Subjective Evaluation: If Looks Could Kill

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: this is, bar none, the thinnest true laptop that I've ever handled. Ultrabooks are renowned for being thin—it’s a prerequisite in fact—but the Acer S7 is crazy thin and puts other Ultrabooks to shame. Measuring a whopping 0.5" (12.7mm) thick, and with a uniform thickness, the Aspire S7 strikes an amazing pose when you first set eyes on it. We received the model with Gorilla Glass 2 casing on top, which looks pretty awesome and serves to further set the S7 apart from other laptops. There is an alternate configuration with a silver aluminum casing, but we've seen that sort of styling plenty of times before and I'm definitely partial to the white glass coating.

While the thin factor is really impressive, the overall build quality is equally so. This is, simply put, an awesome looking laptop. I've long since left college, and I don't even travel all that much these days, but when I do I generally find one of the thinner, lighter laptops in my office and take that on the road. I'm still somewhat partial to slightly larger displays for regular use, but for travel purposes I find 13.3" or 14" displays (with their accompanying chassis size) to be my preferred option. At a half inch thick, the S7 is significantly lighter than most college textbooks and can still last through a day of moderate use. If you need something with eight or more hours of battery life, it's going to come up short, but the AC adapter isn't all that large and could easily be packed along for occasional charging.

The next item we need to get out of the way is the LCD: it's beautiful and bright and has a native 1080p resolution. Yes, we're talking about a high-end Acer Ultrabook that truly aims for the high-end. I've seen a few attempts by Acer to create higher class products, but this is the first that actually succeeds. The LCD is glossy, but since we're dealing with a touch screen LCD that's expected—unless you want your matte finish to show wear and tear as you use it, glossy is the way to go. Whether the touch screen is truly necessary is a different matter that I'll cover later, but it does work if you want to use it in place of the touchpad (which is still present below the keyboard), and over the coming year(s) as we see more Windows 8 Apps come out the presence of a touch screen could become increasingly important.

Taken purely on its aesthetic merits, the Aspire S7 rates as a highly desirable and extremely stylish Ultrabook. Tastes certainly vary, but I can't imagine many people looking at the S7 and saying, "Wow, that thing is ugly!" In fact, quite the opposite: pull it out at a coffee shop and I suspect you'll have more than a few inquiries about the laptop, and even the MacBook Air folks might cast an envious eye your way (note that I said "might"). What you want to do with your laptop will end up determining how well the S7 fits your needs, and there are some aspects of the S7 that might make me raise an eyebrow, but if price were no object I'd definitely want to have one. And that, unfortunately, is where we run into some problems.

Let's start with the quirky aspects first. The keyboard looks nice in pictures, but in practice there are some concerns. How serious they are really depends on how you use your computer—my wife didn't even notice the problems, but I grumble about them on a regular basis. There are two primary things that I don't like about the keyboard. The first is that the key travel is super shallow, which can make the typing experience a bit less pleasant though not impossible by any stretch. The second item is something that comes up far more often in my irritations column: the keyboard layout. I can adapt to just about everything given time, but Acer's decision to eliminate the row of dedicated function keys means many of my oft-used keyboard shortcuts now require an extra finger to press the Fn key. Alt+F4 becomes Fn+Alt+4 (effectively making it a two-handed key combination), pressing F2 (e.g. to edit the contents of a cell in Excel) is now Fn+2, F3 for search is now Fn+3, and so on. It's not the end of the world, particularly if you're not the type of person that uses keyboard shortcuts in the first place, but it does irritate me.

That brings us to the elephant in the room: on an Ultrabook selling for over $1400 I simply don't want to compromise. The overall design aesthetic is a win, the display is a win, and I can live with the battery life given the first two items. The keyboard is far more of a compromise but it's still tolerable. What I really have a problem with is the price of entry. Ultrabooks with 128GB SSDs and Core i5 Ivy Bridge processors can be had for under $1000, and Dell's new XPS 12 is roughly in the same category and comes with a 1080p touch screen starting at $1100. There will be plenty of other touch screen Ultrabooks in the near future (as well as some that are already shipping), and many are less expensive than the S7. That means we're looking at $200 to $300 more for the design. Will some people be happy to pay that much? Probably, but the market for high-end, high-cost Ultrabooks just doesn't seem that big.

Before we wrap up with some additional thoughts on the touch screen and overall experience, let’s get to the benchmarks and see how the S7 compares to the competition.

Introducing the Acer Aspire S7 Performance, Now with Windows 8
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  • calyth - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    Well, $500 laptop is fine for most uses, until you try to do anything that generates a lot of heat. Playing a game, converting video, etc etc.

    Most of the windows laptop in that range has heatsinks that copes with the average uses, but any spikes, and it would just wear out pretty quickly over time.

