What We Think
The Acer Aspire S3 is an attractive machine at first appearances and more attractive when you see the price tag. It however, doesn’t have the features that compete with the best of the Ultrabook and lacks a little.
However, it offers i5, ultraportable power for under £600 and looks great. It may not be just as great as a MacBook, then again it doesn’t cost nearly as much. If you’re after a mix of good power and ultra portability on a budget, it’s a good buy
The buzz word for 2012 and coffee table addition for those with a little extra cash, is the Intel Ultrabook. The MacBook Air inspired machines are coming thick and heavy and we’ve already seen a number of these small, fast laptops, with their backpack ready size and powerful processors arrive from most manufacturers. So, how does the Acer Aspire S3 fare when compared to class-toppers like of the ASUS Zenbook and Toshiba Z830?
Well, for one thing it’s the cheapest of the lot and can be found at just above the £600 mark for the most basic model, which sports i5 technology and an aluminium and magnesium based chassis. While, of course, being an Ultrabook, it has to meet Intel’s prescribed specs and does so with 20g to spare, weighing in at 1.38kg and so is extremely portable.
The S3 is Acer’s gambit and they’ll hope the price can lure people away from the competition, as it has the lowest cost at entry level for an Ultrabook, by a long way. As we’ve mentioned it’s a 1.38kg machine and has a light metal shell, though it’s not a unibody like the Zenbook’s, or for that matter the Air. It is however sturdy, and there is little flex when we gave the lid a poke, impressive considering it’s a mere 17.5mm thick at its widest point. The brushed aluminium isn’t prone to finger prints and the hinges are steadfast, but like all Ultrabooks we like to dust-down our kid-gloves on before bringing it from place to place.
We also need to take the mittens off for typing on the plastic keyboard. It’s a chiclet style and quite accurate, with a relatively satisfying throw of the key. However, it disappointed us a little as it’s all made of plastic. The touchpad was also an issue for us. It’s a MacBook like offering, with integrated buttons but without the Apple’s quality – meaning an errand press and the cursor is somewhere you don’t want it to be. Thtouchpad’s fiddly nature and the fact the gestures are a little hit and miss, simply meant, we weren’t really converted to Acer S3 fandom. So, how does its screen fare?
It’s the baby of the Ultrabook bunch in spec terms and is well short of the resolutions offered by the ASUS Zenbook, which has a 1600x900p display, and the Air, which comes with a 1440x900p screen. Acer have included a very bright display nonetheless and for a 13inch screen it’s pinsharp and ideal for work. It does have quite punchy colours and images, due to the gloss on the TFT screen, but the downside of this is a lot of reflection while in bright lights, or heavens forbid – outside.
When compared to the quite impressive sound produced by the ASUS, the little S3 doesn’t match up and can sound a little tinny at high levels, despite a number of mentions to speaker technology from Dolby on its chassis. It does come with a 1.3mp camera, which we found to be perfectly capable, and it ran without any glitch thanks to the power at hand.
Just like most of the lower priced models of the Ultrabooks we reviewed the Acer uses the Intel i5 2467m processor. This chip comes from the Intel Sandybridge range and includes the TurboBoost and Hyperthreading features. It’s an ultra low voltage chip that has a clock speed of 1.6GHz, but Intel TurboBoost technology means it can hit 2.3GHz when needs be and can also handle four threads. This means it’s a perfectly capable chip for multitasking, HD movie watching and most tasks.
The addition of 4GB of RAM strengthens these claims, but don’t expect too much gaming as it only has the Intel HD 3000 Graphics and no separate GPU. It will probably run older games on low/medium settings, but give it something more modern to chew, and it will choke. The base model we tested had a 320GB HDD, with a 20GB flash drive, which allows it to wake up from sleep in under two seconds and performs the magic of a SSD for the Acer. This mix of HDD and flash memory also keeps costs down, hence the fact it’s cheaper than other machines. However, the Acer still starts up easily within the Intel paradigms, which is one of the great benefits of these machines.
Connectivity is average for the Ultrabook field and the S3 has a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a full size HDMI offering at the rear, which can be awkward to reach. It also has a SDXC port and Mic port either side, respectively. Acer has omitted adding a USB 3.0 or display port, of which the ASUS Zenbook has both.
As the Ultrabook is a portable laptop, good battery life is the order of the day. In the case of the Acer it is maybe just a little below average. The heavy going of Battery Eater 05 saw it last 149mins, though this really simulates quite unreal and heavy draining conditions for the laptop. Real use which generally includes a little work, browsing and Wi-Fi use, should see you touch the 5.5 hour mark. However, as you will be inclined to close the lid down when not using it, as there is virtually no start-up time, you’ll probably get even more life from it.
The Acer Aspire S3 seems like an amazing bargain for an Ultrabook on first appearances – costing little more than a budget laptop. However, like everything in this life, you get what you pay for.
Without a unibody chassis, the lack of a full SSD, plastic keyboard and the fact it’s screen is very reflective – places it lowest in the pile for both price and unfortunately recommendation. However, it is a low cost, very portable and very attractive machine, that many will find meets their needs. It’s also quite powerful and most of all relatively inexpensive. t might not be up there with the Zenbook and the MacBook Air, but it does cost nearly half less.
It’s a nice machine, a little bit fur coat and no knickers, but perfectly suitable for most people’s portable requirements nonetheless.
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