Specialist laptops are going mainstream, or that’s the thinking behind the new ENDURO N3 models from Acer.
These are heavily ruggedised laptops design for those that aren’t located in an airconditioned office and might encounter weather while they are working.
The amount that businesses spend on computers only to have them be irreparably damaged through accidents or carelessness is huge, so asking a little more for a solution with a longer life expectancy makes economic sense.
But with most system makers embracing the go-anywhere laptop, what makes the Acer ENDURO N3 different and worth considering?
Price and availability
Acer makes a narrow range of N3 hardware, and our review model is one of two new SKUs that they’ve recently added. The starting point for these machines is £899.99 in the UK and $1,099.99 in the USA (exclusive of local taxes).
But the European machine only has a Core i3 class processor, where the US version offers a Core i5 for that price.
The ENDURO N3 can be found direct from Acer or through local resellers, who might offer lower prices or higher specifications exclusive to them.
Acer Enduro range
Before dissecting this design, it’s helpful to understand where the N3 fits into the bigger Enduro picture.
The bottom rung is an 8-inch semi-rugged tablet, the T1, then above that are the 10-inch T1 and T5 models. The T5 is the first fully rugged Enduro design and has the 14 and 15-inch T7 options above that. The semi-rugged torch is handed to the 14-inch N3, and it’s the largest screened semi-rugged design.
Acer’s definition of semi-rugged is that the hardware has passed some of the MIL-STD-810G tests, which relate to being dropped, generally. And, it also has IP53 certification, defined as protected from limited dust ingress and protected from water spray less than 60 degrees from vertical. That doesn’t make the N3 waterproof or submersible, but it should be fine if you get caught in a light rain shower while using the machine outdoors.
As ruggedised designs go, the first aspect of the N3 that stands out is that it isn’t excessively heavy. It sports all the classic motifs of toughened computers, like the rubberised corners and water-resistant port covers, but at just 1.985 kg, this is one of the lightest we’ve tested.
The 14-inch IPS panel is bright and colourful, and a very robust hinge allows it to recline all the way to being flat with the chassis.
Because of that range of screen movement, the rear edge of the N3 has no ports on it, and all connections are exclusively on the sides.
There are no less than five rubberised port covers that can be easily moved to reveal a total of eleven ports under them, three on the left and two on the right. In some cases, as in the case of the Smart Card reader slot, the cover reveals just one item, and in others, there are as many as three ports under them.
We’ve used other machines with port covers where it was easy to break a nail getting them open, but the ones Acer used here are extremely easy to open. Our only reservation about them is that if they aren’t fully seated when closed, they won’t offer the protection from moisture and dust ingress that they can.
Another place it might enter is a large thermal exhaust that is on the underside and extends on to the back edge. A 50mm fan sucks air from underneath the N3 and then, once heated, ejects it through slots at the rear. That avoids overheating we’ve seen with underside exhaust ports, though to provide enough clearance for air to flow in the rear feet of the N3 are extended.
In our initial reconnoitre, we saw only two things that we weren’t overly keen.
The first of these was an oddly left offset touchpad beneath the keyboard. As statistically, most users will be right-handed, this isn’t ideal. Its placement makes a convenient place to the right for a Windows Hello compliant fingerprint reader, but it undermines the touchpad.
Since most use the fingerprint very occasionally and the touchpad most of the time, that choice makes little sense.
Our other red flag was the power connection that uses one of those amazingly easy to break pin-barrel receptacles. The plug on the cable from the tiny external PSU ends with an L-shaped turn that avoids the power connection being accidentally detached if the laptop is moved. However, it creates an excessive force on the inlet should someone try to walk away with the machine while it is still connected, often resulting in a broken plug, port, or both.
That this machine has a USB-C port that isn’t used for charging is very disappointing, and Acer needs to relegate its pin-barrel era of PC connectors to the distant past.
Here is the Acer ENDURO N3 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: Intel Core i5-10210U processor
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
RAM: 8GB DDR4 RAM, upgradable to 32GB
Screen: 14.0" IPS display
Storage: M.2 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD
Ports: 2 x USB 3.2 Type-A Gen 1, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 x HDMI, 1x VGA, 1 x universal audio jack, 1 x SD card slot, 1 x Smart Card reader, 1 x RS232 port, 1 x RJ45 Ethernet
Connectivity: Intel Wireless Wi-Fi 6 AX201, 802.11ax Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1, Intel XMM 7360 Global LTE-Advanced
Camera: 1x RGB Camera & Microphone
Security: Acer Bio-Protection fingerprint solution, featuring Windows Hello Certification Authentication
Weight: 1.985 kg (4.38 lbs.) with 3-cell battery pack, one SSD
Size: 306.5mm x Depth: 207.5mm x 17.7mm (W x D x H)
Battery: 48 Wh 3-cell Li-ion battery
How this specification looks to the user will entirely depend on the type of work they’re doing, and how much performance they need to accomplish their workload.
For general office use, this quad-core and octo-thread CPU is probably overpowered. But anyone who needs video acceleration will find the GPU severely lacking since Intel doesn’t consider video performance worthy of its interest.
Acer does offer this design with an Nvidia GPU, but it is such a low power variety it isn’t worth the extra cost of that option.
The best technology in the N3 is the excellent screen and the latest Intel Wireless Wi-Fi 6 AX201 chipset that enables good wireless networking performance when connected to a suitably specified router.
What’s disappointing is the USB port selection that fails to include even one 3.2 Gen 2 port. Having a USB-C port is good, but it needed to be a 10-Gbit type or ideally, Thunderbolt 3.