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April 15, 2018

Acer Nitro 5 Spin vs. Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

by John_A

The Acer Nitro 5 Spin is a curious machine. It’s a convertible 2-in-1, with the usual hinged design that allows the display to spin a full 360 degrees into tablet mode. And yet, it looks like a gaming notebook and includes the most popular entry-level GPU around, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050.

The new Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is also a curious machine. In fact, it might be even more curious, because it’s clearly a productivity-oriented business-class convertible 2-in-1 with a display that spins all the way around. But it equips an even more gamer-friendly GPU in the AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics chip that’s bonded to a quad-core eighth-generation Intel Core processor.

In our Acer 5 Spin vs. Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, we consider which of these two oddball machines perform best as either gaming notebooks with a 2-in-1 extra or a business-oriented 2-in-1 that can double as a capable gaming notebook.

Acer Nitro 5 Spin

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Dimensions
15.02 x 10.16 x 0.70 (in)
13.9 x 9.2 x 0.36-0.63 (in)

Weight
4.85 pounds
4.36 pounds

Keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard

Processor
Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U
Eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8705G

RAM
Up to 8GB
Up to 16GB

Graphics
Intel UHD 620
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050
AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL

Display
15.6-inch IPS Display
15.6-inch IPS Display

Resolution
Full HD (1,920 x 1,080, 141 PPI)
Full HD (1,920 x 1,080, 141 PPI)
4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160, 282 PPI)

Storage
256GB SATA SSD
1TB 5400 RPM HDD
Up to 1TB PCIe SSD

Networking
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1

Connectivity
USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 (x2), USB-C 3.1 (x2), 3.5mm combo jack
USB-C with Thunderbold 3 (x2), USB-C 3.1 (x2), 3.5mm combo jack

Webcam
720p webcam
1080p webcam

Operating System
Windows 10
Windows 10

Battery
50 watt-hour
75 watt-hour

Price
$1,000+
$1,300+

Availability
Now
Now

Review
6.0 out of 10 stars
7.0 out of 10 stars

Design

At first glance, the Acer Nitro 5 Spin is obviously a gaming notebook. From its deep black chassis with brightly-colored red trim to its red-accented keyboard and highlighted WASD keys aimed at gamers. While the 2-in-1 isn’t a garish machine and doesn’t sport the usual gaming notebook jet fighter vents, it’s not a notebook that you’ll look for in the typical conference room.

And yet, it’s a 360-degree convertible 2-in-1, with a display that swivels from clamshell mode into a very large tablet. Whether you’ll use it in that form is debatable, given the Nitro 5 Spin’s huge display bezels (by modern standards) and wide and deep girth. While it’s surprisingly thin at 0.70 inches, it’s also a very chunky 4.85 pounds. It enjoys a solid build quality that places it on premium 2-in-1 ground, and that likely contributes to the heft that makes less suitable for carry-around tablet use.

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 couldn’t be more different. To begin with, it looks a lot like its XPS siblings the XPS 13 and XPS 13 2-in-1. That means it’s a conservative design with aluminum and black carbon fiber making up the well-built chassis and lending the same pleasant soft-touch feel to the keyboard deck.

In another departure from Acer’s gaming-focused 2-in-1, the XPS 15 2-in-1 is also incredibly small and thin, at 0.63 inches thick and with a width and depth that’s over an inch less in both directions. It’s significantly lighter as well at 4.38 pounds, which is almost a pound less than the Acer and is a lightweight among 15-inch 2-in-1s in general.

And as we’ll see in the performance section, Dell packed in some powerful components, forcing it to look to innovative materials such as space-age Gore insulation to keep the heat contained and away from sensitive skin. As we note in our review, Dell was only partially successful, as during loads the chassis still gets overly warm to the touch.

Ask a gamer, and they might call the Nitro 4 Spin too conservative to be a real gaming notebook. Ask a businessperson, and it might be too stylized to carry into a meeting. But the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 looks exactly like it’s supposed to look, and it’s far better suited as a 2-in-1. It wins this round.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Performance

Even though it’s ostensibly a gaming notebook, the Nitro 5 Spin is equipped with eighth-generation quad-core Intel Core U 15-watt processors rather than the 45-watt CPUs you’ll find in many gaming systems. The Intel Core i7-8550U in our review unit can power up for more demanding tasks and then start sipping from the battery when the tasks are a bit easier on the CPU.

That’s a different approach than the XPS 15 2-in-1, which is built around Intel’s latest unique offering, the Core i7-8507G that’s built around a faster quad-core eighth-generation processor. In our benchmarks, it’s a real beast, beating out the i7-8550U and competing strongly with the 45-watt process typical to gaming systems.

And here’s where this particular comparison gets most interesting. The gaming-oriented Nitro 5 Spin comes with a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 that’s essentially an entry-level gaming GPU, whereas the productivity-oriented XPS 15 2-in-1 has an AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics chip that’s in line with the CPU.

Simply put, the XPS 15 2-in-1 out-games the gaming 2-in-1 Nitro 5 Spin, and by a fair margin. It scores higher in the 3DMark synthetic gaming benchmark. And in real-world games, it achieves significantly higher frame rates in all of our test titles including Civilization VI and Battlefield 1. 

It’s not that the Nitro 5 Spin performs slowly that’s at issue here, it’s how much faster the XPS 15 2-in-1 is at the very tasks that Acer aimed for with its gaming-oriented 2-in-1. Dell squeezed a ton of performance out of an incredibly thin and light machine, and that earns a huge win in this category.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Keyboard, Mouse, and Pen

Clearly, the Nitro 5 Spin’s keyboard was designed with gamers in mind. It’s lined in red, which is your first hint, and the single level of backlighting shines in a red hue. And, the WASD keys are highlighted, which certainly isn’t done to make entering data into Excel any easier. The key mechanism is probably most attractive to gamers as well, with its snappy action but short travel and abrupt bottoming action that’s less comfortable for long-term typing.

