The systems PCMag.com describes as budget laptops, like our Editors’ Choice Asus U56E-BBL6 ($699.99 list, 4 stars), tend to cost from $500 to $750. The Acer Aspire 5349-2635 costs $348.98 (list) at Walmart.com and select Wal-Mart stores—about as affordable a new, non-refurbished laptop as you can find. Netbook? no. rather, it’s a mainstream laptop with a 15.6-inch screen and a full 4GB of memory, though both its Intel Celeron processor and 320GB hard drive are on the skimpy side—and while it’s no barn-burner, its bang-for-the-buck is impressive enough to cop an Editors’ Choice as an ultra-budget laptop.
If the Aspire 5349-2635 cost $700, this would be a short and negative review—too plain, too slow, too short on features. At half that price, the laptop is something of a revelation: More than adequate for word processing and Web surfing, it makes sense to us as a household’s third or fourth PC or as a purchase for the kids (particularly if you’re looking to give each child his or her own laptop). it sounds like damning with faint praise (and it’ll ruin our reputation as power users), but we found ourselves actually liking the thing.
Design instead of costly aluminum, the 5349-2635 is covered in good old plastic—a textured silver-gray oddly reminiscent of a factory floor or trash can on the lid and palm rest; black on the keyboard, sides, and bottom. though relatively light at an even 5 pounds, the 10 by 15 by 1.4-inch (HWD) system feels pretty solid, apart from some minimal screen flexing.
The glossy screen offers the 1,366 by 768 resolution that’s a familiar sight among 15.6-inch (and 13.3- and 14-inch) laptops. It’s not the brightest, but white backgrounds are crisp as long as you keep the backlight at its top couple of settings, and colors and viewing angles are better than you might expect, with vivid hues as long as you don’t try gathering a crowd around the display.
Our review unit’s Delete key seemed to take a firm press instead of a light touch, which you could arguably consider a safety feature, but otherwise the keyboard was a pleasant surprise—somewhat shallow, but with a solid, brisk typing feel. Its layout is good, with dedicated Home, end, PgUp, and PgDn keys (although the cursor arrows are small) and a numeric keypad with full-sized keys, not the somewhat narrower or shrunken keypad seen on numerous 15.6-inch systems. Two dime-sized speakers above the keyboard produce typical inexpensive-laptop (i.e., tinny but sufficiently loud) audio.
Features Wireless capabilities include the expected 802.11n Wi-Fi, which worked fine in our browsing and downloading sessions, and Acer’s own Clear.fi, a proprietary technology that streams multimedia between Acer devices—such as two laptops or a laptop and an Iconia tablet—over a home Wi-Fi network. Bluetooth is missing, as is Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi)—neither absence a surprise at this price.
We confess, however, we were hoping to see a USB 3.0 port, but were disappointed—there are two USB 2.0 ports on the 5349-2635′s right side and a third on its left, but none of the newer, faster flavor. Other ports include VGA, HDMI, and Fast (100Mbps) rather than Gigabit (1000Mbps) Ethernet, along with an SD/MMC memory-card reader on the Acer’s front edge.
The 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive is formatted as a single 282GB C: partition plus a hidden recovery partition; the former has about 250GB free after Acer finishes with its software preinstall but before you add any applications or data files yourself. The preinstall includes some bloatware, ranging from Acer Games, Fooz Kids, and the Nook e-reader software to Netflix and eBay links, plus more useful material such as a 60-day McAfee Internet Security Suite trial, Evernote, Microsoft Office Starter 2010, and NTI Media Maker 9 software for the dual-layer DVD±RW drive. Acer backs the 5349-2635 with a one-year mail- or carry-in warranty.
Performance The last time we tested a laptop at this price, it was another Acer—the Aspire One AO722-0828 ($349.99 list, 3.5 stars), and it was a netbook. although well equipped for that class, with an 11.6-inch screen and 4GB of RAM, the Acer AO722-0828 took over 19 minutes to complete the Photoshop CS5 benchmark test that the 5349-2635 finished in 7 minutes and 40 seconds.
To be sure, more costly systems pack more speed than the Aspire 5349-2635, mainly because of the latter’s processor—Intel’s Celeron B815, a 1.6GHz dual-core CPU with no Hyper-Threading technology to let two cores mimic four. The Acer Aspire 5750-6667 ($499.99 list, 4 stars) handled the Photoshop job in 5 minutes 23 seconds to the Aspire 5349-2635′s score of 7:40, as well as completing our Handbrake video encoding test in 2:17 versus 3:05 for the Aspire 5349-2635.
The Aspire 5349-2635 is no choice for gamers, creeping under 11 frames per second in both Crysis and Lost Planet 2 at medium quality settings. And the 5349-2635 failed to complete our PCMark 7 overall performance benchmark test, getting stuck in a video loop that benchmark maker Futuremark’s online forum identifies as a known problem with some low-end integrated graphics platforms.
Still, subjectively the Aspire 5349-2635 feels at least as perky as the Intel Core i3-powered Toshiba Portege Z835-P330 ultrabook—in other words, okay for online and office work if not for strenuous multitasking. And its battery life is tolerable, too: The system’s 48Wh pack lasted 4 hours 56 minutes in our MobileMark 2007 test, well shy of the 7:42 managed by our Editors’ Choice Asus U56E-BBL6 but not dreadful for a mainstream laptop.
If you have more than $349 to spend, you can do better than the Acer Aspire 5349-2635. But if you thought you could only afford a netbook, the rock-bottom Aspire 5349-2635 is a surprisingly competent choice. make that an ultra-budget Editors’ Choice.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS: Check out the test scores for the Acer Aspire 5349-2635.
COMPARISON TABLE: Compare the Acer Aspire 5349-2635 with several other laptops side by side.
More laptop reviews:• Asus N53SM-DS71• Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S• Acer Aspire 5349-2635• Asus K53SD-DS51• HP Envy 17 (2012)• more
Acer Aspire 5349-2635
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