In and Around the Acer Aspire S5

While the trap door for the port cluster is closed (more on this in a bit), the Aspire S5 largely escapes the wedge shape that seems to define ultrabooks as a whole. Acer uses a lot of rounded corners to thin out the profile of the A5, making a dense and thin notebook seem only denser and thinner still.

It's important to keep in mind that what Acer has done here is essentially produce an ultrabook that is both lighter and thinner than a 13-inch MacBook Air. This is really about as portable as a 13.3" notebook is going to get.

It's difficult not to be excited about the lack of glossy plastic used in modern notebooks when you've spent years reviewing eyesores, but I admit even I was initially impressed by the styling of the S5. I've been one of Acer's harshest critics for some time, but to look at the Aspire S5 you'd almost be surprised to see that logo on the lid and bezel. Acer uses a finish that appears to be black brushed aluminum over virtually the entire shell of the S5.

Unfortunately that initial look of quality doesn't quite translate to feel. While the system as a whole is fairly sturdy (the screen itself doesn't flex anywhere near as much as, say, Toshiba's Portege Z series), the plastic used for the shell feels chintzy. When I try to flex the notebook, part of the plastic on the left palmrest actually makes a popping sound. Over time, the plastic also can accumulate fingerprints.

Where Acer did very right was with the keyboard, though. The one thing I used to harp on them relentlessly for is now the strongest asset of their ultrabook. For such a thin notebook there's a healthy amount of travel and depth to the keys, and while they feel a little on the small side and aren't as clicky as I'm used to, they're definitely an improvement on the competition. If you're not a fan of ultrabook keyboards, Acer's S5 probably isn't going to sway you too much, but it's definitely a welcome improvement.

Despite my general ambivalence towards clickpads, Acer produced a usable one here. The surface is distinct from the rest of the shell and very comfortable to slide your fingertip across, and taps register easily enough. It still has some issues with left or right clicking, though, just as clickpads often do (e.g. mouse movements when I'm intending to click).


Trap door closes, trap door opens!

Speaking of convenience, there's one very big feature of the Aspire S5 and it's something that Anand and I discussed and came to a bit of a split decision on: the motorized trap door. Next to the keyboard is a button that opens and closes a motorized trap door in the bottom of the S5 that hides the USB 3.0, HDMI, and Thunderbolt ports as well as adjusting the size of the ventilation in the back of the S5 to improve cooling performance. My first instinct was that something motorized like this pretty much just screams "one more thing to break down," and I would very much have rather seen the budget and engineering effort put towards solving more serious problems (like the poor display). Anand found it to be an interesting gamble and at least an innovative approach towards slimming things down while still keeping a decent amount of connectivity. Either way, it's definitely unique to Acer.

Note that when the system is running particularly toasty, the door will pop open on its own. Where I'm really inclined to give Acer the benefit of the doubt, though, is the fact that someone over there realized something that seems to have escaped most ultrabook engineers on the first go-round: a notebook as thin and as light as ultrabooks are supposed to be is practically destined to be used on someone's lap, so why put any ventilation on the bottom? The Aspire S5 has no bottom-mounted vents, just the one in the back. That's a major coup for usability.

Introducing the Acer Aspire S5 System Performance
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  • StevoLincolnite - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    If only I could have a dollar for every potentially decent notebook that had a crap display. Reply
  • SteveTheWalrus - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I just don't understand how they can justify the $1,400 dollar price tag with this display. and not just resolution, but color and contrast are probably just as dismal.

    The inclusion of a TB port isn't even a factor for the vast majority of people, and i have a feeling most Ultrabooks out later this year ( like around when windows 8 launches) with have one anyways( and some of those will have better screen, with the added possibility of having touch screens)
    Reply
  • Malih - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    funny how these manufacturers send their laptops to AnandTech, but doesn't seem to read/understand a single word from the conclusions and/or comments

    ...or probably in 2010 somebody thinks this is the display of the future and decided to produce 7 years worth of 768p displays.
    Reply
  • wetwareinterface - Sunday, July 15, 2012 - link

    they can justify it because most people don't honestly care or understand about screen resolution vs. size of the panel. I sell laptops for a living at a fairly large retailer and only one cutomer out of untold thousands has ever asked me for a quality display as a must have. they do it because they can and as a whole the industry is also not offering high res panels. there's the ips 1080p in the ~$1000 sony (which has crap specs otherwise) and the new asus prime...

    why should acer (a manufacturer who's whole laptop business is built around cutting every corner they can to squeeze profit from a piece of crap machine) put a high res panel in a laptop? further why is the reviewer even going on about acer not doing so? they never put good anything in a product except for the few items they produce simply as showcase pieces for trade shows, which end up nearly impossible to get in retail due to limited supply...
    Reply
  • bennyg - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - link

    a) your average person who shops at a retailer (!! people still do that?) wouldn't read tech sites like anandtech
    b) fair enough that Acer costcut but this isn't a bargain basement model, its more $$ than the prime.
    c) why would Acer even bother sending a review unit to a site full of people who bag out every crap 768p TN panel ever reviewed.

    Chewbacca.
    Reply
  • processinfo - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Exacly. I stopped reading at "13.3" LED Glossy 16:9 768p". Sad. Reply
  • magreen - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Stopped reading at 768p.

    Also a big "huh?" over the 4GB memory maximum.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Truth. And that's a 1280x768 *TN screen*.

    In a $1,400 laptop.

    What.
    The.
    Fudge.

    AT needs to call out manufacturers for fobbing junk on users.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    If you stop reading the article, then you miss the part where we call out manufacturers for fobbing junk on users. Reply
  • Voldenuit - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    A conclusion heading of 'Almost There' counts as calling out Acer?

    'Overpriced crap' or 'Not even close' might have been a more appropriate epithet.

    The conclusion page also seems to have difficulty deciding where it lands. On the one hand, you state that it is the most impressed you have been with an Acer product (admittedly not a company held to, or expected of high standards). Yet despite the numerous bad marks against it (lousy display, high price, poor build quality, soldered components), you refrain from calling it the overpriced piece of junk that it is.
    Reply

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