Acer S5 Aspire Ultrabook review: Hands-on

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The world's thinnest ultrabook with the uber-cool Magic Flip I/O feature

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Amid a sea of size zero notbooks, Acer's latest Ultrabook is the thinnest yet. With a sleek, premium design and the cool Magic Flip I/O feature could it be our favourite MacBook Air rival?

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The Acer S5 Ultrabook was one of the first gadgets announced at CES, yet thanks to the manufacturer's out-of-the-way location in Las Vegas, it was one of the last pieces of tech we actually clapped eyes on before departing Sin City.

Amid the slew of Ultrabooks unveiled at the annual tech-fest in the Nevada, the Acer S5 had two claims to fame: It's status as the thinnest MacBook Air rival yet and a neat little feature called Magic Flip I/O, which hides and then reveals the connectivity ports.

So, amid the noise of over 20 Ultrabooks announced in the second week of January, does the S5 stack-up against rivals from Samsung, Dell, HP and Lenovo?

Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook: Build
At just 15mm at its thickest point, the S5 isn't just thinner than its predecessor, the A3, but thinner than every other 13.3-inch ultrabook on the market. That's quite a claim when the entire point of this newfangled super-slim market is to save PCs from the MacBook Air. The S5 weighs in at a competitive 2.97lbs.

With that in mind, the S5 boats a much more high-end feel is well with a magnesium-alloy Onyx Black cover (note that the Samsung Series 9 has a decidedly cooler sounding 'aircraft grade aluminum' unibody) shielding the device, but also giving it a mighty cool finish, which separates from the silver Air-clones like the HP Envy.

But, as the horny teenager said to the bored housewife, "how do you stay so thin, Acer S5?" One answer lies with the other noteworthy feature: The Magic Flip I/O flap.

Thanks to a built-in engine, activated by a prominent button on the front of the device, the S5 will lift itself off the ground slightly to reveal two USB 3.0 ports, a HDMI out and a Thunderbolt port (the first non-Apple notebook to feature Intel's super-fast I/O tech) at the rear of the device.

If you don't mind having your ports around back, it's a really cool solution and saves vital space. More important to us was how much we enjoyed playing with this. Once we pressed it once, we had to press it several hundred times, but thankfully the engine is powerful enough to crush a finger (don't worry, there's a fail-safe) so don't worry about wearing it out.

It also assists with typing, by raising the rear of the device by about half an inch, creating a more friendly angle if you're working on a flat surface. Naturally, the device features the Intel i-Series chipset which inspired the creation of Ultrabooks and a solid state hard drive.

Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook: Features
The S5 features the Acer Green Instant On tech, which sees your laptop restart from a sleeping position in just 1.5 seconds. In our experience that's a little faster than the MacBook Air.

The device also brings Acer's Always Connect technology so you can put your device to sleep knowing that it'll still pull in all of your emails and social networking feeds without waiting for you to bring the S5 back to life. It's a neat feature, which Acer tells us does little damage to the battery life. This functionality also allows the S5 to be woken up by your smartphone.

There's also Dolby Home Audio tech on-board which definitely packs more of a punch than some of the other recently announced Ultrabooks, which have scrimped on sound quality.

Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook: Battery
Acer says the battery will last for several weeks while in deep sleep. Pretty handy if you're an occasional laptop user, although we can't imagine many scenarios where you'd fork out almost £1,000 for an Ultrabook and then not use it for weeks at a time.

Acer also promises that the battery will retain 80 per cent of its capacity for up to three years, which is handy with that battery licked within that plus unibody. In normal circumstances, you can expect to rinse five hours out of the S5.

Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook: Screen
The S5 features the now standard 13.3-inch LCD, 1366 x 760 resolution display we've seen on virtually all Ultrabooks, although Intel envisions more 14 and 15-inch displays as 2012 goes on. The screen quality didn't blow us away in our brief hands-on, but there were no complaints to speak of either.

Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook: Verdict
This laptop was named the best at CES by some publications and at this early stage it's difficult to argue. It appears to hit all of the right Ultrabook notes with long battery life and the ergonomic design craved in the post MacBook Air era. The Magic Flip I/O is the stand-out feature and may lift it above rivals like the Samsung Series 9, despite a totally gorgeous design from the Koreans. It's also likely to be a much cheaper option.

Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook: Pricing and availability
Acer is yet to announced when the S5 will go on sale, but it is expected to land sometime in Q2 and you can expect to part with around £850 for the device, although pricing is yet to be confirmed.

Chris Smith

Chris Smith studied journalism at Liverpool John Moores University, graduating with a First Class degree. He joined as video producer and editor, but you can also find articles written by Chris on the topics of gaming, wrestling, phones, future tech, mobile payment systems, tablets, streaming services, apps, and much more.