My Thinkpad T400 had a good long run, but it finally had to be retired due to a hardware failure that wouldn’t have been very cost effective to repair. That system was certainly showing its age, but it was still usable for day-to-day tasks, albeit a bit sluggishly depending on what you were doing. After it died there was a period of a few months where my mobile computing was limited to what I could do on my phone or tablet, toward the end of which I was given an older single-core laptop to act as a stop-gap. Using a single core system with 3GB of memory in late-2016 isn’t ideal to say the least, and while it was frustrating to use I was no less appreciative of having something to hold me over until I could find a suitable replacement.
Now, I’m not exactly swimming around in a Scrooge McDuck money vault over here—my budget for a laptop is around the $350 mark, which leaves me with precious few options that meet my needs. After a bit of research I decided that the Asus F555LA-AB31 would be my best bet, being one of the only systems in my price range that meet nearly all of my needs, one of the most important and hardest to find being a 1080p display. A combination of procrastination and financial constraints led to me putting off the purchase for a while until a better option eventually showed up.
Which brings me to the Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM—this system should do pretty much whatever you need it to as far as general usage goes (non-intensive school work, web browsing and communication, media consumption, etc.). It’ll also do some light gaming provided you have reasonable expectations of what the integrated Intel HD 620 graphics is capable of and can accept the detail and resolution compromises you’ll have to make when necessary. Some of the things this system has over the aforementioned Asus is a 7th Gen i3-7100U vs the 5th Gen i3-5010U (2.4Ghz vs 2.1 Ghz respectively), a backlit keyboard, USB 3.1 Type-C connector, and an M.2 slot which allows the addition of an SSD without having to remove the included 1TB HDD.
This isn’t an in-depth review (hence the title being “impressions”), so with the introduction out of the way I’m just going to list a summary of what I feel this systems strong and weak points are:
- USB 3.1 Type-C connector offers compatibility with the newest USB standard.
- Backlit keyboard with minimal flex. Typing feels responsive and it has a numerical keypad, which is always welcome as far as I’m concerned.
- 1080p display.
- Access port for easy memory and hard drive swaps—some laptops in this price range only offer an access port for one or the other, and some don’t have one at all (requiring you to take the system apart to do so, potentially voiding your warranty in the process).
- There’s an M.2 slot on the motherboard adjacent to the RAM slots which isn’t an advertised or “officially supported” feature (they don’t include a screw or standoff for mounting one). This should allow you to add an SSD to the system while keeping the 1TB HDD installed. I have not done this yet myself, nor have I looked much into compatibility.
- Aluminum palm rest—most in this price range are plastic, from what I’ve seen.
- Grounded plug on AC adapter is both a positive and negative depending on the availability of a grounded electrical outlet in your immediate area.
- AC Adapter cord could be a little longer—may create situations where you won’t be able to use the system on AC power without an extension (which would either have to have a ground plug itself, or you’d need to use an adapter).
- Touch pad felt jerky and unresponsive until disabling advanced touch pad features in the BIOS. While inconvenient, this isn’t strictly a con as I imagine it can be fixed in either a BIOS or driver update depending on where the cause of the issue lies…unless further investigation reveals it to be a hardware issue/inadequacy.
- Considering how cheap spinning disk drives are these days it’s not enough to consider the inclusion of a 1TB HDD a pro (that being said, I have seen other systems in this price range only offering 500GB), but it’s still nice to know I won’t feel limited by total storage space any time soon. I’d definitely recommend investing in an SSD at some point, as a 5400RPM HDD does prevent general system usage from feeling as “snappy” as it could.
- Back of LCD bezel flexes a bit, although I’d say that’s to be expected with the construction of most budget systems—less metal framework to provide structural support. I’ve seen worse flex in other systems.
- The built-in webcam is unimpressive, but completely adequate for video chats. The built-in microphone is located on the palm rest near the upper-left corner of the touch pad. It seems to pick up sound well enough, although I imagine if you were trying to type while having a conversation your hand would not only impact the reception of your voice, but the mic would also pick up the sound of your typing more so than if it were located somewhere else.
- No HDD activity, Caps Lock or Num Lock lights. Might not be an issue for some, but I like having them.
- There’s a micro switch under the access panel that prevents the system from turning on when the panel is detached (and will shut off power if the system is already on or in standby when opened). I can understand the reasoning behind it, although it seems like a potential point of failure. Granted, I doubt anybody will be opening the panel enough to wear the switch out, but the possibility of it malfunctioning bothers me nonetheless.
- Internal battery. Somewhere down the road when this thing stops holding a charge, you’ll have to deal with either paying someone to replace it for you, or opening up the system to change it yourself—either way it’s more of a hassle than it needs to be. I do understand that there are benefits to having an internal battery from a design standpoint (especially when you get into smaller form factors) and that it probably lowers manufacturing cost to some extent, as well as saving the manufacturer from having to deal with issues stemming from potentially low quality third-party replacements, but stuff like this always feels like planned obsolesce to me.
I think that about covers it. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this system to anyone looking for a general purpose laptop under $400.