One of the most innovative hybrid designs to date is definitely one to keep an eye on over the coming months.
We keep being told by companies like Intel that Hybrids are the future of the laptop, yet there have been very few attempts at laptop/tablet hybrids that have resulted in truly compelling products. Most hybrids are at times baffling examples of manufacturers throwing designs at the wall in the hope that something will stick.
Acer’s R7 is the latest ‘revolutionary’ hybrid design to arrive in the labs, and at first look it impresses. The centrepiece to its design is what Acer dubs an Ezel hinge. This solid hunk of metal connects the screen to the base of the R7 and allows for a huge degree of movement. This enables the R7 to be used in a wide array of configurations beyond the standard laptop and tablet orientations.
Curiously enough, the last thing you’ll want to do is operate the R7 like a standard laptop. Open up the R7 and you’ll be struck by a highly unusual laptop layout, where the keyboard abuts the front edge, and the touchpad sits between the keyboard and the screen. We’ll come back to the touchpad later, but the justification for this positioning is that the preferred means of use involves setting the screen forward, with its base just above the top of the keyboard. You can then type normally and use the touchscreen for any other interaction.
While this makes for a decent enough experience, it makes us wonder why Acer bothered with the trackpad. We did ask Acer about this, and they indicated it was there because people expect one. We still aren’t sold on working solely with keyboard and touchscreen, but we must admit that this is the most elegant implementation we have seen to date.
We were much more impressed by the other screen orientations available on the R7. Flip the screen over and the unit can fold almost flat, leaving the screen on a slight angle, sloping towards the user. This is in an acknowledgement that, despite the fact this is a pretty sleek and light hybrid, a 15in screen is a little too much to hold in the hand. It is a nice, useful, design decision.
There are a few other positions the screen can sit in, and this flexibility works really well. Want to watch a movie? Then flip the screen over and use the laptop assembly as a stand (one nifty touch when you do this is that not only does the screen orientation change, but the speaker orientation is altered so that you don’t lose proper stereo sound).
Under the hood sits an Intel Core i7-3537U CPU, Nvidia GeForce GT 750M, 12GB of DDR3 and 1TB hybrid hard drive. This delivers decent performance, scoring 0.68 in our real world benchmarks. Gaming was also great thanks to the Nvidia GPU, with the R7 delivering a playable 30.59fps in our high detail crisis benchmark.
From a design perspective, there really is little to fault on the R7, which is a really fantastic piece of engineering, with excellent build quality and a premium look and feel. Our major issue with it for now at least is that Acer decided to launch an Intel third generation platform locally, and then follow it in a month or two with a fourth generation refresh.
Given the premium build and pricetag of the R7 we find this move a bit odd. Not only will fourth generation bring with it better battery life, but Acer is making a few changes such as the inclusion of an active digitising pen.
This is ultimately what holds us back from wholeheartedly recommending the R7. While it is a real joy to use, and packs a decent enough punch for most users, it also comes with a pretty high pricetag. With that in mind, we can’t help but think that waiting a few months is going to be a better option than taking the plunge now and missing out on the longevity benefits of Intel’s new CPUs as well as the feature bumps being done by Acer itself.