Review: Acer’s Ultrabook Aspires To Great Things But Falls Short

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Acer are the first to spit out a coveted Ultrabook and are also leading on price. But does their rapid efforts culminate in a rushed product or are they just ahead of the game?

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Design

When the Aspire S3’s lid is closed and it lies on the desk inanimate, it is a beautiful machine. Its bespoke brushed aluminium finish seduces users, with it harbouring the kind of appeal that makes you want to use it: even if it is to do work. It takes a special kind of machine to do that.

Unfortunately, I fear the extra work poured into making the Aspire S3 look so good on the outside has come at the expense of thoroughbred engineering.

Once you open the Aspire’s lid, you realise that its top heavy and structurally imbalanced. Trying to flip it open requires two hands; otherwise you’ll just fumble around with it as the keyboard and screen refuse to stop kissing. Not only is it lacking balance, but it could also benefit from a stronger chassis, exhibiting little flex when picked up from the corner.

From its thickest end it measure 17.5mm with the number falling down at the machine’s front, while the slender unibody weighs 1.39kg.

 

Keyboard, Track pad and connections

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Eventually, when you do pry it open (note: the use of the word ‘pry’ is literal), you’re confronted by an underwhelming variety of greys. Although everything functions well, that euphoria inspired earlier quickly fades thanks to the joyless dressing of its keyboard and trackpad. 

The keyboard is well spaced and provides amble feedback, keeping up with the stride of touch-typers. However, the same attention to detail is missing from the track pad, lacking fluidity when it comes to gentler gestures, especially when zooming or intending on using the scroll bar. When compared to its obvious rival, Apple’s MacBook Air, the Acer’s track pad is easily outclassed.

Unusually, its power button is mounted vertically on its hinge, feeling somewhat out of reach every time you motion to turn it on.

The thin sides of the Aspire S3 barely accommodate for connections, with an auxiliary input located on the left while an SD slot graces its right. The other connections, consisting of two USB 2.0 ports, a full HDMI port and the power socket are located along the Aspire’s spine.

 

Performance

To their credit, Acer is the first Ultrabook manufacturer to produce a variant that falls below the $1,000 mark. For that kind of buck it’ll feature a base i3 processor clocked at 1.4GHz with 4GB of DDR3 RAM. The hard drive will be 320GB HDD, projecting multimedia on a 1366×768 resolution screen and outputting volume on two stereo speakers.

Our review unit sat a little higher in the range, with improvements including an i5 processor clocking 1.6GHz and 256GB of SSD memory.
 
The model we used seamlessly operated between internet explorer (10 tabs worth of web content), music playback, Microsoft Word and Facebook chat. But that’s what you’d expect from a setup that has an expensive $1,700 price tag.

Older notebooks running Windows were pretty slow when waking up from hibernation. Ultrabooks have tended to this inconvenience by using a feature they coin as ‘instant on.’ The Aspire springs to life when you flip the lid open, allowing users to dive straight into work or play.

Battery life is on par with other Ultrabooks. We found our review unit lasted roughly five days without charge, enduring movie playback, heavy internet use, word creation, emails, music and lots more, with its hibernation mode barely dropping battery life. It uses a lithium-polymer battery that is directly embedded into its build that cannot be replaced. Acer claim the battery will store 50 days of charge when in hibernation mode, and although our review was conducted over a couple of weeks, we haven’t seen any evidence that disproves the claim.

 

The speaker performance is clear, but lacking in volume. Truth be told most Ultrabooks will have some compromise, and for the Acer, the cop out is in sound body. High notes and the mid are tolerable, but anything below the low end, including bass, is barely existent.

As it stands, our pricey review unit seems to be lacking the same charisma a MacBook Air exudes. These days, a 13″ MacBook Air complete with a more powerful 1.7GHz i5 processor, with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage can be purchased for a recommended retail price of $1,449. With pricing that competitive and a far superior build quality, Apple’s Air remains the more attractive option.

Verdict

The stunning lid is let down by a lacklustre interior, modest specifications and more concessions than its rivals. The Aspire S3 is still a good computer: just not a great Ultrabook. And even though it’s the first priced below the holy-grail $1,000, the value is simply on par. 

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