, a 1TB 5400rpm hard drive, and integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500. Other specifications include Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, an HD webcam, a 4-cell battery (41WHr) and DTS Studio Sound enhancement for the stereo speakers. The two DIMM slots can accommodate up to 8GB of RAM, even though they aren't user-accessible.
On the software front, HP installs Windows 10 Home 64-bit edition and a bunch of apps. There are a couple of programs from CyberLink including YouCam, PhotoDirector, and Power Media Player. You also get 25GB of free Dropbox cloud storage for six months with the laptop. HP doesn't bundle Microsoft's Office suite but you do get WPS Office 10 Personal Edition and a trial version of Office 365 Personal Edition. Other software includes WildTangent Games, Evernote, McAfee LiveSafe Internet Security, and HP's support programs. The latter can get on your nerves with popup messages every now and then, which are a pain to get rid of.
Once you get rid of the annoying bloatware, the HP 15 functions well. You'll notice a hint of sluggishness intermittently but Windows 10 runs smoothly for the most part. If you're coming from a Windows 7 PC then it will take some getting used. The search box in the taskbar is your best friend when it comes to finding programs and features. In fact, here are some default settings that we recommend you change on any Windows 10 machine before you get started.
To take full advantage of all the features, we recommend you sign in with your Microsoft account. The Cortana voice assistant feature is disabled by default but you can enable it by simply changing the region from India to the US. You can initiate commands with the phrase 'Hey Cortana', which works well on the HP 15. Some features such as Windows Hello are not supported simply because this laptop doesn't come with the required hardware for biometric user recognition.

(Also seeWindows 10 Review: New, Yet Familiar)
The 15.6-inch screen has a resolution of 1366x768 and is LED backlit. As you'd expect, viewing angles are quite poor as colour banding is very evident even in wallpaper images. This also affects text and icons, which exhibit jagged edges. The lid doesn't offer much protection either, and the display smears pretty easily when you apply even light pressure. The screen is highly glossy so reflections are a real nuisance.
The trackpad has good response thanks to the smooth surface and HP has also added gestures for Windows 10. A 3-finger tap will wake up Cortana while a 4-finger tap will bring up Action Centre from the right, which is similar to the notification shade in Android. A 3-finger swipe down will minimise all open windows. Other gestures are similar to what we've seen from HP in the past.
Coming to the benchmarks, the HP 15 scored 2,842 and 3,878 in the Home and Work benchmark suites of PCMark 8. In the graphics tests, we got an overall score of 495 in 3DMark Fire Strike. POVRay completed its run in 10 minutes and 42 seconds. These numbers show that the i3-5005U is marginally better than the similar Haswell counterpart which powered the HP Pavilion 13 (Review). It's more than adequate for running Windows 10 with ease as well as light multimedia work.
HP_15_ac101TU_cinebench_ndtv.jpgCinebench R15 - CPU and GPU scores (Higher is better)

The HP 15 supports 4K video playback with hardware decoding, due to which CPU utilisation rarely goes beyond 15 percent. This means you can perform other tasks in the background. However, watching a movie isn't a very enjoyable experience due to the lackluster screen. Audio quality is not too shabby though. After tinkering around with the DTS enhancements, audio levels can become fairly loud with decent depth. The placement of the speakers also helps sound bounce off a table's surface, thereby amplifying it a little.
The 41WHr battery managed to give us 2 hours and 11 minutes in Battery Eater Pro. This should translate to roughly 4 hours of regular usage. It's not great but it's something we've come to expect from laptops in this price range. We didn't notice any heating issues with regular usage and you can only faintly hear the fans spinning when it's working on anything CPU intensive.
The HP 15-ac101TU is a decent entry point for those looking at a basic Windows 10 laptop. At Rs 35,990, it feels a little too expensive, as a price closer to the Rs 30,000 would have been ideal. The build is good for a plastic laptop and HP has added some very neat touches to make it look up-market. We love the moulded palm rest, which apart from looking great, is easy to maintain. The laptop is also fairly slim and it doesn't hurt to have 4K video playback ability as well.
However, there's a lot which can be improved. We would have liked more USB 3.0 ports instead of just the one. The quality of the display could have been better too - if not a higher resolution, then at least a better panel. The lid is quite flimsy and doesn't offer much in terms of protection for the display. Finally, we would have liked at least a 6-cell battery considering the size of this laptop.
Price (MRP): Rs. 35,990
  • Looks good
  • Full-sized keyboard
  • Runs cool and quiet
  • Large trackpad
  • Average battery life
  • Underwhelming display
  • Flimsy lid
  • Single USB 3.0 port
Ratings (Out of 5)
  • Design: 4
  • Display: 3
  • Performance: 3.5
  • Software: 3.5
  • Battery life: 3
  • Value for Money: 3.5
  • Overall: 3.5

