Acer Aspire 5 A515-56 review: An otherwise solid budget PC ruined by an awful display

The Aspire 5 A515-56 has a lot going for it, especially the price tag. But do its pros outweigh the cons?

Acer Aspire 5 A515-56
(Image: © Windows Central)

The Aspire 5 has long been a staple in the budget laptop market, allowing casual users to get their hands on a laptop that can tackle productivity work, streaming, email, and web browsing. I last used an Aspire 5 in 2017, and needless to say, the product line has come a long way since then with a far more modern look and updated performance hardware. I now have one of the latest Aspire 5 models in for review, with product number A515-56-34A3. Has Acer made another budget winner? I've been using the Aspire 5 for about a week to see whether it's worth your money.

Acer Aspire 5 (A515-56): Price, availability, and specs

Acer supplied Windows Central with a review unit of the Aspire 5 (A515-56-34A3). It has inside an 11th Gen Intel Core i3 processor (CPU), 8GB of soldered DDR4 RAM with an extra SODIMM slot for upgrades, Intel UHD integrated graphics, and a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe solid-state drive (SSD) with space for a 2.5-inch hard-disk drive (HDD) if you're looking to upgrade after purchase.

This exact model costs about $500 at Walmart, though it's out of stock at the time of writing. You can find a model with a Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD for about $450 at Amazon. If you'd like to step up the performance, a model with Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD costs about $620.

Following are the exact specs found in the Aspire 5 review unit.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
OSWindows 10 Home
Processor11th Gen IntelCore i3-1115G42 cores, 4 threadsUp to 4.1GHz
RAM8GB DDR4 (Soldered)Extra SODIMM slotUpgradeable
GraphicsIntel UHDIntegrated
Storage256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD2.5-inch HDD slotUpgradeable
Display15.6 inches1920x1080 (FHD)16:9 aspect ratioIPS, non-touchMatte
PortsUSB-C 3.2 (Gen 1)Two USB-A 3.2 (Gen 1)USB-A 2.0HDMI 2.03.5mm audioRJ45 Ethernet
AudioDual stereo speakersAcer TrueHarmony
ConnectivityIntel Wi-Fi 6 AX201Bluetooth 5.1
CameraFront-facing 720p
SecurityKensington lock slot
Dimensions14.31 x 9.39 x 0.70 inches(363.4mm x 238.5mm x 17.9mm)
Weight3.64 pounds (1.8kg)
MaterialAluminum lidPlastic chassis
ColorCharcoal Black

Acer Aspire 5: What I like

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The Aspire 5 has slimmed down a lot since the last time I saw it, coming in with dimensions and weight that aren't out of the ordinary for a 15-inch device. The lid's aluminum construction is pleasantly rigid, but unfortunately the same can't be said for the rest of the body's plastic build. There's a fair amount of flex when twisted, with creaking and popping to go along with it. This isn't really out of the ordinary for a lot of budget devices; just know you won't be getting the same rigidity as from something with a magnesium or aluminum body. You can find the Aspire 5 in Silver or Charcoal Black color finishes. I have the latter, which does a decent job of hiding fingerprints and smudges.

The Aspire 5 has enough ports to set up a workstation without adding a dock.

Port selection is generous, and you should manage fine if you're looking to set up a workstation without one of the best laptop docking stations. The left side includes two USB-A 3.2 (Gen 1), USB-C 3.2 (Gen 1), HDMI 2.0, dropjaw RJ45 Ethernet, and a proprietary Acer charging hookup. USB-C charging is preferred, but not a huge deal at this price. The right side of the PC has a single USB-A 2.0 port, 3.5mm audio jack, and a Kensington lock slot for some added security if you're using the laptop in an office. A fingerprint reader is available on some of the pricier models, but nothing here.

I love the ergonomic hinge design that lifts the back of the laptop up when the lid is open. It provides a more natural angle for typing, crucial for a PC that's commonly going to be used for productivity work. This redesign, however, causes the fan to blow onto the display through unsightly exhaust ports that are visible whenever the laptop is open. It's a setup that kind of takes a step forward and a step back at the same time.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Acer's signature keyboard is much easier to digest on a laptop this price, compared to something more expensive like the Acer TravelMate Spin P4. It's not my favorite because of the mushy feel, but I can hit fast typing speeds nonetheless. Reference documents list a backlight for the keyboard, but despite my best sleuthing efforts, I can find no way to turn it on. Like a fingerprint reader, I suspect only the higher-end Aspire 5 models have a backlight included.

Down-firing speakers don't get extremely loud, but the sound is clear and crisp. The wedge shape helps them from being muffled; you should have no problems if you're using the laptop to listen to music while you work. Similarly, the front-facing 720p camera is better than I expected. It deals well with exposure, the picture is nearly grain-free, and it should work fine for video conferencing. There's no camera shutter, but that's not a huge deal at this price.

