Acer Aspire v15 Nitro Edition Review

on Tuesday, December 2, 2014
In January of this year, Acer invited Digital Trends to an off-site meeting at the Consumer’s Electronics Show. There I learned of the company’s bold plan to make resolution a big deal, culminating in the production of laptop with a 4K display. I left the meeting impressed, but the company’s follow-through proved slow, and by summer I’d largely forgotten the idea.
Then, to my surprise, Acer suddenly announced its 4K laptop wasn’t vaporware after all. It was coming soon. And it would be called the Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition.

Don’t try to parse the name; a lot of it doesn’t make sense. But it does conjure thoughts of speed and performance that are backed up by the hardware. Our tricked-out review unit came packing not only a 3,820 x 2,160 display but also a Core i7-4710HQ processor, 16GB of memory and a 256GB solid state drive joined by a 1TB mechanical drive.
All this hardware jacks up the price. While a stripped-down model can be had for $1,099 (with a 1080p display) our review unit shipped with an MSRP of $1,799. That’s just $200 south of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina and Dell’s extravagant XPS 15 Touch. Can Acer’s new luxury laptop compete with these entrenched systems, or is it less impressive than its specifications suggest?

Black Edition isn’t just a name

Guess what? The Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition is black. Very black. A dark, matte coating dominates both the interior and exterior, broken up only by a slim strip of gunmetal etched with the title “Aspire V Nitro” along the display hinge.
The intended effect is subtle luxury. At a glance Acer achieves that, but the handsome exterior becomes less attractive the moment it’s touched. Plastic is the material of choice. Handsome plastic. Solid, rugged plastic. But plastic none the less. Panel gaps are quite visible, as well, and the display itself feels light and a bit flimsy.
In the context of the competition, at least. Compared to any random assortment of laptops the Aspire V15 would do well, but the MacBook Pro with Retina and Dell XPS 15 Touch are tough to beat. Both do a better job of delivering a truly premium feel. Acer should’ve spent more on design even if it meant upping the price.

Important ports

Along the right flank of the Aspire V15 lurk three USB 3.0 ports along with HDMI, Ethernet and a combo audio jack. The SD card reader lives a lonely life on the system’s front edge. Wireless connections include 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Wi-Fi adapter has twin-adapter MIMO support, which should allow for quicker and more reliable results.

We’re pleased with the port selection but not with their locations. Placing every single port on one flank means cords are more likely to tangle and USB devices with unusually large connectors are more likely to block their neighbors. This arrangement also makes a mouse less convenient, because USB device cords will always be near where a right-handed user places their mouse.

Shallow keys

There’s nothing premium about the Aspire V15’s keyboard. Key travel is shallow and each stroke bottoms out with a spongy response. The layout is large, but a small numpad is crammed into the right side. I had no problem typing accurately, but the experience is no better than that of Acer notebooks selling for over a thousand dollars less.
Backlighting is standard, but only available in red. You can’t turn it up or down, it’s either on or off. Light leak is obvious under numerous keys, but the function keys are the biggest offenders. Several keys in that row let more light escape the edges of the key than the actual key cap, creating a distracting glow.
The touchpad doesn’t come to the rescue. While large (I measured it at four and a half inches wide by three and a half deep) the texture has an unpleasant grainy quality. I also had problems with Windows multi-touch gestures activating when they weren’t desired. The left and right mouse buttons are integrated into the touchpad surface and aren’t pleasing to use, so most owners will rely on tap-to-click instead.

Watch out, Retina

4K resolution (3,820 x 2,160) has been available in monitors for about two years, but it’s so far been a rarity in laptops. Toshiba was first to the mark with its Satellite P50T, released in spring of this year, and only a few manufacturers (including Lenovo and Asus) followed suit. The Aspire V15 is the first laptop from Acer to make the leap.

This resolution, when packed into a 15.6-inch display area, offers an incredible 281 pixels per inch. That’s higher than any Retina display on a Mac and approaches the high-resolution displays on many tablets. At this density pixels are essentially invisible. Even sticking your nose to the screen won’t reveal them.
And there’s more to this notebook than resolution. Our tests found the screen can render 98 percent of the sRGB gamut and 73 percent of AdobeRGB. These numbers are the second-best Digital Trends has ever recorded (the HP Spectre 13t x2 and Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro tie for the top spot). The contrast ratio came in at a respectable 690:1 and maximum brightness measured 261 lux. All of this was made more impressive by the display’s reflection-free matte finish. Most displays of this caliber require a glossy coat to achieve their results.
The display is so good it makes most content look bad. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s a common problem with top-notch displays. Acer’s Aspire V15 is so sharp, so beautiful and so accurate that every flaw is noticeable. Nothing is obscured by the limitations of the panel. Feed this laptop high-quality 4K and it’s like looking through a window. Watch 1080p YouTube and you’ll end up with more artifacts than a museum.
There are a few small problems with the display itself. Viewing angles aren’t great on the horizontal axis, so frequent display adjustments are required. Uniformity can be an issue in very dark scenes. And we ran into a few applications that did not scale to the resolution well. Still, I was happy with what I saw. Switching back to a 1080p display after witnessing the V15’s majesty is a dreary experience.

Surprisingly, the speakers live up to the display. Loud, clear and full of bass, they provide a better soundtrack than many gaming laptops. The Aspire V15 isn’t just a laptop; it’s a mobile 4K theater.

Quick all-rounder

Our review unit arrived with an Intel Core i7-4710HQ quad-core processor. While the V15’s three different configurations cover a variety of hardware this, along with the GTX 860M graphics chip, remains the same across all three. The test rig also had 16GB of DDR3 RAM, a 256GB solid state drive and a 1TB mechanical hard drive.
The 4710HQ is not Intel’s quickest mobile quad, but it performed well in Geekbench all the same.


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