Asus A555LF Review

Asus is no stranger to the laptop world. The Taiwanese giant launched a bunch of new Windows 10-ready mainstream laptops earlier this month, and today, we'll be testing its highest-end offering in the A-series, the A555LF. This laptop features an Intel Broadwell CPU and a discrete graphics card for that occasional gaming session. Let's see if it's worth your time and money.
Look and feel
The Asus A555LF is well put together and has pleasing aesthetics which makes it very presentable. The laptop is built primarily of plastic, which is of high quality, but we did notice some flex in the lid and the keyboard. Speaking of the lid, Asus has gone with a mosaic pattern which is really highlighted when light hits it. The finish is glossy brown and is a major fingerprint magnet.
Inside, we have a champagne tone for the palm rest and keyboard deck. The chiclet-style keyboard is comfortable to use and the keys are soft with good travel. You also get a full-sized numeric keypad. Above the keys, we have the power button towards the left and a 'Sonic Master' inscription on the right, which is Asus's proprietary audio enhancement.
The palm rest is generously proportioned and you get a large trackpad too. The latter has a smooth finish with minimal friction. Although the entire trackpad is clickable, the left and right click functions only work when you press the respective corners at the bottom. Also, as the trackpad and the rest of the unit are separate pieces, dirt and dust could accumulate in the gaps over time.
Notification LEDs for power, battery status, hard disk activity and airplane mode are on the front, just below the lip of the palm rest. On the left side, we have an Ethernet port, VGA, HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports, and a Kensington Lock slot. Coming to the right side, we have the DVD writer, a USB 2.0 port, a headphones/ microphone combo socket and the SD card slot. There aren't any ports on the back as the hinge takes up the entire length.
The A555LF doesn't have a removable battery but you do get an access panel for swapping out the RAM. Interestingly, only one 4GB stick can be removed; the other 4GB is soldered directly onto the motherboard. This is quite an unusual design choice and something we haven't come across before. Another thing worth noting is that the removable DIMM supports speeds of up to 1600MHz and is made by Samsung, whereas the soldered chips go up to 1866MHz and are made by Micron. Our guess is that Asus chose this design in order to save some space but still provide a degree of upgradability. 
The laptop is propped up on four rubber feet so it doesn't skid around on a desk. The exhaust vents are cleverly hidden near the hinge so you rarely feel the heat when using it on your lap.
Overall, Asus has done good job in designing the A555LF. Build quality is good and apart from the slight flex on the lid and the keyboard, there isn't much to complain about.
Specifications and software
The A555LF is powered by an Intel Core i5-5200U which is a dual-core CPU with speeds of up to 2.7GHz. There's no Turbo Boost here but you do get Hyper-Threading. There's a total of 8GB of DDR3 RAM in a dual-channel configuration; a 1TB hard disk (5400rpm); and an Nvidia GeForce 930M graphics card with its own 2GB of memory. Other specifications include Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.0, Gigabit LAN, a VGA webcam, and a 2-cell Lithium polymer battery. The battery capacity might seem small but since this is Lithium Polymer, we should expect more runtime than a similar sized Lithium ion battery would provide. The non-HD webcam is a bit disappointing, especially if you'll be video chatting a lot. 
The dedicated GPU is a lower mid-range part from Nvidia based on the Maxwell architecture, which should be good for gaming at low to medium settings depending on how demanding the game is.Asus ships the A555LF with Windows 10 Home 64-bit edition and bunch of its own as well as third-party applications. From Asus's stable, we have Live Update, which will automatically look for latest drivers and software updates; Splendid Utility, which lets you change the display's colour temperature; USB Charger Plus, which lets you charge mobile devices quicker when the laptop is on; WebStorage, which is Asus's own cloud storage service; and WinFlash, which lets you update the BIOS if needed.
Asus also installs 'GiftBox' which is like a mini app store with special offers on paid apps. Finally, there's Asus HiPost which is somewhat like Evernote but uses OneDrive to sync files between devices. You also get McAfee LiveSafe Internet Security (limited time subscription), a trial version of Microsoft Office 365, and 25GB of Dropbox space for six months.
The 15.6-inch display on the A555LF is just like any other you've seen in the budget laptop segment. The low resolution of 768x1366 means icons and text exhibit jagged edges. The screen is glossy making it very reflective in most situations. The viewing angles are not great either, so there's a very small sweet spot where the picture looks like should. Anything beyond this results in either an underexposed or oversaturated picture. 
Cinebench R15 - CPU and GPU scores

