The Acer Aspire M5-481PT runs away with the title of best cheap Ultrabook. It's thin, light and quick -- and its 14-inch touch screen and elegant aluminum body are surprising pluses consider the cheap price.
Quick worker with long battery life. In benchmark tests at PCMag.com, the latest Acer M5-481PT-6644 beats the old winner, the Asus VivoBook S400CA (*Est. $700) .
Streaming video, converting music files in iTunes, web browsing, photo editing, multitasking -- none of it poses a problem. Plus, the battery consistently runs for six hours on a charge. The only real weakness? Graphics-heavy games won't play at high settings, but no cheap Ultrabook can do that. For more power, try the thicker Acer Aspire V4-571G-9686 laptop .
The Acer boots quickly, thanks to its 20 GB solid-state drive. The 500 GB hard drive is likewise pretty standard-issue for Ultrabooks. But the Acer's upgraded 1.8 GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 6 GB of RAM make it a little faster on its feet than its rivals. It comes stuffed with some bloatware, though.
Nice touch screen and comfy keyboard. A touch screen is the most intuitive way to navigate Windows 8, and the Acer M5-481PT has a nice one -- responsive and solid-feeling. "Swiping, gesturing, scrolling, and navigating the Windows 8 interface was smooth and easy," says John Delaney at PCMag.com. "As crisp as on an iPad," CNET's Scott Stein agrees. There's also a traditional multi-touch trackpad, which works equally well on the latest model.
The keyboard on the latest model feels just as comfortable to Delaney, with roomy, well-spaced keys and a firm, satisfying touch. It's backlit, too.
The Acer runs cool -- it's "extremely comfortable for use on your lap," Delaney says. Its 14-inch touch screen makes it a bit heavy for an Ultrabook, at 4.6 pounds. Still, it's slender and portable. "It'll slide easily into any bag," Stein says.
Unlike many Ultrabooks, the Acer includes an optical drive. To make room for it, Acer moves the ports to the back edge, where Laptop Magazine's Konrad Krawczyk finds them hard to reach. The Acer has only two USB ports, but they're both the fast 3.0 type. HDMI, Ethernet, a headphone jack and Kensington lock slot round out the ports. There's no VGA video output.
One oddity: Acer plants the power button on the front right corner. Krawczyk accidentally hits it all the time. So does one irritated owner at BestBuy.com.
High-end look. With its slim, brushed-aluminum body and edge-to-edge glass screen, the Acer M5-481PT looks and feels high-end. "Elegant, yet durable," PCMag.com's Delaney describes it.
As usual for budget laptops, the 14-inch, 1,366-by-768-pixel touch screen isn't full 1080p HD, but it's bright, sharp and doesn't wobble while you're tapping it. The Acer's bottom-mounted speakers sound pretty loud for their small size, but with weak bass. It's "good-enough sound that you can enjoy a movie with someone else or stream music in a large living room," CNET's Stein says.
Any questions? Ask Acer via Facebook or Twitter. Acer covers the M5-481PT with a one-year warranty -- about average for this class of laptop. A couple of BestBuy.com reviews for the latest model say its screen cracked or died, but most report no problems.
Acer has dramatically improved its tech support in the past year, a Laptop Magazine test shows. Staffers ask anonymous questions of various laptop brands, ranking the companies according to how prompt and helpful their responses are. Acer does a great job answering questions via Facebook and Twitter, but its phone, email and web chat techs give incorrect advice in the test.
Best value in its class. Touch-screen Ultrabooks don't come much cheaper than the Acer Aspire M5-481PT -- especially with a 14-inch screen. It's quicker, better-built and more full-featured than its rivals, too, with better battery life.
Review Credibility: Excellent Among entry-level, touch-screen Ultrabooks, the Acer Aspire M5-481PT-6644 earns an Editors' Choice award, beating out PCMag.com's former Editors' Choice, the Asus VivoBook S400CA. Both boast full Ultrabook specs and a touch screen at an affordable price, but the Acer outperforms the Asus in benchmark tests. The Acer also offers long battery life and a backlit keyboard, two of the Asus' flaws.
Review: Acer Aspire M5-481PT-6644, John R. Delaney, March 18, 2013
2. Laptop Magazine
Review Credibility: Very Good Konrad Krawczyk tests the previous version of the Acer Aspire M5-481PT with a slightly slower processor, but it's otherwise identical to the current model. He calls it "a good value" among low-priced, touch-screen Ultrabooks, with a swanky design and good benchmark scores. He dislikes the awkwardly placed ports and power button and "finicky" touchpad, though.
Review: Acer Aspire M5-481PT-6488 Review, Konrad Krawczyk, Nov. 21, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good The Acer Aspire M5-481PT (the previous version) is CNET's favorite budget Ultrabook. With good benchmark performance, a solid build and -- unlike some rivals -- a DVD drive and long battery life, editors recommend it more than any other in its class.
Review: Acer Aspire M5-481PT Review: The Safe Windows 8 Laptop Bet, Scott Stein, Nov. 29, 2012
Review Credibility: Good With more than 30 user reviews posted, the Acer Aspire M5-481PT-6644 earns a score of 3.6 stars out of 5. The metal body, processor speed, battery life and touch screen repeatedly get singled out for praise. Several users complain that their displays broke soon after purchase, while others direct their scorn toward Windows 8. Still, nearly three-quarters of owners say that they would recommend this Acer Ultrabook to a friend.
Review: Acer - Aspire Ultrabook 14" Touch-Screen Laptop - 6GB Memory - 500GB Hard Drive - Silver, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of March 2013