On the surface, the Acer Predator Helios 300 isn’t a head-turning gaming laptop. It’s a 15-inch system with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, which is a baseline platform for many portable gaming machines. But what piqued my interest was the price: the Helios is basically the cheapest gaming laptop with these specs on the market, at $1,049 on Amazon, and user reviews have been largely positive.
With this in mind, I wanted to get some hands on time with this gaming laptop to see where Acer has cut corners and whether the laptop is actually worth your cash. After all, whenever a laptop strives to be the most affordable in any category, sacrifices are often made to get there.
In this case, the Predator Helios 300 doesn’t compromises on specs. Some gaming laptops ditch the SSD in their budget variants, but the Helios 300 packs a 256GB SSD in its base model. There’s still 16GB of RAM, just like most other GTX 1060 gaming laptops. And the display; again, it’s 1080p, so there is no difference on paper relative to similar products. For the price, it seems like a great deal.
But there are some aspects to this laptop that Acer hasn’t prioritized. The design is one of them. The Helios 300 isn’t slim, at 27mm thick, and the bezels around the display are as large as most budget gaming laptops. It’s also around 6 lbs heavy, which is on the upper end for GTX 1060 laptops of this size; the most portable often shave two pounds off this weight. Despite the weight and size, this laptop only packs a 48 Wh battery, which is mid-tier for this hardware.
The construction of the Helios 300 is basic, essentially just ticking the boxes for what a modern gaming laptop must provide. There are two brushed metal sections – the lid, and the keyboard surround – but the rest of the laptop is made from matte plastic. Little attention has been paid to keeping the device seamless, so the end result is a combination of several different materials and textures. It works, but only because this is an entry-level product.
There’s no shortage of gamer style around this laptop, particularly on the lid, which features Acer’s aggressive Predator logo along with some red highlights. It’s a similar story when the laptop is open: a massive Predator logo below the display, red highlights around the keyboard and trackpad, plus a generally angular design that’s typically confined to gamer products. Some like this aesthetic; I’m not a huge fan.
The vents along the back have received their dose of gamer style as well, thanks to a massive red outline. It’s interesting to see that half of these ‘vents’ are basically fake, leaving just one half of the total space for actual airflow. These are the only vents around the sides, so all exhaust goes through this one smallish port. This again is Acer opting for a functional, basic design over something more sophisticated, which is fine for a cheap laptop.
The selection of I/O ports on this laptop is, unsurprisingly, basic. The left has Ethernet, HDMI, a single USB 3.0-A port, and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, along with an SD card reader. The right gets the power port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and two USB 2.0-A ports. So yes, the Helios 300 only has a single USB 3.0-A port, as Acer presumably believes you will use the right USB ports for an external mouse and perhaps keyboard as well. Ideally all three USB ports would support at least 3.0 speeds.
They keyboard is fairly typical for a laptop: nothing special but nothing bad either. Its travel and tactile feedback is similar to many ultraportable laptops, with a spongy though not unbearable response. Each key is spaced adequately, with Acer managing to cram in full-sized arrow keys and a numpad into this device. The WASD keys are highlighted, and the keyboard has a red backlight. Again, nothing special like RGB here, just your standard gaming laptop keyboard.
You’re going to want to use a mouse with this laptop for gaming, but the trackpad included isn’t terrible for casual use, which is a bit of a surprise considering it uses ELAN hardware. Now, it’s not the best trackpad I’ve used, and tracking performance is only fair, but for web browsing and other light tasks it’s perfectly serviceable.
Up until now, everything is pretty standard for an entry-level gaming laptop; it’s still not clear what hardware Acer has compromised to hit a low price point. I say “up until now”, because I’m about to discuss the display, which is by far the worst aspect to this laptop.
On paper, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the panel. It’s a 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD that runs at 60 Hz. There’s no high refresh rate or G-Sync support, which isn’t surprising for a budget laptop, and that’s fine. When you dig in to the performance of the display, however, serious issues are uncovered.
To start with, the panel on my review unit is only capable of 65% sRGB coverage. This is completely unacceptable for any modern display, and quite frankly I was shocked at this result. After checking a few other reviews, it seems this figure can vary a bit, as I’ve seen other tests suggesting up to 85% coverage. I may have a particularly bad review sample, but in any case, anything less than about 95% sRGB coverage should not be tolerated in 2017 for any product category, budget or not. In fact I’ve seen plenty of other low-tier gaming laptops that offer much better sRGB coverage.
This terrible gamut result leads to widespread undersaturation, as the display simply cannot push colors to the required vibrance levels. Images look flat and lacking punch as a result. Put this display next to anything that can produce sRGB accurately – we’re not even talking about wide-gamut panels here – and the Helios 300 display looks underwhelming to say the least.
With this sort of gamut, it’s no surprise to see bad color accuracy. The contrast ratio is okay, at 1160:1, and color temperatures are acceptable for the most part. But the gamut prevents this display from ever hitting even half-decent accuracy levels, and it’s not something calibration can correct. Brightness is also weak, at maximum of only 230 nits.
Will you notice the poor display during gaming? It depends on the game, but as the panel cannot reproduce the bright, punchy colors we expect at the high-end on sRGB displays, particle effects and so forth will be washed out and desaturated.