This semi-rugged laptop tackles the urban wilds
A solid addition to the “semi-rugged” laptop class, Acer’s Enduro Urban N3 is less expensive than some hardier machines, but it's made to survive moderate drops, spills, and everyday city hazards.
Acer first stepped into the rugged laptop arena with one “semi-rugged” and one “rugged” entry—both aimed at the commercial market and running Windows 10 Pro. A few months back, the company added a semi-rugged model for consumers, the Enduro Urban N3 (starts at $799.99; $999.99 as tested). It’s lighter than Acer’s similar Enduro N3, though just as secure against dust and moisture, with an IP53 certification. According to Acer, it’s slightly less durable than the Enduro N3 but has MIL-STD 810H certification, making it survivable for a four-foot drop. Its battery life and performance are merely okay, but if you prioritize rugged design and cost savings above all else, the Urban N3 is well worth a look.
Given that notebook computers can go anywhere, it’s a bit surprising that semi-rugged features aren’t more common. Even for those who use their laptop with care as part of a home office, drops and coffee spills come with the territory. And since the base model of the Enduro Urban N3 (with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a half-terabyte SSD) can be had for $799 at Amazon and other resellers, you’re well into standard consumer pricing.
That being true, why not ensure that your laptop is well protected? Currently, Acer leads the pack in serving consumers who want a more durable laptop. Most serious rugged models are out of the typical shopper’s price zone. Even the Panasonic Toughbook 55 Mk2, similarly classed as semi-rugged rather than fully rugged, costs more than $2,500 with a Core i7 running at 3.0GHz, a 512GB SSD, and a 14-inch screen. The Toughbook even looks more rugged, with a handle and a thicker case, and running nearly a pound heavier than the 4-pound Urban.
The Urban, by contrast, sports a trim and sleek appearance, measuring in at less than an inch thick despite identical durability and dust/moisture ratings (MIL-STD-810H and IP53), as well as identical Intel integrated graphics (though the Urban offers the option for a modest GeForce MX230 discrete chip). The Toughbook does offer an extremely bright 1,000-nit screen, ideally suited for outdoor use, versus the Urban’s bright but not incandescent 450 nits.
The Urban boasts plastic bumpers on each corner and snap-on covers for all ports, making it secure for trips around the urban jungle, or even camping or biking journeys further afield. But given that it’s cheaper than the pack, what’s the precise level of ruggedness with the Urban?
The “810H” rating compares with the MIL-STD-810G of the earlier Enduro N3. The “H” rating is an update of the original “G.” “H” was released in 2019, while “G” was introduced in 2009 and last updated in 2014. Suffice it to say, both are complex, specifying allowable levels of mechanical shock, vibration, temperature, low pressure (altitude), humidity, fungus resistance, salt fog exposure, and explosive atmosphere. For a complete rundown, go to our explainer on ruggedness ratings.
For my part, to test-drive the ruggedness, I dropped the Urban from 30 inches to carpet, the laptop open with Gmail up and running, with no ill effects. I also staged an accidental water spill, which I sopped up as quickly as one would; the machine shrugged off my fumbles and kept on ticking. Anecdotal testing, to be sure, but the Urban passed muster through this pair of very typical and believable mishaps.
Here’s a bit of perspective on sizing and weight, given the ruggedness. The Enduro Urban N3 measures 0.86 by 13.8 by 9.6 inches and weighs just over 4 pounds. Compare that with a Dell Latitude 5420, which comes in at just over an inch less in footprint (in both width and depth), and at about a pound lighter. Unlike with a true-rugged machine like a Panasonic Toughbook, the Enduro levies only a modest size and weight penalty versus a mainstream business machine like that 14-inch-screened Dell.
As reviewed, the $999 version of the Enduro Urban N3 offers a quad-core 2.8GHz (4.7GHz maximum) Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB solid-state drive. Intel integrated graphics supports the 14-inch full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) non-touch screen, the lack of touch input being typical with rugged-notebook panels. Befitting its more consumer orientation, the Urban comes with Windows 10 Home, as well as Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connectivity.
