Pointing and clicking is so last decade. First there were touch screens on Windows PCs, then Apple bought into the craze by adding a Touch Bar to some MacBook Pros, and now there are a half-dozen or more methods of physically interacting with your computer, from drawing with a pen to calling out to Siri or Cortana. One of the newest and most overlooked methods is eye tracking, which you’ll find on some models of the Acer Aspire V17 Nitro (starts at $1,249; $1,699 as tested). Even if you order a version without the thin eye tracking bar built into the display hinge, the V17 Nitro is still an excellent value for a 17-inch gaming laptop. If your favorite games support eye tracking, you should consider it, although you’ll be making a few compromises on ancillary features.
Look Over Here
Although eye tracking is perhaps its signature feature, you won’t notice anything unusual about the Aspire V17 Nitro at first glance. Most versions of the laptop look like many other large gaming rigs that the Taiwanese tech giant has churned out over the years. There’s no gigantic gaping exhaust grilles, illuminated red slashes, or any other features that more aggressive laptops like the Origin EON17-SLX have. This unit is even more understated because it features Black Edition styling, which includes a ribbed metal lid, a dark plastic underside, and a black etched metallic surface surrounding the keyboard and touchpad. Still, there’s no mistaking that this is a gaming machine, especially not once you notice the large “Aspire V Nitro” text that’s etched into the back of the display hinge.
It’s the front of the display hinge, however, that you’ll really want to spend the most time looking at. That’s where the eye-tracking magic happens. Acer has cleverly integrated cameras and infrared lights from Tobii into the hinge, flanked by silver metallic borders. It’s very unobtrusive, and unless the sensors are activated, you might not notice it. To activate them, you open the pre-installed Tobi app, where you perform calibration and play an asteroid-shooting demo game that shows off what the tracker can do.
Nearly 100 games support the technology, from titles like Tom Clancy’s The Division to Farming Simulator 17. There are many glaring omissions, however, including the venerable Minecraft. Still, I was able to find a Minecraft look-a-like called Unturned to test out eye tracking’s greatest combination in gameplay: the ability to look around simply by moving your eyes. It works well in Unturned, especially after I used the Tobii Gamehub app to increase the responsiveness of the in-game camera movement to where I was looking. You can use the Gamehub to see which eye-tracking features each of your installed games support, as well as adjust the responsiveness of gaze and head tracking for each title.
Eye tracking is poised to expand beyond the gaming world, too. Tobii offers some rudimentary options for interacting with Windows itself, such as the ability to look at a specific point on the screen, touch and hold your finger to the touchpad, and have the cursor immediately jump to where you’re looking. Microsoft has also included more extensive native eye-tracking support in the Windows 10 Fall Creators update, including the ability to use your gaze for typing on the on-screen keyboard. While these features might be of use to someone with physical disabilities, it’s pretty clear that eye tracking’s main strength right now is for simplifying in-game movements.
A Few Minor Sacrifices
Other than eye tracking, there’s little to raise eyebrows about the rest of the Aspire Nitro V17’s spec list. That includes its 7.05-pound weight, which will certainly make your backpack straps uncomfortable, but isn’t inappropriate given its expansive screen real estate. Other 17-inch gaming laptops tip the scales around the 7-pound mark, including the HP Omen 17 (6.28 pounds) and the GTX 1060 version of the New Razer Blade Pro (6.78 pounds). There are much heavier rigs, of course—the Alienware R4 weighs 9.77 pounds and the Origin EON17-SLX is a whopping 12 pounds, which makes the Aspire Nitro V17 seem featherlight in comparison. You can ascribe part of its reasonable weight to its reasonable dimensions. At 1.09 inches thick, it’s much thinner than the Acer Predator 15 (1.52 inches), although the New Razer Blade Pro is thinner still at 0.88 inches.
With a width of 16.65 inches and a depth of 11.65 inches, there’s also plenty of room for ports, and Acer isn’t stingy. You’ll find two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C connector with Thunderbolt 3 support, an HDMI port, and a gigabit Ethernet jack on the right side, along with the connector for the power adapter. The rest of the ports are on the left edge: two USB 2.0 ports, audio input and output, an SD card reader, and a locking slot to protect the laptop against theft. The only obvious omission is a DisplayPort connector, but it’s not a deal-breaker since Thunderbolt 3 can also carry DisplayPort signals.
