Truth be told, it wasn’t easy writing a conclusion (much less a headline) for our original Acer Aspire S7 review – that is why you never read it. The company’s third Ultrabook was near-perfect, with a stunning full HD display, exceptionally fast performance, an extra-light chassis and one of the most sophisticated designs we’d seen on any Acer machine, ever. Even so, the battery could barely last past the four-hour mark — a poor showing, even compared to other machines on the market. Plus, the fan noise was some of the loudest we’d heard, so you couldn’t enjoy that blazing SSD without a good deal of distraction. This wasn’t the Ultrabook we thought it would be, but here goes.
Back in June 2012, when Acer first announced the Aspire S7 Series, two things seemed noteworthy: these were the company’s first touchscreen Ultrabooks, for one, and they were easily its best-made. Whereas the earlier S3 and S5 skew a bit boring, the S7 is made of aluminum, with either a metal or Gorilla Glass lid, depending on whether you choose the 11- or 13-inch version. What’s more, it has a 1080p IPS display, which looked just as nice in our initial hands-on as the spec sheet would have you believe. Throw in a choice of Core i5 and i7 processors and a RAID 0 SSD configuration, and you can easily expect the same fast performance we recorded on the S5. So is this it? Has Acer finally built an Ultrabook we can heartily recommend? More to the point, does the 13-inch model get enough things right to justify that R10 000 starting price?
[title type=”h1″ class=””]Look & Feel[/title]
Smooth glass, sharp edges and cold aluminum. You can forget Acer’s reputation for putting out cheap plastic stuff. When one thinks of Acer, good build quality isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind : the S7 is as nice to touch as it is to look at, and is easily the prettiest, most tactile laptop the company has ever made. The keyboard deck is fashioned out of smooth aluminum, with a large trackpad and metal keys. Though it looks like the screen has a bezel, it’s actually an edge-to-edge glass display, with a border that matches the white lid. To be clear, when we talk about that white lid, we’re referring to the 13-inch model, specifically: that bigger version has a white Gorilla Glass cover, this one we had for review.
At 1.297 kilograms, the 13-inch version we tested weighs even less than the Aspire S5, which was itself pretty light for an Ultrabook. That seems like a feat, given that the 13-inch S7 has a glass cover – after all, the last time we reviewed a laptop with a glass lid we ended up making excuses for its relatively heavy build. The 13-inch model is thinner, too (0.47 vs. 0.59 inch), which is noteworthy given that the S5 was once touted as the “world’s thinnest” Ultrabook. (The S5 had a motorized drop-down port door in the back, so it sort of had to be thicker than the S7.) Even if you don’t have the S5 lying around for comparison’s sake, we think you’ll be able to appreciate how impressively thin this is. It really does feel slimmer and lighter than other 13-inch Ultrabooks.
One of the best things about most of the PC laptops that we’ve been reviewing lately is that there has been no need to go on any tirades about awful, washed out 1366×768 panels, at least not in the high-end. We really liked the 1600×900 IPS display in the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga and the 1920×1080 display in the Asus Zenbook Prime, and the Acer S7 is another good one. It uses a 1920×1080 IPS touchscreen with the aforementioned Gorilla glass coating, resulting in a display that is fairly reflective but also has great color, brightness, and viewing angles.
I personally like 1080p in a 13-inch laptop, but others may find it a bit small, especially on the Windows desktop—Windows 8’s Start screen and Metro apps scale better than the desktop does and shouldn’t cause problems for even visually impaired users. The system uses 125 percent scaling on the desktop out of the box, which is a reasonably comfortable default setting that doesn’t look too bad.
[title type=”h1″ class=””]Keyboard[/title]
While the build quality and display are two of the S7’s best qualities, the keyboard is probably one of its worst. We noticed in our preview that both the 11-inch and 13-inch versions of the S7 were using the same keyboard, and while the size is reasonable in the smaller 11-inch chassis, there’s a lot of wasted space in the 13-inch version. The keyboard also suffers from a number of bizarre layout decisions.
For starters, the keyboard lacks a dedicated row of function keys, half-height or otherwise. There’s plenty of room for one across the top, so its exclusion doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are also some questionable layout decisions—the Delete key is to the right of the space bar, and some Page Up and Page Down keys are crammed in with the half-height arrow keys when a more logical place to put them would have been to the right of the rest of the keys. The Caps Lock key is in its usual place, but it gives up some two-thirds of its standard width to make room for the tilde key, which is itself displaced by an escape key that doesn’t have a row of function keys to hide in. It’s an odd layout, to say the least, and I’m not sure why Acer made the decisions it made here.
[title type=”h1″ class=””]Hardware & Batterylife[/title]
The S7 comes with an Intel Core i7-3517U processor (a dual-core CPU with Hyper-Threading), 4GB of system memory, Intel HD Graphics 4000, and two 128GB SSDs in a RAID 0 array (256GB total). The RAID 0 array helps the system with performance. But it falls short on 3D performance, with only integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics. You wouldn’t want to use the system for gaming anyway.
The Acer Aspire S7 features a 4-cell lithium polymer battery that can hold up to 4680mAh and is one of the areas of the S7 we could certainly see an improvement in. The first battery test we ran on the S7 was a long-term battery drain test to see how long it would take for it to drain. Our testing showed an hour of battery drain resulted in a 19% drop in the S7’s battery under the conditions of leaving its Wi-Fi on, its screen at 50% of its brightness and leaving it on to let its battery drain. This means you should expect a little over 5 hours of battery life under these conditions.
The battery drain issues continued into our video tests as well as we conducted two tests of running video located on the S7’s hard drive and the other, a streaming video. The first test was conducted under the conditions of the S7’s screen brightness was at 50% while playing a 1080p local video, which resulted in a 26% drop in its battery, which means you should expect close to 4 hours of local video playback. As for our streaming video test, it was conducted under the same conditions, but instead, the video was a streaming 1080p video and resulted in a 30% drop in its battery. This means you should expect around 3 hours of streaming video playback.
You’ll want to keep the S7 plugged in often. To keep the system light and thin, Acer only promises a six-hour battery life using the internal (non-serviceable) battery. Our video rundown test returned a passable 4:45, but this is far from all-day computing. In contrast, the HP 4t-1100 lasted 5:48 and the Dell XPS 12 came in at 5:09. The media-darling (and ultraportable Editors’ Choice) Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display topped all at 7:10. Granted, at 0.75 inches, the MacBook Pro is the “thickest” of the systems in this svelte line-up.
[dropcap1]I[/dropcap1]n conclusion, the Acer Aspire S7 is a media performance laptop for the traveling artist, similar to the main audience for the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) and the Asus ZenBook Prime UX32VD-DB71. All three give you 1080p (or greater) resolution in a 13-inch portable package, as well as good multimedia benchmark performance. The S7 is certainly the way to go if you want the slimmest possible touch-screen system to commute with you on the (Gau)train. However, the other choices may be better if you’re a plane commuter, since they have better battery life overall. The Asus UX32VD-DB71 in particular comes with discrete graphics and a much less dear price tag of R10 999+. Even the other Windows 8 systems with touch screen (Dell XPS 12 and HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100) have better battery life than the S7. Again, if you have R11 000 to spend, you’ll probably be happy with the S7, but for a little more (R2000), you’re in upgraded MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) territory. And that laptop will make it through a continental plane trip with many minutes to spare. You choose