Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook review

Acer gave us its pre-production Aspire S3 Ultrabook to review

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Fast booting

  • +

    Slim and light design

  • +

    Great processor power

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    RSI inducing keyboard

  • -

    Slightly underwhelming battery

  • -

    Some pre-production issues

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As Acer releases its Aspire S3 ultrabook, T3 gets an early chance to see whether this brand new type of laptop can live up to the promises and hype

Acer has announced their slim, light and powerful Acer Aspire S3 laptop, which kick starts a slew of ultrabooks which are about to take the market by storm.

We got our hands on an early pre-production model to find out how this early flagship portable is shaping up.

'Ultrabook' is a term coined by Intel, which has tried to invigorate the laptop market. It's in effect a loose standard, of design and specification, which aims to deliver powerful laptops with portable and lightweight design.

Intel and its partners have been cagey about what constitutes an Ultrabook, but we do know that one of the biggest factors is the thickness.

Intel states that a 13-inch laptop must be under 18mm at its thickest point, going up to 21mm for 15-inch models.

Ultrabooks must also use an Intel Core i5 or i7 low voltage processor, and achieve 5 hours of battery life.

Intel has stated that the target price should be £999, but there's no absolute requirement to meet this guideline.

Acer Aspire S3: Features

The 13.1-inch Aspire S3 is beautifully styled, and a guaranteed head turner. It attracted interested comments and questions wherever we took it, as friends and strangers looked jealously at the clean thin lines, and classy aluminium body.

Its style is distinctly similar to the MacBook Air, with a metallic unibody design, where the keyboard and wrist rest is a single piece of aluminium and magnesium alloy, which keeps it really lightweight.

The laptop weighs just 1.36KG, and measures just 18mm at its thickest point, making it slimmer and lighter than the MacBook Air.

It's so thin that the 2 USB ports, AC socket and HDMI port are located at the rear, as there's no room on the chassis' sides.

The keyboard is well spaced and easy to type on, although there isn't a great deal of cushioning, and we didn't find it comfortable to use.

We often made mistakes, not through hitting the wrong key, but because our button presses simply not registering. If this was your main laptop, this could easily become frustrating.

The screen is bright and pin sharp, with a native resolution of 1366x768, and movies looked great. The S3 features a Super-TFT screen, which aids clarity and vibrancy, but will reflect light more than matte panels.

However, we didn't find this a problem, and it seems that Acer has found a good middle ground for this versatile laptop.

Acer Aspire S3: Performance

The Acer Aspire S3 we reviewed is powered by an Intel Core i7 low voltage processor, with 1.7 GHz clock speed and 4GB of RAM, which marries good performance, without guzzling power and battery.

This means that it tears strips off the Core i5 powered MacBook Air in terms of speed, despite being lighter and thinner.

In our lab tests, we found excellent processing performance, which is up there with any mid-range laptop, despite being a fraction of the size. This means it can handle every day tasks with ease.

You could comfortably edit HD video and photos while you're on the move, something that budget portables will struggle with.

Video capability wasn't quite so impressive, and the Intel HD graphics, which are built into Sandy Bridge chips, offered limited performance.

There's enough power to watch HD video, but games and other intensive programs will be out of the question.

In our hardcore battery test, we got over three hours out of the Acer Aspire S3, which would translate into around five hours of day-to-day use, such as emailing and writing documents. It's not spectacular, but very closely matched to the MacBook Air.

One of the Aspire S3's most impressive attributes was how quickly it booted into Windows.

Using Intel's new boot technology, we were in Windows 7 and fully able to use the OS within 14 seconds of pressing the power button. It felt really fast, and this provides a great reason to buy.

Acer Aspire S3: Specifications

Aside from the quad-core Intel Core i7 2637M 1.7GHz processor is a 128GB SSD drive, which offers enough storage for day-to-day use.

If this is to be your only laptop, you'll need to invest in a portable hard drive or cloud access.

There's a web cam built into the lid, and the laptop ships with Windows 7 Home Premium, which is a slightly odd choice, when we feel that this laptop will be most popular with professionals.

Acer Aspire S3: Verdict

The Acer Aspire S3 is an impressive portable, which offers superb power in an incredibly lightweight design.

We're really happy that this marriage of proper computing power, and great design finally has a home in the PC market.

We hope that the small problems we experienced will be ironed out in time for its full release, and enable this laptop to be a benchmark of what can be achieved under the Ultrabook brand.

The Aspire S3 is expected to hit the shelves in late October/early November and UK pricing is as follows:

£699 Intel Core i5 & 320GB HDD

£899 Intel Core i7 & 500GB HDD

£1099 Intel Core i5 & 240GB SDD

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