The first-generation ultrabook war is getting bloody, with the Toshiba Satellite Z830 and Lenovo Ideapad U300S emerging from the pits to take on the Asus Zenbook and this machine, the Acer Aspire S Series. This four-way battle royale should be a fierce contest, but can Acer do enough to beat down the super-thin-yet-powerful laptop competition?
The Taiwanese company certainly has experience producing every variety of laptop, from the ultra-portable Timeline range of models such as the Acer Aspire Timeline X 3820TZ to the mighty Ethos multimedia machines including the Acer Aspire Ethos 5943G.
One of its dinkiest offerings yet, the 13.3-inch Acer Aspire S3-951 is an appealing prospect for regular travellers. While the computer doesn't have much merit in the way of design and makes some compromises, it's a solid performer with a good keyboard and trackpad, and great battery life—a combination that's been a rare find so far.
The Acer Aspire S3 weighs a modest 1.38kgs, just a tad below the Macbook Air. While it is a little heavier than the other ultrabooks, the weight does give a good grip while working on it. The Aspire S3 looks good, and seems to handle well when folded--there's no weird weight distribution that might make it susceptible to drops when you're juggling it with other gear. The plastic shell isn't as rigid as the alloy shells on some Ultrabooks, but it's functional.
The power button on the S3 is embedded in its hinge next to two tiny indicator lights. The S3 has a limited supply of inputs, with two USB 2.0 ports and an HDMI port. A headphone jack is on the left hand side, and an SD card slot is on the right.
Keyboard & Touchpad
Opening the Aspire S3 reveals a muted gray keyboard that almost disappears into the chassis and otherwise is notable for possessing the tiniest set of navigation keys (arrows, Page Up, Page Down, and the like) that I can recall seeing on any Windows laptop. They're not much bigger than cell phone Chiclet keys, and about the only positive I can see is that the Page Down and Page Up keys are discrete, so they don't require a separate function key press.
The island-style keyboard on the S3 isn't the worst we've ever used, but it was a bit stiff; keys were large and well spaced (with the exception of the arrow keys, which were a pain), but we would have preferred a little more travel and responsiveness. On more than one occasion, the keyboard missed our inputs when we were typing at a fast pace, and we had to make a conscious effort to press harder. And since the trackpad doesn't pick up a hovering palm, the cursor doesn't skate across the screen unexpectedly. However, it is cursed with integrated mouse buttons. Instead of having separate mouse buttons, you need to push the left and right corners of the pad down to simulate mouse clicks.
Frankly, it's a horrible experience.
Anyone who's used one of these touchpads will know the deal. Often when you push the corners in to select a menu option, the cursor will skip across the screen, leading to incorrect menu selections.
The display has an average, 1366-by-768-pixel native resolution. When I sat in the sweet spot, the screen looked bright and colorful. Still photos looked good and HD content streamed over the local area network smoothly. However, streaming Netflix HD content looked even softer than it usually does. In addition, the LCD panel's range of angles for high-quality viewing is rather restricted, with noticeable color and contrast shifts at minor displacements from dead center.
One area where Windows PCs have traditionally stumbled may have been resolved – standby mode. Instant-on worked well in our tests. In fact, this is the first Windows laptop we’ve encountered that could be consistently put to sleep by closing the lid, and which would wake again and be ready for business when opened.
The Acer Aspire S3-951 includes a pair of very small speakers that vent through the bottom and the keyboard. Don’t be misled by the Professionally Tuned script on the bodywork – these speakers sound dreadfully tinny despite the efforts of Dolby and its ineffectual Home Theater v4 software.
Battery life is more important than ever on Ultrabooks, as the integrated batteries are either not user replaceable or very difficult to replace at best. Here the Aspire S3 holds its head up proudly, managing over 7 hours easily away from a socket. Despite editing photos on the Photoshop, keeping 7-8 Google Chrome tabs in the background, Skype and Google Talk signed in, and 1-2 Microsoft Word documents open, it lasted about 6 hours before it asked me to plug it into a post. As a matter of fact, even with just 15% of battery remaining, it comfortably gave me 45 minutes of performance before it decided to hibernate on its own.
At Rs 50,984, the Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook is a little premium at the price. Considering the performance belted out by the machine, I would gladly part about Rs 40,000 for the same, but nothing more than that. Yes, it’s a performer for sure, but the cheap and plasticky build quality is a turn off. Plus, the top lid is so flimsy that it ends up quivering when kept directly under the fan.
However, one thing is for sure, the slim & sexy dimensions of the Acer Aspire S3 have re-ignited my want of a Macbook Air. Maybe it’s time.