While searching out the best cheap laptops, I was impressed by the longevity and the productivity of the Aspire 5 line. Even year-old models still seemed to hold their own and could allow users to save money without sacrificing power. For other Aspire 5 models, this has proved true time and time again, but the Acer Aspire 5 A515-55-56VK sadly doesn't keep the tradition.
Don't get me wrong; this is a solid laptop with decent performance and plenty of ports. Battery life will last you most of a workday, and the keyboard is backlit for late-night crunch-time. So what's so wrong with this laptop? The screen makes most of my beloved Chromebooks look great by comparison, which renders this laptop mostly irrelevant unless you can catch it on sale.
At a glance
Acer Aspire 5 (A515-55-56VK)
Bottom line: Power, ports, and performance are all there on the Acer Aspire 5, but without a display that's bright, clear, and clean, what's the point? This screen is a dim smudge-magnet without touch controls, so you're stuck with the large trackpad with a hit-or-miss fingerprint sensor glued on top of it.
- Core i5 and 8GB RAM for decent power
- Backlit keyboard with number pad
- Fingerprint sensor in trackpad
- No USB-C charging, proprietary charger only
- Screen is dim with poor viewing angles
- Battery is just okay
- So much bloatware installed
Acer Aspire 5 Power on a budget
I've stated more than once that if you have a choice between an underpowered laptop with a good screen or a powerful laptop with a poor screen, I'll always go with the latter. We'll get to that 15.6-inch display in a few minutes, but first, let's talk about the power and productivity you get here. The 10th Gen i5 pairs with 8GB of RAM to give you a decent amount of power for your current task and a few programs chilling in the back, waiting for their turns. The 256GB SSD storage also means that there's plenty of room for downloading some games — or movies to watch offline during that 5-hour layover at the DFW airport (curse you, weather ground stops).
Due to the powerful processor at work, the Aspire 5 has a fan that works double-time during more intensive sessions, so be prepared for that noise. Thankfully, the laptop itself doesn't get too hot during prolonged use — unless you use it in your lap and block the fans. You'll also block the down-facing speakers if you put the Aspire 5 in your lap, so consider investing in a lap desk so that you keep air and music flowing.
|Category||Acer Aspire 5|
1920x1080p, 220 nits
|Processor||10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G1|
|RAM||8GB DDR4 SDRAM|
|Storage||256GB NVMe SSD|
|Charging||45W (AC adapter)|
|Ports||1x USB-C (USB 3.2 Gen 1)
2x USB-A (USB 3.2 Gen 1)
1x USB-A (2.0)
Audio combo jack
|Dimensions||363.4 x 250.5 x 17.95mm|
The battery here is 48Whr, but when combined with the i5 and the 15.6-inch screen, you'll have to stretch to reach the promised 8-hour battery life, but 6-7 will probably be enough for most folks, especially considering 15.6-inch laptops usually live their whole lives just moving from office desks to kitchen tables to business meetings.
You get a full keyboard with a number pad and wonderfully even backlighting. I'm not a fan of the function row layout here, as opposed to the Lenovos and Microsoft Surfaces I've used before — I so wish Windows could adopt one standard function key layout the way Chrome OS does — but it's easy enough to adapt. The fingerprint sensor in the trackpad takes a bit more adjustment since it sticks up from the pad and isn't well-aligned, but the number pad means PIN entry is easier than normal.
You'll get plenty of ports on the Aspire 5: three USB-A ports, HDMI, Ethernet, and one USB-C port —which worked with USB-C hubs or peripherals, but not with Power Delivery chargers or my USB-C monitor. Ideally, the inclusion of the RJ45 Ethernet port means you'll never need to reach for a hub or adapter when dealing with dead spots, and you'll get your money's worth out of that HDMI port. After all, if this laptop's going to live on a desk, you'll definitely need to invest in a high-quality monitor.
Acer Aspire 5 Literally glaring flaws
The screen on the Acer Aspire 5 is big, but it is far from beautiful. It can only achieve 220 nits, so you'll never want to use this thing outside during the day. The second you set up near a window or a particularly bright office, the 15.6-inch screen becomes an impromptu vision test. Coming from years of cheap Chromebooks, I'm used to 250-nit screens, but between the dimness and the matte finish that still reflects way too much light, the screen could be a big turn-off for prospective buyers — especially when it's a non-touchscreen.
Aside from some rare, four-digit-priced Intel Core i7 models, most Aspire 5 configurations have no touchscreen option. There are plenty of touchscreen Windows laptops priced at or below the Aspire 5, and I truly wish the feature was available here; as much time as I'm spending on Windows laptops these days, I still feel much more comfortable with touch or mouse inputs over the finicky trackpad gestures on laptops like the Aspire 5. Its fingerprint sensor in the trackpad is a novel idea, but the trackpad itself can rattle a bit, and the laptop also flexes a bit more than average when typing.
While the Aspire 5 offers up plenty of ports, I was supremely disappointed to find that the USB-C port wouldn't charge the Aspire with the trio of Power Delivery chargers I tried it with, forcing me to keep the bulky barrel-plug charger around for whenever the 5.5-7 hours of battery life ran out. At least the HDMI output was always steady for when I hooked the Aspire up to my Dell monitor and got some dual-screen work done.
There are also literally dozens of extraneous apps pre-installed, and while it doesn't take long to uninstall the trash, you shouldn't start with a cluttered computer out of the box. C'mon, Acer!!
Acer Aspire 5 What to buy instead
The Acer Aspire 5 (A515-55-56VK) made more sense when it was discounted and you could grab it for $100-$200 off compared to the new model. Now those sales have largely dried up, leaving the 56VK more expensive for an inferior product. It doesn't mean you have to leave the Acer series to get a better computer, though, the Acer Aspire 5 (A515-56-50RS) has USB Gen 3.2 USB-A and USB-C ports — and hopefully, it'll actually charge over USB-C the way my Lenovo and every Chromebook I've touched in the last four years has!
Speaking of the Lenovo, I do enjoy the Lenovo Flex 5 (14"). It's a smaller screen, but it's easier to see and it's a touchscreen!! You get 11th Gen Intel Core processors — or Ryzen, if you want to save a few bucks — a more conveniently-placed fingerprint sensor, better battery life, and it's a 2-in-1 so you can flip it into stand mode while you tap your way through the daily solitaire challenge.
Acer Aspire 5 Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You don't care about the screen being dim
- You haven't swapped to USB-C Power Delivery chargers
- You intend to use it with external monitors most of the time
You should not buy this if ...
- You want a bright screen or a touchscreen
- You need the latest specs and ports
- You want a futureproof laptop
I'm hoping that discounts return for this laptop because if you can overlook the display — or have a monitor you can use with it most of the time — the Aspire 5 is a dependable super-sized laptop. However, given that the prices are now exceeding those of the new model and most competitors, this model of the Aspire 5 is ready to be put out to pasture.
It'll get Windows 11 — and might receive a slight performance boost when it arrives — but unless it drops below $550 again, you can do better than this, even with the Aspire 5 series. Some of the more recent AMD models have touchscreens, but they're sub-FHD, so be prepared to see every pixel. I'm hoping to review the next generation shortly, but for now, either wait for a sale or skip this one entirely.
Only buy it on sale
Acer Aspire 5 (A515-55-56VK)
A good laptop with a deal-breaking screen.
On paper, the Acer Aspire 5 looks quite acceptable as a workhorse laptop for your home or office, but once you see it in the cold light of day, that screen might be a big enough turn-off to take it back. If you're living a multi-screen life anyways, though, you get decent power at a reasonable price — once it goes on sale again.
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