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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  • blue_urban_sky - Tuesday, January 08, 2013 - link

    Why stop there, make it an even 1" then you could have 2 memory slots and a removable hard drive. Or even better make it 1.5" and have a huge removable battery, an optical drive and a dedicated GPU! No make it 2" and 17" screen then you can have a full sized keyboard top of the range graphics high end CPU tons of storage and neon lights on the top of the shiny plastic case!!1!

    Not really aimed at you, just all the people who like there £300 lappy and can not possibly imagine a world where other people want different things.
    Reply
  • thesavvymage - Tuesday, January 08, 2013 - link

    you totally did not comprehend what i meant Reply
  • blue_urban_sky - Wednesday, January 09, 2013 - link

    You can't see the point of making the thinest laptop.

    You think they should have made it fatter and increased the stats.

    You justify this by saying people could not tell the difference without a ruler.

    You fail to understand that increasing the height from 0.5"->0.7" is a 40% increase in volume where "overall volume are what matters the most" .
    Reply
  • rarson - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    You completely failed to grasp his point. Making the thinnest laptop possible doesn't make any sense if it adds too much to the price. If it compromises too many variables, then it's obviously more logical to make a slightly thicker device. All you're doing is reconstructing his statements into a straw man. You're also using percentages to make your argument sound stronger, but nobody cares about percentages. We're talking about actual thickness here. You know, real world stuff. Nice try. Reply
  • blue_urban_sky - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Joy the straw man miss used again. They were to illustrate that I understood their position thus arguing against "you totally did not comprehend what i meant".

    Shall we dissect your truism :-

    "Making the thinnest laptop possible doesn't make any sense if it adds too much to the price"

    Is that too much according to you or is it a standardised figure? So your argument can be read as

    "Making the thinnest laptop possible makes sense if it doesn't add too much to the price"

    And:-

    "If it compromises too many variables, then it's obviously more logical to make a slightly thicker device."

    Compromises on variables that you hold above others. So this could be rearranged to

    "If it doesn't compromise too many variables, then it's obviously more logical to make a thinner device."

    Lastly

    "but nobody cares about percentages. We're talking about actual thickness here. You know, real world stuff."

    I commend that you went to the trouble of asking everyone (out of interest did you insult them as well?). Ahh I didn't realise we were talking about 'actual' thickness!

    You're also using 'actual' to make your argument sound stronger (sry couldn't resist).

    The real world works by iterative development things happen in small increments.
    Reply
  • rarson - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    I'd even argue ergonomics are now more important than overall bulk. Modern laptops just aren't that thick or heavy anymore, so I don't understand why some people are claiming that a pound here or a half-inch there are worth the ridiculous price premium. I also don't understand what a touchscreen has to do with being light and thin, but I digress.

    I realized how much I appreciate the 15" size when I tried using an 11" netbook for an extended period of time. The keyboard was just far too cramped. 10 inches might be a good size for a tablet, but when I want keys, I'd rather give up some size and thickness for better keys and room for my hands to be comfortable. Having the extra screen space of a slightly larger chassis is a bonus, and coming from an 11" chassis, there's no comparison.

    I've got an old PII laptop that until recently I would occasionally use. That thing probably weighs about 9 or 10 pounds. It's nicely built, and even has a matte screen, but it does get heavy to hold. I can't help but think that the 5-and-a-half pound notebook I'm using right now is pretty darn light. It's lighter than the 6-lb bowling ball I used to throw when I was 8. It's also got a bigger screen and a much nicer keyboard than this Acer, and cost about a fourth of the price.

    Clearly, these ultrabooks are toys for suckers who think their social status depends on what kind of gadgets they own.
    Reply
  • Tech-Curious - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    Agreed. Well said. Reply
  • blue_urban_sky - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    *sigh* You were doing well right up to your last paragraph.

    B-
    Reply
  • dszc - Wednesday, January 09, 2013 - link

    Jarred,

    Thanks for your review. And special extra thanks for emphasizing productivity features and ergonomics for people who actually work.

    I am a professional photographer and full-time businessman. I live in Photoshop, Excel, Word, eMail, and web research. That is what I must do and what I enjoy doing. I never play games.

    Your comments on the action and utility of the keyboard and its layout are crucial. Also the touchpad. The keyboard and its shortcuts, along with the touchpad is where most true workers live. We can get things done 10x faster with these interfaces than with a touchscreen.

    Thank you for continuing to harp on these issues, as they are critical. Yes, a pretty face is nice to look at, but the real beauty of a computer is in its function.

    As for price, I am by no means rich, but I am more than willing to pay for an excellent productivity tool. If a laptop must cost $1100 or 1200 or 1300 to have essential features such as a decent IPS panel and a decent backlit keyboard and a decent touchpad, then so be it. But if you take away the backlit keyboard to save $20 or $50 or whatever, then the laptop to me becomes useless.
    There are tons of functionally compromised laptops for the masses that are hobbled by pricepoint. But it is not right to reduce those of us who must work for a living to the lowest common denominator.

    Kudos to Acer for stepping up with an IPS screen. I would be MORE than willing to pay $1300 for this tool if Acer had bothered to get the little things right - excellent backlit keyboard with great layout; fantastic (rather than mediocre) touchpad; decently calibrated IPS panel. And I'd much rather pay $1400-$1500 to have these things RIGHT, than $1200-$1300 and have them not quite right.

    Thanks again, Jarred, for your great reviews.
    Thanks, Acer, for moving in the right direction. Please don't stop short of the goal.
    Reply
  • bobjones32 - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    I'm a huge tech dork as you'd expect considering I'm reading AnandTech. So when my wife decided to get this laptop, I gave her a quick Windows 8 tutorial as if I was teaching an alternate version of myself how to use it.

    "Just click the desktop"
    "Just use the trackpad, why use touch?"
    "You can mostly ignore the Metro stuff, that's just meant for tablets"

    Cut to my surprise when she basically ignores all that advice, and absolutely falls in love with the laptop using touch almost all the time, sticking in Metro apps almost all the time, and barely ever seeing the Desktop.

    When the laptop is sitting on a desk, she's always resting on her elbows anyway, so reaching toward the screen is natural. When the laptop is sitting on her lap, her thumbs are right there at the screen, so it's perfectly natural to reach out and touch it. Metro apps meet most of her needs for web browsing, playing games, and chatting with friends, so she really only uses the Desktop for Office.

    The keyboard is a bit annoying to her, but everything else about the laptop is nearly perfect. Even the battery life, considering that she's coming from a Vista-era laptop from 5-6 years ago that was upgraded to Windows 7.

    After observing her learn to use Windows 8 and eventually fall in love with it and this laptop, it really made me rethink my expectations for the OS in general. Maybe the tech press has it wrong because they're approaching it from expectations that normal people simply don't care about?
    Reply

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