Hinged covers on both the left and right side of the notebook protect against dust and moisture. On the left are ports for power and HDMI, two USB Type-A connectors, one USB-C (with Thunderbolt 4 support), and a headphone jack, plus an SD card slot. The right has a USB Type-A port and a Kensington-style notch for security lock cables.
In a noteworthy upgrade from last year’s Enduro N3, the Enduro Urban N3 sports a bright 450-nit screen. Indoors, the screen offers comfortable viewing at 50% to 70% brightness. Detail is sharp, and saturation and brightness are suitable. (According to color theory, these two properties draw attention the quickest.)
The Enduro Urban features a backlit keyboard with the Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End keys in a column on the right, below the power button. At the bottom right, the four arrow keys form a sort of squashed diamond, with the half-height up and down arrows between full-size left and right. This is not ideal, though common on laptop keyboards. With a traditional full-size keyboard, the arrow keys form an upside-down “T,” and each key is full-size.
Typing at speed requires some adjustment, because travel on the keys is very shallow (but then, the entire unit is only 0.86 inch deep). A slight mushiness was evident in the key feel, likely a result of the liquid-proofing; it’s the kind of trade-off you’d expect in a machine with better seals than most. That said, the key response is good, and once I added a mouse and disabled the touchpad, I was a happy typer.
Sound from the bottom-mounted speakers is on the tinny side, so you’ll want to use headphones most of the time for superior audio. (Plus you won’t annoy your companions.)
The 1,280-by-720-pixel webcam offers images adequate for work-at-home conferencing sessions, though detail could be sharper. At CES 2022, we saw many laptop makers moving their premium laptops to 1080p webcams (finally!) so this is an area of future improvement. The wide 16:9 screen aspect ratio works well for movie viewing, though perhaps is not as effective for word processing and spreadsheet work, especially as 16:10 screens have been gaining steam over the past year in new models.
From a benchmarking perspective, the Enduro Urban N3 offers a challenge, since it stands apart as a consumer-oriented semi-rugged laptop. It is actually closest to its relative, the Enduro N3, which can be purchased in nearly identical configurations. True rugged notebooks are generally more expensive and heavier, often with limited screen resolution, to enhance durability and visibility. Even the Panasonic Toughbook 55 Mk2 is significantly heavier and more expensive. We tested a Toughbook similarly configured to the Urban, but with a slightly faster 3GHz processor. Still, those two provide interesting comparisons.
We also looked at the PCMag test suite for the Lenovo ThinkBook 14s Yoga and the Dell Latitude 7420—both out of the semi-rugged category. They come with Windows 10 Pro, as do all the other semi-ruggeds, except the Acer Enduro Urban N3.
We include these two since the Urban is aiming to appeal to consumers as a semi-rugged notebook that requires less sacrifice than others in its class—and as a laptop that holds its own with more consumer-oriented business laptops.
The ThinkBook 14s Yoga offers similar results to the Urban, in processing, memory, screen size, and cost. Likewise, the Dell Latitude 7420, though business-oriented, offers a look at how much sacrifice getting a semi-rugged laptop like the Enduro Urban entails. In both specs and performance, the Enduro is comparable to these two, except in battery life, where both the Yoga and the Latitude come out well ahead.
The PCMark 10 suite simulates Windows apps, giving an overall performance score for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. We run both the main benchmark and PCMark 10’s Full System Drive storage subtest, which measures program load time and throughput of the boot drive. Both tests yield a numeric score, where higher numbers are better.
The Enduro Urban N3 scored second-highest in the Productivity tests. The Getac S410 came in last, but it was the only one of the five with an Intel Core i5, rather than a Core i7. The Enduro’s storage results were lowest. In fact, the other three for which we have scores were in the 1,300s, while the Urban scored 973.
Of the five laptops compared here, only the Urban and the Lenovo Yoga topped 5,000 on the PCMark 10 productivity test. A score of 4,000 is considered solid productivity performance, so no complaints here.
