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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  • mforce - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    I find it seriously difficult to justify spending more than 500$ on a laptop. I don't make that much but even if I did ... I'm not really sure what justifies and over 1000 $ price for a laptop, it's just way too much.
    And the fact that it's an Acer doesn't help things much, let's face it, Acer doesn't really have a premium brand and it's not Apple. If I'll want to sell it right after I buy it I probably won't get more than 1000$ for it.
    Besides even cheapo laptops often last quite a long time, I have an Acer I paid 400$ for and it's still running just fine 4 years later.
    Reply
  • Romberry - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    It's a conundrum eh? People like to complain that Windows-based notebooks aren't up to the build quality of Apple's MacBooks that go for well over a grand, but when confronted with a Windows-based notebook that rivals (or meets and in some cases exceeds) the build quality of Apple's MacBooks, the same crowd that bemoans the quality of the sub-500 dollar Windows machines balks.

    You can have cheap and (hopefully) acceptable, or you can have quality and the price that comes with it. If you're a 500 dollar and under laptop kind of person, then obviously this product is not for you.

    Personally? I tend to agree that paying well over a grand for a laptop is very hard to justify for most people. I wouldn't do it. Example? I'm typing this post on an old (five years plus) Dell Inspiron e1505 running a Core Duo (not Core 2) processor , 1680x1050 display, 4 gigs of RAM and a 500 gig Hitachi hard drive with 32 bit Vista Ultimate. Bought two of these in May of 2007 for about 500 dollars a whack new from Dell on special, one for me and one for my daughter. Does everything I need it to do and is comfortable like an old shoe.

    I have a Dell Latitude 6400 in the next room (Core 2 Duo P9600 at 2.66 GHz, 8 gigs RAM, 1920x1200 display, 128 gig Samsung 470 SSD primary drive, 500 gig WD Scorpio Black in the expansion bay in place of the optiical drive.) that I paid all of 400 dollars for off lease two years ago. (Added the SSD, upgraded the RAM and installed Win 7 x64.) It mostly sits unused because of the old shoe factor with the Inspiron.

    Neither are sleek or easily portable, but they are functional, stable and reasonably fast for what I do with 'em.

    I'm not sure just how big a market there is really for high end laptops. Apple sells a lot of MacBooks in terms of units, but in terms of overall market share...not that much. MacBooks are a niche. I think Winbooks built to these high standards are likely to be niche products as well, garnering about the same 3-5 percent share of the overall market as MacBooks. (Of course for many people I think those Apple MacBooks are as much a fashion accessory as they are a PC. Winbooks will likely never have that sort of purposeful snob appeal cachet. Then again, not everyone wants to be a snob.)
    Reply
  • blue_urban_sky - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    I agree with your statement about PC laptops not being able to win as they either feel cheap because they are or are too expensive. I would however like to draw some comparisons

    Galaxy S3 ~ £400
    iPad4 3g 64gb ~ £650

    so £1000 for an ultra-book is not out of place, Don't get me wrong they are all expensive and products like the nexus range start to chalenge these premium prices.

    Just so my bias is clear I own a S3, nexus 7 and brought my wife a yoga 13 for xmas as she is a dev and commutes with her laptop on the train so I wanted to find a nice light one. She loves it so money well spent.
    Reply
  • mforce - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    Sure but Nexus devices are cheaper and still quite good. And besides smartphones and tablets are all the rage these days , I don't think such a device can match that. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    200€ for a Nexus 7, 300-350€ for a Nexus 4, 400€ for a Nexus 10 and ~150-200€ for about any dual/quad A9 Chinese tablet and smartphone with specs similar to the current high end crop (800p, 1080p, 1200p ips screen @ tablet, 540p or 720p @ smartphone, 4-32GB NAND, 7.4Wh/25Wh batteries etc.). So I would argue that the prices you mention are just as overpriced. Reply
  • blue_urban_sky - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    Although there is an argument that the high end products profits from manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Apple (tho indirectly) go toward the R&D of next gen hardware. I cannot see those same chinese manufacturers coming out with a flexible display until the tech is matured by one of the larger players at significant cost.

    Overpriced is strong term, as mentioned in the article the PC community have enjoyed a race to the bottom with little thought to anything other than Power/Price. I for one am glad that companies are looking to push toward aesthetics. If a Bugatti Veyron costs £2M, Aston Martin Vanquish costs £180k and Suzuki Alto costs £6k which one is better to get a pint of milk from the store in? and would you really like to live in a world where there is no "Wow"?
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    Then disregard the Chinese offerings, but a Nexus 7 at 200/250€, a Nexus 4 at 300/350€ and a Nexus 10 at 400€ still significantly undercut his listed devices while offering comparable to arguably better specs.
    As for the rest of your comment that car analogy has nothing to do with my comment and you are reading things into my comment that are clearly of your own mind.
    Reply
  • blue_urban_sky - Tuesday, January 08, 2013 - link

    The car comparison was just to illustrate that overpriced is highly subjective. The initial prices included the statement that the nexus range were challenging the sector, although google is not interested in profiting off these devices themselves.
    (http://crave.cnet.co.uk/mobiles/google-nexus-7-sel...

    I would think that these ultrabooks are not big earners due to high development costs and low unit sales, So rather than overpriced I think that maybe they are just expensive.
    Reply
  • mforce - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    I was just saying that Acer can't expect people to pay as much for their brand as they do for Apple or Sony ( if you want Windows laptops ) and that's the reality. Given the choice almost anyone would choose an Apple or Sony product ... sure it may not be better and I know that but this is how it works.
    Also I find the touchscreen on a laptop a bit useless maybe, I don't find myself using it much. I'd rather have a mouse :D
    Reply
  • blue_urban_sky - Monday, January 07, 2013 - link

    Poor old Acer, If they are trying to up there game good on them I think they know it will be an uphill battle winning consumers over and maybe they have made a product that is very well made with quality parts for that very reason.... Maybe. Reply

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