Two-in-one PCs — devices that combine a laptop and tablet — are one of the brighter sparks in the current PC market, and over the last three years, every major PC-maker has piled on with their own takes on how to design one… meaning there’s now an almost overwhelming number to choose from.
Acer’s latest mid-range 2-in-1 isn’t quite brand-new — this Aspire R 14 is actually an updated version of a similar model available around nine months ago. The older model was different in that it had a discrete Nvidia GPU and ‘Playbook’ in the name, sort of indicating that this was a device geared towards entertainment.
This new model relies on Intel for its GPU (the HD Graphics 520, which is incorporated into the Core i5-6200U processor) but is otherwise much the same from a general-design standpoint.
The screen is mounted on a smooth and sturdy 360º hinge, so switching between laptop and tablet just requires you to keep pushing that display around until the lid is touching the base. The flexibility and sturdiness of that hinge mean you can use it completely flat or popped up like a tent.
The chassis construction is a reasonably-pleasing plastic/aluminium mix: the top of the lid and palm-rest area under the keyboard are both metal, while the underside is a matte-black soft-touch plastic.
Acer has switched from a gunmetal-grey finish to a cleaner and slicker polished-black, which looks much better to our eyes, and the body’s even a little slimmer, down from 23.8mm to 18.5mm.
There are quite a few useful improvements under the hood, too. Acer has upgraded the OS to Windows 10 and replaced the mechanical hard drive with an SSD, making programs faster to launch and Windows a little snappier.
The 14-inch display is now a full 1080p and there’s a Type-C USB 3.1 port on the left side of the keyboard (it still has two USB 3.0 ports and one 2.0).
The keyboard and trackpad are both great, too — big enough that even those with bear-claw hands won’t find anything to complain about. We do wish the chiclet keys had a bit more throw, but there’s nothing deal-breaking here.
The unit’s main design problems still remain, however. The R 14 isn’t a very good tablet, for a few reasons.
For one, even though it’s a little lighter than last year’s model, it’s still too heavy. At 1.9kg, this is not a device that invites you to hold it with one hand and tap away at with the other: it needs to be nestled in the crook of your arm, or better yet, plonked down on a table.
Our other gripe is with the screen bezel, which leaves a sizeable frame around the display — it’s big enough that it feels like you could squeeze a 15.6-inch panel in.
Those shortcomings don’t make the R 14 a bad 2-in-1, but they hold it back from being a great one.
Still, it’s hard to deny the value on offer here — at about $1,200 on the street, it’s $300 cheaper than its predecessor and packs in enough improvements to make it worth considering.
Verdict: Acer’s latest 2-in-1 packs good specs and value, but some design niggles persist.