HandBrake 1.4, our raw-muscle video transcoder test, measures the time to convert a 12-minute 4K file to a 1080p format. The Urban excelled here, indicating it is getting excellent use of the CPU for this type of activity. The Urban did the conversion in less than nine minutes. The nearest competitor, the Getac, took more than five minutes longer.
The Urban also led the pack in Cinebench R23, a muti-core CPU test that uses the company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene. In GeekBench 5.4.1 Pro, however, the Urban was ahead of only the Getac. This test simulates multi-core performance for tasks such as PDF rendering and speech recognition.
All five units compared use Intel’s Iris Xe integrated graphics, which is exercised in Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop benchmark. This test uses Adobe Photoshop 22 to measure a range of content-creation and multimedia functions, harnessing both general and GPU-accelerated tasks. Here, the Urban scored 625, second only to the Latitude 7420’s score of 640. All the others came in below 600.
For graphics and rendering, we ran two tests each from the 3DMark and GFXBench 5.0 suites. 3DMark tests multiple GPU functions and software APIs. GFXBench, meanwhile, is a cross-platform GPU performance benchmark that stress-tests both low-level routines like texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering. Higher scores are better for all four tests.
The Urban was second only to the Latitude on the 3DMark’s Time Spy test (and that, by a nose) and topped all others on 3DMark’s Night Raid. So: very capable graphics handling for a laptop with integrated graphics.
On GFXBench 5.0’s Aztec Ruins and Car Chase subtests, the Urban vied for the top on both—indicating strong performance handling graphics and compute shaders.
The Urban’s battery ran for just shy of nine hours, less than any of the others in our comparison set. In fact, the Latitude and Toughbook all ran for longer than 15 hours. (Also, note that the Getac was able to exceed 30 hours with its optional triple battery loadout.) Still, the Urban is lighter than most, and if battery life is not mission-critical for you, nine hours may suffice. If you are knocking around in the city as opposed to the forest, there are sure to be plenty of power outlets around.
The screen tests include several run with our test DataColor SpyderX Pro display meter and its supporting software: gamut coverage tests for sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3, expressed as a percentage of the full gamut. Here, the Urban excels, offering a high percentage of all three color spaces. Only the Latitude equals it in that area in this comparison set. So, in terms of presenting a full color gamut, the Urban stands out.
We also record two SpyderX brightness tests, measuring brightness at 50% and 100%. Here, the 50% score may be most significant, since most users don’t crank up the screen to 100%, unless outdoors or in a very bright environment. The Urban is second only to the Toughbook at 50%, scoring 260 to the Toughbook’s 290, despite the Toughbook scoring 932 at 100% to the Urban’s 513. Suffice it to say the Urban is bright enough, with true-enough color response, to satisfy most needs.
Acer’s Enduro Urban N3, with its explicit appeal to consumers rather than business users, may have opened a new category for laptop PCs. You might call it “durability for the rest of us,” to mimic an early Apple Computer ad. After all, practically everyone who’s in the hunt for a laptop wants one that’s durable.
The rugged notebook category is something of a world unto itself, with expensive, heavy units that often have limited screen resolution. In return for those sacrifices, users in challenging environments get laptops that won’t quit. The Enduro Urban N3 offers something different: a thin, sleek notebook weighing slightly over four pounds and offering a bright screen and acceptable performance, running the Home version of Windows 10 or 11, instead of the Pro one. Yet, its MIL-STD-810H and IP53 certifications match those of several of its more expensive rivals.
For the general user who wants a reasonably priced unit that will shrug off being dropped from up to four feet, left in a light rain, or subjected to the occasional coffee spill, this is a laptop worth considering.
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John Blackford was Director of Editorial Development at CNET Networks, Editor-in-Chief at Computer Shopper magazine, and Executive Editor of Technology at Personal Computing, where he developed the magazine’s benchmark suite. He lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, near hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
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