To keep the Nitro V17’s price relatively low, Acer skimped on a few features that you’ll find on much more expensive gaming laptops. It’s evocative of Razer’s strategy with the GTX 1060 version of the New Razer Blade Pro: Take a popular top-of-the-line gaming powerhouse, strip out marquee features like the 4K display and the GTX 1080 GPU, and you’ve got a less-expensive but still a capable machine. Instead of a 4K display, the Aspire V17 comes with a full HD (1,920 by 1,080) panel that has wide viewing angles thanks to in-plane switching (IPS) technology, but with a matte finish that dulls colors and makes white areas like file folders or menu bars look blurry. The finish is excellent at blotting out glare, however, so if you frequently play in brightly lit environments, you’ll probably be glad to trade color vivacity for not having to worry about distracting reflections.
There’s an HD webcam, which offers adequate (if occasionally grainy) video quality, though it doesn’t support Windows face detection for logging into your user account. There’s no fingerprint reader, either, so you’ll either need to be content with typing in your password the old-fashioned way. There are four speakers on the Nitro V17, and they offer very robust, room-filling audio. At maximum volumes, I noticed some distorted dialogue, but the background soundtrack on the Heaven gaming benchmark plays with a good balance of highs and lows. The small touchpad is mostly a disappointment, with lagging, inaccurate cursor movements and a very stiff clicking mechanism. The keyboard is much more comfortable thanks to sturdy keys and decent travel, although it’s not mechanical and the only customization option for the backlighting is to turn it on or off.
One thing that Acer did not skimp on, however, is build quality of the chassis. The brushed metal that surrounds the keyboard and the ribbed display back look good, but more importantly they feel sturdy. There is minimal flex in both the keyboard and the display, no small feat for a laptop of this size and weight.
The 16GB of memory on this review unit is adequate for playing games, but if you plan to connect an external monitor and multitask during your gaming sessions, you’ll want to bump the memory up to its 32GB maximum. This Nitro V17 also comes with a total of 1.5TB of storage, spread among a 1TB conventional spinning drive and a 512GB SSD. You’ll probably want to connect an Ethernet cable for lag-free gaming, but wireless connectivity options include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Acer offers a one-year warranty.
Adequate Oomph for Full HD Gaming
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card in the Aspire V17 is the cheapest Nvidia GPU to support virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, and it delivers plenty of oomph for conventional games as well. With 6GB of dedicated memory, the GPU helped the Aspire V17 achieve respectable frame rates on our Heaven (68 frames per second) and Valley (72fps) gaming benchmarks, even in 1080p and at demanding quality settings. If you’re content to play games at this laptop’s native resolution, you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that could overwhelm it. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in connecting a higher-resolution external display, you’ll likely be disappointed, since even the GTX 1070-powered HP Omen 17 failed to produce respectable frame rates at a 4K resolution on the Heaven and Valley tests.
The Fire Strike Extreme benchmark, another grueling test of the graphics subsystem, provided similar results. With a score of 5,192, the Aspire V17 performed slightly better than the Razer Blade (4,972), but predictably lagged behind the better-equipped HP Omen 17.
The Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor running at 2.8GHz is the go-to CPU for laptops that cost between $1,500 and $2,000 (and even a bit more), and Acer does not stray from this formula with the Nitro V17. There’s plenty of power here for processor-intensive activities like image editing and background video encoding, as is evidenced by the quick 1 minute and 2 seconds it took to complete our Handbrake encoding task. The Nitro V17 even outperformed all of its peers on our Photoshop image-editing test (3:13) as well as the PCMark 8 benchmark (3,535), which measures word processing, video conferencing, web browsing, and other typical PC tasks.
When it comes to battery life, however, the Aspire V17 will leave you disappointed if you plan on using it for a full day away from an outlet. It posted 7 hours and 28 minutes on our battery rundown test, longer than the Acer Predator 15 (5:16) and the HP Omen 17 (3:14), but shorter than the class-leading Razer Blade (10:36).
Can You Stretch Your Budget?
If you want to experiment with using eye tracking to control your movement in a PC game, it’s easy enough to buy a standalone eye-tracking peripheral, which can be had for about $150. But if you frequently game on the go and you’re looking for a new laptop anyway, the Acer Aspire Nitro V17 is worth considering. It’s not the thinnest or lightest gaming laptop, especially in a market influenced by svelte machines like the Razer Blade, but it represents a good value for the components you get—certainly a much better deal than the $2,299.99 New Razer Blade Pro—without sacrificing build quality.
Still, there are some small sacrifices, including a less-capable webcam and non-customizable keyboard lights, as well as the fact that you won’t be able to play games comfortably on an external 4K monitor. If you can stretch your budget significantly, past $3,000, you can eliminate those sacrifices, gain a more powerful graphics card, and still have built-in eye tracking with the Alienware 17 R4.