After teasing it in a strange, Star Trek-infused commercial, Acer has finally revealed its mysterious transforming device. At an event at Milk Studios in New York City, the company has announced the Aspire R7. It has a (beautiful) 15.6-inch, 1080p touchscreen and it's powered by an ultra-low voltage Intel Core i5 processor. While we know the specs, we're not sure what to call it, honestly — it's technically a laptop, but thanks to Acer's new "Ezel" hinge the device sounds (and looks) an awful lot like both a tablet and a desktop computer. Maybe, as Acer calls it, it's "the notebook designed for touch." It's certainly unlike any laptop we've seen before.
Whatever you want to call it, the R7 is an impressive and unique piece of hardware: Acer's latest take on the transforming laptop uses a hinge that's somewhat reminiscent of an external monitor, but that doesn't quite sum it up. The intricate hinge is extremely solid, and it allows you to reposition the display almost however you please. Unlike some other adjustable hinges of this nature, the R7 can be used in an utterly traditional laptop mode. When you first open the lid, the bottom edge of the display stays connected to the hinge. Things get a bit more crazy from there, however: once it's been opened, you can pop out the bottom of the display from and use it as a faux all-in-one, which Acer is calling "Ezel" (read: easel) mode. The hinge is very stiff — were it any other way the display wouldn't stay put in this mode and it would not hold up while you tap on the screen.
There are a few other options for this transforming laptop: you can flip the screen all the around to display the screen's contents to someone looking at you, and you can fold the display flat into a type of tablet mode. In the latter layout, the hinge doesn't allow the screen to lay completely flat, so it's a bit awkward. Also, we're not sure that you'll want to use the Aspire R7 as a tablet: this is a hefty machine. The hinge protrudes from the back just a bit, making the laptop a chunky 1.12 inches thick. It's also heavy overall at 5.2 pounds, though that's partly due to its aluminum unibody design, which we're fans of.
"The notebook designed for touch."
In terms of usability, Acer has made the curious decision to move the touchpad behind the keyboard. This means that in traditional laptop mode, your palms naturally rest on the keyboard — and make unwanted inputs. With the floating display design, either the keyboard or the touchpad would be blocked in certain positions, and Acer boldly decided the touchpad was less important and chose to flip the layout. The backlit chiclet keyboard and touchpad themselves remind us quite a bit of Acer's recent laptops, meaning they are certainly capable but not quite at the top of their breed. We continue to hope Acer will use a glass touchpad in the future.
The R7 is available for pre-order now, and will be available exclusively from Best Buy on May 17th. It has Dolby Home Theater audio, a 500GB hard drive, a 24GB SSD, three USB 3.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort, and an HDMI port. Acer is also trumpeting "Screen Grasp" technology, which is essentially an app that lets you use a three-finger tap to take screenshots wherever you'd like.
The Aspire R7 is clearly a different take on the transforming Windows 8 laptop (Dell took a distinctively different approach with the XPS 12), and we're excited by the innovation the company has put on display here.
David Pierce contributed to this report.