Performance from the 11th Gen Intel Core i3 CPU is about as expected, beating out 10th Gen Core i5 chips in a few tests. It provides excellent single-core performance, but the 2-core cap puts a hamper on multitasking. You can always move up to an 11th Gen Core i5 or Core i7 chip if you need more cores or if you'd like to take advantage of far better Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics. As it stands, Intel UHD integrated graphics should not be relied on for anything gaming-related above truly lightweight indie titles.

I ran a bunch of benchmarks to see just how well the Aspire 5 measures up against other laptops we've recently tested.

The NVMe storage is pleasantly fast, especially at this price range. It won't compare to what you'll get in high-end laptops, but there is an opportunity for upgrades thanks to an accessible M.2 slot and space for a 2.5-inch SSD. Check out our best SSD roundup for top buying options. And on that front, there is an extra SODIMM slot to complement the soldered 8GB of RAM.

Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 is a nice addition here for fast and reliable wireless internet, and Bluetooth 5.1 is ideal for connecting your wireless accessories.

Acer Aspire 5: What I don't like

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The Aspire 5's touchpad is loose and has a rattle, noticeable every time you use it. It could be larger to keep up with the trend of oversized touchpads we're now seeing, but that would be overlooked if it were built better. At least it's smooth and tracks well.

Many budget laptops use a sub-par display to keep the price down. Even the Acer Swift 3 (AMD) I reviewed last year had a mediocre display with poor color reproduction, but at least it was perfectly usable. Acer makes it seem like a display was a complete afterthought with the Aspire 5.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Even before testing anything with my SpyderX Pro colorimeter, it was clear the results aren't great. Colors are severely washed out, and contrast is poor. Despite the IPS technology, it seems like the viewing angle is only about 45 or 50 degrees horizontally. Vertically it's even worse — if you're not looking straight at the display, you will find text hard to read. You need to be almost perfectly aligned at all times to get a clear picture, which isn't ideal. No matter how mundane the task at hand, I don't think anyone will appreciate this display.

I tested color reproduction and brightness, coming back with 62% sRGB, 46% AdobeRGB, and 46% DCI-P3. Brightness maxed out at 242 nits, and got down to 20 nits at its lowest point. These aren't great results, but they are more common in budget PCs. It's the contrast and viewing angles that really make this screen lag behind. And if you don't like opening the lid on your PC, what's the point?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The Aspire 5 I reviewed is using a 12W processor and 48Wh battery, which equates to about seven hours and 15 minutes from a charge in PCMark 10's Modern Office rundown test. This was with the Windows 10 power management set to "Better performance" and the screen set to about 75% (or only about 185 nits). At this price that's still a decent result, but it's still behind some of the competition in this range.

Acer Aspire 5: Competition

Source: Windows Central Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Buying a laptop for around $500 isn't always easy, and most of the time you're going to have to choose between quality design and performance. Our collection of the best laptops under $600 includes the Surface Go 2 and Surface Laptop Go, two devices with a high build quality and gorgeous display. However, performance lags behind the Aspire 5 and you're not getting nearly as large of a device.

If you don't mind a convertible build and a smaller 13-inch frame, the HP ENVY x360 13 is an incredible laptop that starts at about $690. Stellar performance, great touch display with inking, good typing and touchpad, and a quality build make it a winner.

Lenovo's IdeaPad Flex 5 14 is another quality option starting at about $515. It's powered by AMD Ryzen CPUs, it has a comfy keyboard and quality build, a touch display with inking, and all-day battery life. If you don't mind a convertible, this is a great way to go.

You can also check out last year's version of the Aspire 5, which doesn't seem to offer the same terrible screen. Models powered by a mighty Ryzen 5 4500U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD cost about $600. That's pricier than this model I reviewed, but you get a whole lot more PC for your money.

Acer Aspire 5: Should you buy it?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

You should buy this if ...

  • You really don't mind what your display looks like
  • You need a laptop that costs about $500
  • You want solid performance and battery life
  • You want to upgrade RAM and SSD in the future

You shouldn't buy this if ...

  • You like to see what's on your display
  • You want a good touchpad
  • You want to avoid a plastic chassis
  • You hate bloatware

The Aspire 5 is available at an affordable price, but it's nevertheless hard to recommend. It has one of the worst displays I've ever seen, even for something in the budget range. When it becomes tough to see text unless you're looking at a very specific angle, it's best to steer clear of the entire device. At least unless you plan on connecting it to an external monitor almost 100% of the time.

It's a shame the display isn't better, because performance, battery life, camera, and speakers are all respectable. You can even upgrade the RAM and storage, making it easier to get exactly what you need for the task at hand. Due to the poor contrast, color, and viewing angles of the screen, you should spend your money elsewhere. Hopefully, Acer has a fix for the next generation. Have a look at our collection of the overall best Windows laptops for many more buying options.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.