Acer finally adds pen input to its big-screen R7 Ultrabook, we go hands-on

We'll keep our source anonymous here, but an Acer rep staffing the company's press event here at IFA just told us its funky Aspire R7 Ultrabook is "not selling so well." We're not sure if that's because it shipped with last-gen Ivy Bridge processors, or because the touchpad sits above the keyboard, but either way, Acer is trying to boost its chances of success. This week, the company announced the R7 is getting refreshed with Haswell CPUs (Core i5 and i7) and an optional active digitizer for proper pen input. That latter feature in particular addresses a chief complaint potential buyers had about the original, which could only be used with generic capacitive pens. After all, what fun is a 15-inch, 1080p display with an articulating hinge if you can't use it for the occasional doodle?

In particular, the laptop makes use of an N-Trig digitizer, allowing for hovering and pressure-sensitive pen input. And though there's no shortage of pen-optimized apps in the Windows Store, Acer is also bundling a few of its own, including MemoryBinder for drawing, Screen Grasp for taking screencaps (natch), and Scrapboard for cobbling together a mish-mash of photos, screenshots and other media. Across the board, you'll enjoy a straightforward UI that makes it easy to select and crop objects on screen, with options to either put a window around selected content, or "lasso" it using the pen or your finger. Even more than that, we were especially taken with the "AccuFinger," an onscreen, finger-friendly circle with a fine pointer attached, which you can use to select tiny items on screen even when you forgot to take the pen with you. (OK, you could use the touchpad too, but this is the decidedly cooler option. Plus, the touchpad drivers need fine-tuning anyway.)

Gallery | 19 Photos

Acer Aspire R7 with pen digitizer hands-on

Of the pre-loaded apps, MemoryBinder feels the most robust. In brief, it's an alternative to Fresh Paint, with different color and writing implement options, with the ability to draw on either a clean sheet or an imported photo. (One difference: Fresh Paint uses skeuomorphism to mimic a textured canvas, whereas these are just blank pages.) What's troubling, however, is that though Acer is marketing the display as pressure-sensitive, the thing actually seemed rather oblivious, at least in Acer's own MemoryBinder app. In other words, whether we pressed hard on the screen or drew lightly, our pen marks showed about the same thickness. We've seen much more nuanced results from the Wacom tablets we've tested recently, but then again, we've come to expect better from N-Trig too. Also, let it be said that this may have just been a pre-production unit behaving badly, so perhaps it's worth revisiting this feature once we can get hands-on with a final unit.

Acer finally adds pen input to its bigscreen R7 Ultrabook, we go handson

Rounding things out, Acer also boosted the wattage of its four speakers to eight watts apiece, promising louder sound. In our hands-on test, the volume was indeed loud, though the audio got more distorted at higher volumes, especially when we listened to harsher electronica tracks. For now, there's no word on US pricing, though an Acer rep confirmed that the active digitzer version will start at 1,450 euros (pen included) when it arrives later this year. The non-pen version, meanwhile, will go for 999 euros. For now, check out our hands-on photos above, and pay particular attention to how the pen magnetically attaches to the lid (better than a pen slot, we say).

Zach Honig contributed to this report.