Thanks to the decently powerful Core i5 and ample RAM, general performance is good. Applications run well and we didn't have any issues with multi-tasking either. In our synthetic benchmarks, POVRay returned a trace time of 8 minutes and 12 seconds; 3DMark Fire Strike gave us an overall score of 1309; and PCMark 8 returned 2,988, 3,126 and 2,732 points for the Home, Creative and Work benchmark suites respectively.
As this laptop has a dedicated graphics card, we ran a variety of real world games to gauge its true potential. We started off with Crysis 3 and straight away bumped up the 'System spec' and 'Texture resolution' to high. We were averaging about 24FPS, which isn't much, but the game was still manageable. Dialling some of the settings down to medium gave us a smother frame rate.
Tomb Raider (2013) returned an average of 26FPS at the native resolution and everything turned up to 'Ultra'. Switching to the 'High' preset resulted in a more playable frame rate of 35FPS, without having to sacrifice much on visual quality.
Battlefield 4 also ran very well at medium settings. Pushing the graphics settings higher caused some stutter during heavy fire fights but overall, this is pretty decent performance for a lower mid-range card. Games such as FIFA 16 will easily run a lot better with everything maxed out. The GeForce 930M also supports Nvidia's Optimus, you can choose which applications use it and which don't, thereby saving a bit of battery life.
The mobile app 'Remote Link' for remotely controlling the laptop

The keyboard is comfortable to use for long typing sessions and the keys seem relatively durable. They do have a slightly spongy feel, which some might not like, but they are quiet and make very little noise even with vigorous typing. The laptop features Asus's IceCool technology for keeping the palm rest cool, which seems to do its job well. We did notice the area under our right palm got a bit warm during gaming. The trackpad supports additional gestures for Windows 10, so for example a three-finger tap brings up Cortana.

There's also a 'Mobile Control' feature which lets you use remotely control the laptop from your phone using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This initially refused to work for us but after updating the software and making several attempts, we managed to get it to work. 
Audio quality is one of the strong points of the Asus A555LF. The SonicMaster speakers feature electronic wizardry from ICEpower, which is owned by Bang & Olufsen. The bundled 'AudioWizard' application lets you switch between various audio modes depending on the application you're running. The sound from the downward firing speakers is surprisingly loud and crisp which makes it very good for music, movies and even gaming. Bass response is a bit mild as expected, but the overall aural experience is not shrill or tinny.
The laptop easily handles 4K videos thanks to hardware decoding on the onboard GPU, but the screen resolution isn't enough to really enjoy them. The 2-cell Lithium Polymer battery put on a good show as we got 2 hours and 7 minutes in the Battery Eater Pro benchmark. In regular use with Wi-Fi enabled, we managed to get close to 4 hours before needing to reach for the charger.
You can find the Asus A555LF at a street price of Rs 48,999, which is not bad considering its performance. You can find similar options from other manufacturers around this price too but what sets Asus apart is the 2-year global warranty, when most others provide 1-year.
The A555LF has a few shortcomings such as the low-resolution screen and the plastic build, which is a little flimsy in some areas. We also wished Asus had used a slightly bigger battery and thrown in an HD webcam. On the plus side, the laptop has good aesthetics, a comfortable keyboard, decent casual gaming performance, and a very good set of speakers. This makes it a good mainstream option for those unwilling to breach the Rs 50,000 price barrier.
Price (MRP): Rs. 49,490
  • Two USB 3.0 ports
  • Good set of speakers
  • Pleasing aesthetics
  • 2 year global warranty
  • Low resolution display
  • Battery life could be better
  • Non-HD webcam
Ratings (Out of 5)
Design: 3.5
Display: 3
Performance: 3.5
Software: 3.5
Value for Money: 4
Overall: 3.5