    While MacBooks may have that aluminum frame advantage (in terms of heat dissipation), none of the current line up use anything particularly better than an Intel IGP. Getting the 650M requires $1700 bucks or more.

    I don't particularly think that Acer's attempt here is bad, and Windows laptop gets close to Apple styling for more bang for the buck anyways. But for me, I kinda wish to get a decent laptop that could cope with work loads a little better, for reasonable cost, and not look like a brick (e.g. Dell Lattitudes). Thats' still not really happening.
    Reply
  • Silma - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    I almost purchased Acer's Aspire S7 but I didn't in the end because of the following shortcomings which are often shared by all PC manufacturers:
    - Acer, who do you think you are, mutilating the keyboard for no good reason?
    - Battery. I would prefer a 1 or 2mm thicker Ultrabook any day for a (replaceable) decently sized battery, e.g. 70 Wh or more.
    - Cooling and noise. Please add value, don't be an assembler and work harder on cooling and noise. Most owner reviews complain about both.
    - Soldered memory. If you absolutely want to solder memory instead of making it upgradable, then you need to offer 8 GB at the very least, especially at this super premium price. Even better offer an Ultrabook with upgradable memory.
    - Non replaceable SSD. Again, for a super-premium laptop, one should expect at least 3 years of usage, which means upgrading the SSD down the road.

    It is really a shame as the following points made the Aspire S7 extremely endearing:
    - Kudos for the choice of a touch-enabled, full HD and IPS panel, which makes this screen 3x better than most offering (hall of shame: Lenovo X1 Carbon super crappy screen at $1.5k +)
    - Kudos for the aesthetic. It won't please all people, but at least it went further than most manufacturers
    - Kudos for the very decent computing power.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    I've seen speculation elsewhere that it's the touchscreen that are responsible for the poorer battery life seen in w8 laptops vs their w7 ancestors; but I haven't seen anyone try to confirm this by disabling it and rerunning any of the battery tests. Reply
  • CadentOrange - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    We've established that they're gunning for Macbook air prices, but other than that is it really comparable?

    How does the keyboard feel? I've seen the keyboard panned in the Ars review, and I tend to agree with them. If I'm spending $1500 on a laptop, I'd like a keyboard that doesn't feel clobbered together. Where are the function keys? Why is there no space between the "\" key and "Enter"? Does that annoy in practice?

    The battery life is abysmal. If you're going to charge as much as an Air, you really should perform like an Air. I'm no Apple fanboy, I have a 2nd hand Macbook and all my other PCs and server run Linux. It's in my interest that PC manufacturers produce products that rival Apple's. This is sadly not even close.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    Compared to the 13.3" MacBook Air with 256GB, which retails for $1499 with the 1.8GHz i5 and $1599 with 2.0GHz i7, the Asus has a better display (1920x1080 IPS touchscreen vs 1440x900 TFT non-touch), a processor that splits the difference, and lighter weight. Battery life is a bit disappointing, but overall it looks like a competitive package. The challenge is that PC buyers aren't used to paying these kinds of prices. The quality appears to be there (though the keyboard discussion is a bit worrying). Reply
  • ananduser - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    The machine reviewed is an Acer not an Asus. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    Those are the things I would like to see. I don't want RAID 0, the battery needs to be bigger for me (and I don't care that much about height, so make it 2cm and double the capacity or something) and 4GB of RAM are a joke in this day and age. The rest looks fine enough. :) Reply
  • Tech-Curious - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    Yeah, the RAID and the RAM are the dealbreakers for me -- and perhaps amusingly, those are the two cheapest things to fix. Switch off RAID and instantly the value proposition of the storage system is doubled. As for the memory, yeah; my old Clevo laptop's 4GB of RAM was impressive back in early 2008. Now, not so much. C'mon Acer, spring for 8GB.

    Those two changes represent maybe $30 of extra cost in parts, but they'd increase the perceived value of the whole product by $200-300, IMO, and maybe more to the general consumer.

    I wonder how much money Acer would save by swapping out the touch screen. :)
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    I would like to meat the person who made those 2 decisions and get their explanation for it. With graphics cards, companies/marketing brag about 3GB on a GT630 or something, but with many Ultrabooks, they don't deliver even though the added cost is likely to be very low.
    Also, the missing F-Keys is not very nice. I don't use them super frequently, but they do add to my productivity in certain scenarios and it looks like they would have fitted on the laptop easily.
    And lastly, I just ran Kraken on my desktop PC (i7 860 which is quite old by PC standards): 2515.1ms +/- 2.7%... didn't expect that much to be honest. :)
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    And my Galaxy Nexus manages 25,728.6ms /+-11.9%. That is strange. Reply

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