updated 01:36 pm EST, Tue January 29, 2013
New ultrabook line boasts full-HD display, i5 processor
It turns out that we're not quite in the "post-PC" world just yet. While the cheap, poorly-performing netbook trend has died -- some would say thankfully -- the burgeoning market in the industry besides tablets is ultrabooks. As defined by Intel, ultrabooks are designed for reduced bulk without a corresponding hit on performance and battery life. Nearly all of them are "inspired" by the MacBook Air, and feature solid-state drives and specific engineering to keep the laptop strong and durable. Does the new 11.6-inch Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook live up to the lofty goals set forth by Intel?
Deboxing the S7 was a treat -- individual boxed compartments hold accessories for the laptop, such as video dongles, the AC adapter, an included mouse -- and unexpectedly, an external booster battery. The unit we were loaned for examination has an i5-3317U processor, with a 1.7GHz base speed, with a "turbo boost " of up to 2.6GHz. Soldered onto the motherboard (and thus un-upgradeable) is 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM. The 11.6-inch IPS LED backlit touch screen features FullHD resolution at 1920x1080, and is driven by the Intel HD Graphics 4000 along with by the i5 processor (but more on that later).
A pair of USB 3.0 ports are mounted left and right, with a mini-HDMI port on the back of the laptop for video mirroring. Wi-Fi is 802.11a/b/g/n powered by an Atheros chipset. A 2-in-1 media reader supports SD and MMC formats. Bluetooth 4.0 and a 1.3MP webcam round out the input and output options.
Ultrabooks sometimes suffer from finish issues. Some models we've looked at are imprecise in fit, have problems with coatings, or have a cheap keyboard. The Aspire S7 we tested suffers from none of this -- the keyboard feels nice with a good key spring, and the seams from the unusually thin laptop are tight. We initially thought our loaner unit had an overly sharp front bezel, but after taking a trip to the local mega-electronics store to compare, we found this to be a feature and not a bug. Curiously, the speakers on the unit are downward-facing, and we preferred the sound from them with the laptop on a stand, rather than on a table or desk directly.
We have had some issues with touch screen laptops in the past -- either the hinges have too much give, making using the screen a chore, or too tight -- preventing smooth opening and risking deformation of very thin cases prevalent in ultrabooks. The S7's hinges have a smooth feel and a full-range of travel out to 180 degrees, which Acer calls its "touch and show mode."
One initial departure from the ultrabook spec we may have discovered is battery life. The Intel definition requires ultrabooks to have a five-hour battery life, and under very moderate use with the keyboard backlight off and no external peripherals plugged in, we ran the battery from full charge to forced shutdown in less than four hours. This likely explains the free inclusion of a battery booster accessory, but we think it cheats on the definition.
We haven't run any tests yet on battery life with the external three-cell Lithium Ion battery clamped on to the back of the computer yet. More testing, including some benchmarking against the Apple MacBook Air roughly equivalent to this model, will be coming before our formal review in the near future.