For a laptop experience to qualify as tolerable, it must offer a good display and adequate performance for the tasks at hand. For cheaper laptops especially, these two criteria are of utmost importance.
A good display is necessary because you’re going to be staring at that screen for a long time. I don’t mean that the screen should be great, expecting an IPS panel with G-Sync support at the budget end of the market is asking for too much, but I do expect that the display isn’t washed out and that viewing angles are good enough for daily use.
The same goes for performance. A laptop that’s slow to begin with will only get slower over time, and more frustrating as well.
The Acer Spin 3 variant that we received for review falls short on both counts. Here’s why.
Build and Design: 7.5/10
The laptop is certainly well-built for its price. There is plenty of brushed aluminium to be found here, on the lid and on the keyboard/palm rest area. Of course, as with most laptops that aren’t made by Apple, this aluminium is quite thin and only present as two sheets. The rest of the outside is just plastic. This is normal.
The body is sturdy and you won’t find any flex anywhere. Even the central keyboard area, which is usually prone to flexing on lesser laptops, is sturdy.
Given that the laptop is a convertible, it uses a 360-degree hinge to switch between laptop, tent and tablet modes. The hinge is also sturdy and once positioned, the screen doesn’t wobble much.
Other than that, there’s not much else to report. It’s a simply designed device, a black rectangle with ports and holes where necessary. It’s not particularly light or slim, but it’s perfectly satisfactory for what it is.
Keyboard and Trackpad: 7/10
The keyboard is quite decent. The response is a bit mushy compared to the keys I’m used to, but that’s alright in this price range. I do appreciate the fact that the keys are very stable and that they don’t wobble. You can press them down from the edges and the key will register.
The trackpad tracks well and has no issues detecting left and right clicks. However, the sheet of metal that makes up the trackpad feels a bit floaty. When tapping the trackpad, you can hear it vibrate a bit. It’s a minor complaint though.
Tracking is fine and gestures are usually detected. I say usually because sometimes the laptop doesn’t respond evenly to the two-finger scroll gesture.
In terms of features, there’s not much on offer. You get a bare bones configuration featuring an Intel Core i3 6100U CPU, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB HDD. Bear in mind that 8th generation Intel chips are right around the corner, so it’s disappointing to see a 6th generation Skylake CPU in the device.
The biggest issue isn’t the CPU, however, it’s the RAM. Finding 4 GB RAM on a phone today is considered the norm. On a laptop, it barely qualifies as adequate. At a minimum, I’d expect to see devices with 6 GB of RAM, preferably 8 GB. As you’ll see in the performance section, 4 GB RAM is just sufficient to support Windows and one active app at a time. Open too many browser tabs in Chrome, and you’ll be disappointed.
I’d have also preferred to see an SSD instead of an HDD, but at this price, I have to admit that a 500 GB HDD is a suitable trade-off between performance and capacity.
The 15-inch screen sports an HD resolution (1366x768), which is lower than I was expecting at the screen size.
The connectivity options are also limited. You get 2x USB 2.0 ports and only 1x USB 3.0 port. Apple did set a new low by offering only 1x USB Type-C port on its MacBook, but having only 1x USB 3.0 port is still disappointing.
An HDMI port, an SD card reader and a 3.5 mm combo jack round up the port count. There’s also a Kensington Security Slot present.
For Wi-Fi, you get a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9377 module that supports wireless ac speeds on the 5 GHz band up to 433 Mbps speeds. It also supports Bluetooth 4.2.
The biggest disappointment with this laptop is its largest feature, the display. The HD resolution itself is a downer, but more importantly, the quality of the screen just barely qualifies as tolerable. Viewing angles are awful, the screen is extremely reflective and colours are completely washed out.
Everything on the screen just looks dull and washed out. In fact, even when the display is off, you can see a silvery reflective surface unlike any that we’ve seen on previous laptops. You can easily set your hair or check your make up in that display.
In our testing, we found that while the contrast ratio was decent, black levels and white levels were terrible. Most shades of black in our test image simply merged into one on the Spin 3’s HD display. There was also noticeable banding visible in our test image.
This is a display that you will not enjoy using.
Performance is another area where the Spin 3 disappoints, and for only one reason: 4 GB of RAM.
The Intel Core i3 6100U, while an entry level CPU, is perfectly adequate for day-to-day tasks, but only if it’s backed by enough RAM. Windows 10, when it’s doing nothing, happily eats up around 2 GB of RAM. Launch Chrome and open half a dozen browser tabs and you’ve used up the remaining 2 GB without even knowing it.
The combination of a slow processor and a glacial HDD means that your system slows down even further. Worse still, Acer’s own Travelmate P449 offers a much more powerful Core i5 processor and double the RAM for just Rs 3,000 more. The P449 scores up to 40 percent higher than this Spin 3 in some benchmarks.
The speakers are adequately loud. Thermals were well-managed and the device never got uncomfortably hot. Under load, reported temperatures hovered around the 62 degrees Celsius mark. The palm rest and base of the device never went over 36 degrees Celsius.
Overall, I feel that doubling the RAM on the Spin 3 would have gone a long way towards making the laptop more palatable. As it stands, in the configuration we received, the performance is depressing.
Battery Life: 7.5/10
In our standard battery life test, the laptop managed to hit the 4.5-hour mark. This is very nice. In daily usage, which involves heavy browsing, some light image editing on Photoshop and a lot of typing, the laptop easily managed to give me about 5.5-hours of use.
Verdict and Price in India
The Acer Spin 3 falls short on two very important areas, display and performance. Both are an easy fix and it’s a wonder that Acer is even offering the device in this configuration. Offering only 4 GB of RAM in any laptop that isn’t the most barebones of budget laptops is just a shame.
If it wasn’t for the disappointing performance and display, I’d have happily recommended the Spin 3 to anyone looking for a 15-inch 2-in-1 type device. If in this configuration, I’d keep my distance.
If you really do want an Acer device, look at the Travelmate P449. It features a similarly awful display and doesn’t have a 360-degree hinge, but at least it’s much more powerful and has adequate RAM.