updated 10:33 pm EST, Mon November 4, 2013
New Ultrabook brings Haswell, extended battery life, cosmetic redesign
Acer has established itself as a player in the ultrabook market. Acer's S7 line has been refreshed, and has added energy-sipping Haswell processors alongside some other improvements. We reviewed the 2012 version of this laptop earlier this year, and found it to be finely finished, but with some caveats, which prevented us from recommending it without reservation. While we're still running tests and using the machine day-to-day prior to our final review, this first look at the new S7 -- which can now actually call itself an ultrabook without running afoul of Intel's definitions -- will give you our initial impressions of the machine.
Acer claims that the loaner for testing we have (the redesigned 13-inch S7 Intel Core i7 ultrabook) sees a 33 percent improvement in battery life -- taking it out to 7 hours, which we have seen in some limited real-world testing. It also incorporates a high-resolution 1920x1080 IPS display which we have found to be clear and bright. The S7 includes an electroluminescent backlit keyboard very similar to last year's model, WiDi, new quieter fan tech, as well as Gorilla Glass protecting the LCD panel.
The i7 over the i5 provides a nice feeling of speed, but we haven't thrown any benchmarks at it yet. Informally, a 30-minute video clip transcoded at 6-8 frames per second faster with Handbrake compared to the 2012 edition of this laptop, but laptops aren't really designed for that kind of heavy lifting so it may not be the best indicator of day-to-day performance that the new model brings.
Sound was the same mixed-bag as it was from the 2012 model. The downward facing speakers are suboptimal and a bit distorted-sounding. We still recommend an external solution, or even one of the many Bluetooth streaming speaker sets that permeate the market for any music playback. The sound is functional, but not much more than that.
The 2013 S7 also has an unfortunate power adapter. The power plug into the ultrabook is a similar form factor to just about every other ultrabook, but the "Mickey Mouse" style AC plug into the transformer is awkward at best. More on this in the full review as we adapt (or not) to the configuration -- but as of now, we don't care much for the size of the wall plug in any of its possible configurations.
The previous model we tested was an 11-inch unit, and we didn't have any real usability problems with, despite its size. The 11-inch model has been taken off the table (which we think is unfortunate), but in an industry where most companies release a half-dozen new models of hardware each quarter, a single overarching model with minor differences internally is refreshing to see.
Our initial impressions are positive. We liked the 2012 S7, with some caveats, and our few days of testing have seen most of our gripes with the original resolved. Time will tell if long-term use is as positive as our initial impressions, though. Look for our full review, including battery drain tests, and benchmarks in the coming weeks.