The Acer’s touchpad is better, with a comfortable surface and solid Microsoft Precision gesture support. The optional $50 Acer active pen is a bit limited by modern standards with only 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and lack of tilt support. It’s okay, but nothing special.

Dell went in a completely different direction with the keyboard in the XPS 15 2-in-1, which needed to be thinner to fit into the 2-in-1’s svelte chassis. Specifically, the keyboard uses a magnetic levitation (maglev) mechanism to try to tune 0.7mm of key travel into something that doesn’t feel like you’re typing on a block of wood. We found it to offer a snappy feel that’s loud and has an abrupt bottoming action — which should sound familiar because that’s just how we described Acer’s keyboard.

The touchpad uses more typical technology, and it’s very good, with Microsoft Precision touchpad support for precise Windows 10 gestures. The latest Dell Premium Active pen is much better, with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitive and tilt support.

With a better pen and an innovative keyboard design, we’ll give Dell the win here as well, although by a slighter margin than in some other categories.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Connectivity

The Nitro 5 Spin has a relatively large chassis, and that makes room for lots of connectivity. There’s a single USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port (no Thunderbolt 3 support, alas), two USB-A 3.0 ports, a USB-A 2.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, and an Ethernet jack. Add in the usual 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and you’re mostly covered.

With the XPS 15 2-in-1, Dell committed fully to USB-C. Literally, that’s all you have besides a 3.5mm combo jack: four USB-C ports, two of which support Thunderbolt 3 with a full four lanes of PCIe each. That means you’ll have no problem plugging in all kinds of displays and connecting to an external GPU for gaming if the Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics aren’t enough for you. Oh, and there’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well.

You’ll need dongles to plug in your legacy devices with the XPS 15 2-in-1, but we do like Thunderbolt 3. Having the fastest connectivity on the planet is a good thing, and the Dell has plenty of it.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Display

Okay, so, the Nitro 5 Spin has an average 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 142 PPI) display that competes well against its class of convertible 2-in-1 and is better than many similarly priced gaming notebooks. That’s all to the good.

But the 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160 or 282 PPI) panel that Dell offers for the XPS 15 2-in-1 is absolutely, flat-out, downright gorgeous. It’s sharp as a tack, extremely bright, has the best contrast this side of a Microsoft Surface Book 2, and covers almost the entire AdobeRGB color gamut. Seriously, it’s a beautiful display, probably the best you’ll find on a notebook today — and that includes Apple’s MacBook Pro.

There’s nothing else to say here, really. We’ll add that you can get a Full HD display for the XPS 15 2-in-1 if you like, but you won’t unless you just don’t care how things look. Or if you’re really worried about battery life, but we’ll save that for the next section.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Portability and Battery Life

Here’s one thing the Nitro 5 Spin has in common with “real” gaming notebooks: Too little battery capacity tucked into that relatively chunky chassis. Acer only included 50 watt-hours, in fact, and that results in very limited battery life. Now, it’s better than many gaming notebooks thanks to the power-sipping capabilities of the eighth-generation Intel Core “U” processor, but it falls well short of most convertible 2-in-1s.

Unless, of course, you’re talking about the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 with that Intel Core i7-8705G CPU and 4K UHD display. Then, you’ll marvel at just how poor battery life can be in a notebook that’s meant to be carried around for long periods away from a charger. The XPS 15 2-in-1 has even worse battery life than the Nitro 5 Spin, and that’s saying something. Get the Full HD display, and you’ll likely stretch the batter a bit more, but we suspect it’ll never be exceptional.

Dell made its convertible 2-in-1 very lightweight and easy to carry around. But that’s no good if you have to take your charger along with you. Acer is the (rather weak) winner of this round.

Winner: Acer Nitro 5 Spin

Availability and Price

The Nitro 5 Spin falls just into the premium notebook range at $1,100 for a Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SATA SSD, and a 1TB HDD. It’s not terribly expensive for a well-equipped 2-in-1, but it’s probably a bit overpriced compared to similarly-equipped gaming notebooks. Drop $100 by selecting a Core i5-8250U CPU or losing the SSD.

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is a pricier machine. It starts at $1,300 for an Intel Core i5-8305G (using the same AMD graphics as its faster sibling), 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and Full HD display. You can spend as much as $2,750 for an Intel Core i7-8705G, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and that lovely 4K UHD display.

Simply put, the Nitro 5 Spin is far more affordable, and it’s a decent value. The XPS 15 2-in-1 is an expensive machine, and because of the onboard graphics, you can’t configure it down very far.

Winner: Acer Nitro 5 Spin

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is just better at what it sets out to do

The Acer Nitro 5 Spin ends up being a Jack of two trades and a master of neither. It’s not a great gaming notebook — you can spend less and get a faster machine — and it’s too large and heavy to be a serious convertible 2-in-1.

Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1, on the other hand, is a great convertible 2-in-1 that can also game right along with some dedicated gaming notebooks. It’s therefore better at doing what Dell promises, with an added bonus to people who aren’t all work and no play. We wish it had better battery life, but it still beats the Nitro 5 Spin by a fair margin (with a few extra dollars tossed into the mix).

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Acer Nitro 5 Spin review
  • Acer Nitro 5 Spin vs. Lenovo Yoga 720 15
  • Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 vs. Surface Book 2 15
  • Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review
  • Asus ZenBook Flip 14 vs. Lenovo Yoga 920


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