Acer Aspire V3-574G-77X8 Review

Traditionally associated with the budget end of the market, Acer is making a concerted push into the premium PC space, with a focus on gaming and design. One of the company's most recent launches in India is the Aspire V3 series of premium laptops, which come with some pretty impressive specifications. This is Acer's entertainment and performance series, so there's none of the usual race to the bottom in terms of shaving every rupee off the price tag.
When trying to understand the laptop market, it's easy to visualise a spectrum with thin-and-light ultraportables at one extreme and desktop-class powerhouses at the other. While the former sacrifice power for style and convenience, the latter are never really going to leave their desks and so designers are free to go overboard. The Acer Aspire V3 series is right in the middle - not really ultraportable, but not outrageously powerful either. It will be interesting to see whether Acer has found the right balance and can give us the best of both worlds.
Look and feel
Acer's idea of premium is to use metallic accents. The body is still largely plastic, but both the lid and the keyboard deck have been accessorised with aluminium panels. The lid is dark with an interesting dashed textile-like pattern, while the inner deck has a more common brushed finish. The silver notched hinge is a nice touch too. The look is pretty good, but doesn't exactly scream high-end indulgence.
Where the Aspire V3 does win points is in its sturdiness. The hinge is reassuringly stiff and unlike many other laptops today, the entire upper half doesn't shake when you're doing your work. There's very little flex to the lid and the screen doesn't ripple badly when pressure is applied to the frame from the sides or rear.
We also like the fact that the screen isn't glossy. You don't get touch capability, but that really isn't important for everyone. At 2.4kg and nearly an inch thick, this laptop is also still convenient enough to carry around every day. On the other hand, we aren't a fan of all the stickers around the screen and wrist rests.
Most of the ports are on the left - going from front to back there's a single 3.5mm headset socket, two USB 3.0 ports (one of which will charge devices when the laptop's off), an HDMI output, Gigabit Ethernet, old-school VGA, and a Kensington lock slot. On the right, there's only a single USB 2.0 port and the power inlet, along with the 8X DVD-RW drive. There's also an SD card slot on the front, nearly hidden under the laptop's lip. We would have liked a few more USB ports, or at least for all of them to be USB 3.0.
Keyboard and trackpad quality are areas where lots of budget laptops trip up, and while Acer has done a good enough job with this premium model, they are by no means perfect. The keyboard keys are crisp and travel well, but the layout is cramped, especially the bottom row and the arrow cluster. It's nice to have a backlight but there are only two settings - on and off. The power button is way too easy to hit, but as a safety mechanism it doesn't do anything unless you hold it down for a few seconds. The trackpad is a bit wobbly and imprecise, though it does support Windows 10 gestures.
Specifications and software
Acer sells the Aspire V3 in a number of configurations, starting with an Intel Core i3-5005U processor and 4GB of RAM. Our review unit had a much more powerful Core i7-5500U with 16GB of RAM. Most of the other hardware is common across the lineup, including the Nvidia GeForce 940M graphics, a 15.6-inch full-HD screen, and a 1TB hybrid hard drive with 8GB of flash. Acer refers to this as an SSD, but honestly 8GB isn't even enough to hold the OS or flush the RAM and let the laptop hibernate quickly, so it's really more of a cache.
You also get Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi ac, a 2500mAh 4-cell battery, HD webcam, and Dolby Digital Plus Home Theater sound enhancement. The DVD-RW drive supports M-Disc media for long-term archival, which is a nice little bonus.
Acer says its products ship with Windows 10 but our review unit came with Windows 8.1. You're eligible for a free update to Windows 10, but at this point you shouldn't have to do it yourself. Acer also ships a whole ton of pre-loaded software, very little of which is useful. There are ads for a few Web services in the form of links right on the desktop. Spotify, for example, will be of no use to most people in India. Of course the Microsoft's Office and Intel's McAfee LiveSafe trials are also preinstalled.
Skype, Foxit Phantom PDF and the CyberLink trio of PowerDirector, PowerDVD and PhotoDirector are at least potentially useful for some. Then there's Acer's own Help and Care Centre apps, plus a suite of apps called Acer Portal, abDocs, abFiles, abPhoto and abMedia which all require you to sign up for an Acer ID.
The Acer Aspire V3 is a solid machine with no major usability problems. The screen is not as crisp as some of the high-res ones we've seen recently, and if you can see the pixel grid even at normal viewing distances which results in a somewhat grainy texture. Viewing angles are good but colours aren't very rich and blacks aren't very deep. That might be the tradeoff for a screen that isn't glossy.
HD videos were smooth and so were most of our 4K samples. On the other hand Aspire V3's sound reproduction was underwhelming. The stereo speakers are on the bottom of the laptop, firing down so sound bounces off flat tables, but they just weren't very loud or engaging.
Benchmark scores for our review unit indicate hardware capabilities that are well above the mainstream mark but not quite at the level of purpose-built gaming laptops. We were happy to see a CPU score of 269 in Cinebench R15, and POVRay's internal benchmark rendered in just 7 minutes, 50 seconds. These can be attributed to the fifth-generation Core i7 CPU.
PCMark's scores for the Home, Creative and Work run-throughs were 3,260, 3,663, and 2,913 respectively. The Nvidia GeForce 940M isn't quite a gaming-grade GPU, but should suffice for older titles or new ones at low settings. We managed to get 1,429 points out of 3DMark's Fire Strike test which is less than half of what the HP Omen with a GeForce GTX 960M managed. This indicates that the Acer Aspire V3 delivers enough power for entertainment and work that involves heavy processing and multitasking, but not games.