Larger than most notebooks at this screen size, the Predator makes the most of it, packing in an expansive, well laid-out keyboard; dedicated gaming macro keys; quiet cooling fans; and a punchy sound system. It’s backed by an Intel Core i7 CPU (a Core i9 in the top models) and an Nvidia GeForce RTX-class GPU for super-smooth gaming on its 144Hz G-Sync display. The Helios 700 is a real speedster, and despite its bulk and brief battery life, delivers an ownership experience unlike any other. It takes our top recommendation for a high-end, big-screen gaming laptop.
BIGGER THAN YOU KNOW
The “entry-level” model of the Predator Helios 700 I’m reviewing (Acer model number PH717-71-7091) is anything but. It’s well equipped, with a Core i7-9750H hexa-core CPU, an 8GB GeForce RTX 2070 GPU, and 16GB of RAM. The Helios 700 has just a single storage drive, a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) onto which Windows 10 is installed, but an empty 2.5-inch bay allows for aftermarket expansion. The most powerful configuration of the Helios 700 ($3,999.99) has an overclockable Core i9-9980HK octa-core CPU and an 8GB GeForce RTX 2080 GPU.
The Predator Helios 700 isn’t alone in offering this caliber of hardware. Competition from the MSI GE75 Raider, the HP Omen 17t, and the Asus ROG Strix Hero line is fierce. The MSI and the Asus command about $200 less for similar specifications as our Predator review unit, but they lack Nvidia G-Sync. The HP has G-Sync and is less expensive, but the Acer has a more comprehensive feature set, such as a keyboard with perkey-programmable RGB backlighting instead of a four zone arrangement. All in all, the Acer is a fair value.
Notebooks with 17.3-inch screens are large simply by nature, but few can hold an extra-large candle to the footprint of the Predator Helios 700. Meaty-looking display bezels help inflate this monster to 1.6 by 16.9 by 11.8 inches (HWD)— bigger than two Razer Blade Pro 17 (2019) notebooks stacked on top of each other. It’s at least an inch wider than a “normal” 17.3-incher with minimal display bezels. It’s a good deal heavier, too, at a staggering 10.8 pounds. Don’t forget to factor in several extra pounds for its power brick. A roller bag is the way to go with this one.
The Predator Helios 700 has the solid feel you’d expect from a machine this heavy, showing no chassis flex and just a slight amount in its cafeteria-tray-size lid. The chassis doesn’t feel hollow, as it can on some notebooks this thick. One knock is the all-plastic exterior; notebooks priced at this level usually incorporate some metal.
Design for the Predator Helios 700 means a sharply angled chassis and an all black color scheme, for which Acer’s Predator brand is well-known. The DNA goes all the way down to its aggressive keyboard typeface and futuristic-looking power button. It’s a look you specifically have to like to buy a notebook such as this one. I think it works, and I give Acer a nod for its willingness to step closer to “love it or loathe it” than many other brands.
But let’s get back to the size of this beast. Challenging today’s infatuation with thinness requires purpose, and the Predator Helios 700 has plenty of reasons for going big. First is its sliding (or in Acer’s terminology, “HyperDrift”) keyboard. On your first try, it’ll seem highly unnatural to grip the ledge at the top right of the keyboard and pull the whole thing toward you, but you just have to go for it.
The transformation is guaranteed to garner some wide eyed looks. The keyboard slides on rails that keep it firmly anchored to the notebook the entire time. It’s thick and strong enough that it doesn’t flex, maintaining its solid feel whether it’s docked or slid forward. The wrist-rest portion, which contains the touch pad, tilts down to meet your desk.
The forward position reveals the Predator’s twin cooling fans. Also, the RGB lighting of a Gorilla Glass panel between the fans does a nice job of showcasing the copper heat pipes in a supercar-like fashion.
I’m a fan of what the sliding keyboard does for the user experience. The effect isn’t exactly like putting an external desktop keyboard in front of the notebook, but it’s close. It gives a more commanding view of the screen, since you’ll be sitting further back. I also found the angled palm rest made for more comfortable typing.
Docked or forward, the keyboard on this notebook gets a thumbs-up from me for its 2.8mm of key travel and desktop-like layout, including a full-size numeric keypad and arrow keys.
The touchpad also earns good marks for its smooth surface and dedicated buttons, which are tactile and quiet. The backlighting color of the pad’s border is customizable in the preinstalled PredatorSense app, as is the glass panel showing off the heat pipes.
As if the sliding feature doesn’t make the keyboard enough of a standout, the W, A, S, and D keys on the keyboard can be swapped out for the included MagForce keys (as Acer calls them). Unlike membrane keys, MagForce keys use a linear spring to offer variable levels of pressure, in game-controller-like fashion, so you’re not limited to just pressing or not pressing the key. In other words, there’s a range of in-between states that are not there with a normal key. You’ll need to use Acer’s PredatorSense app to switch between Gaming and Typing modes with the MagForce keys installed.
I was too busy relearning how to press the keys to play around with that setting. The fact that the MagForce keys have no actuation pressure means you can’t rest your fingers on their keytops, as I found was my habit, without activating them to some degree. Once I acclimated myself, though, I found that the MagForce keys offer an instantaneous response to input and a finer level of control. It’s appealing especially for racing and other games where you may want a gas-pedal-like level of gradual control.
For general typing, the MagForce keys let you set the actuation point. Its 2.8mm maximum is the closest approximation to a normal key, meaning it will register only when fully pressed.
While they’re usable for typing, I find the MagForce keys feel a little too different from the rest of the keyboard to bury them in my subconscious. But wapping them out after a gaming session takes just a minute using an included plastic tool, which fits, along with the extra keycaps, in a convenient carry case that comes in the box.
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