Acer first entered the ultrabook world back in 2011 with the Aspire S3 -- a slim and light machine that didn't do much to stand out against the competition.
Not wanting to throw in the towel just yet, Acer is back with the Aspire S7. This 13-inch laptop measures in at an atom-splitting 11.9mm thick, and manages to pack a touchscreen and a Core i7 processor into that slim frame.
Should I buy the Acer Aspire S7?
With a thickness of only 11.9mm and its attractive, glossy white coat, the Aspire S7 is aimed squarely at those of you who want a stylish machine to slide into your fashionable messenger bags. Those looks come don't come cheap, though.
It packs an Intel Core i7 processor, but only 4GB of RAM, providing solid, but not outstanding performance. For the £1,500 Acer is demanding, you'd be right to expect a little more juice. It's perfectly capable of tackling all of the everyday essentials, but it's no powerhouse.
On the plus side, it has a great touchscreen, letting you navigate your way around the large tiles of Windows 8 much more comfortably than you can with a regular touchpad.
If design, portability and the touchscreen are of critical importance to you, the S7 is a good, if pricey, option to consider. Dell's XPS 12 offers only slightly slower performance, but it's still portable and costs £500 less. If you want a Windows 8 ultrabook with a bit more junk in the trunk, the Asus Zenbook U500 delivers blistering performance, although it doesn't have a touchscreen.
Design and build quality
One of the first things you're likely to notice about the S7 is extremely thin chassis. It measures a mere 11.9mm, the whole way across the body. Ultrabooks like Asus' Zenbook UX31 are narrower at the front end, but due to the wedge shape design, fatten to 17mm at the back. I was actually a little taken aback by just how slender it felt in my hand.
It's 323mm wide and 224mm deep, which is pretty standard for a 13-inch ultrabook. You certainly won't struggle to slide it into a backpack. It weighs in at just under 1.3kg so it's perfectly light enough to carry on your back for at least a few hours without your spine snapping.
Gone is the boring silver casing found on its older S3 ultrabook, replaced instead with a glossy, pure white lid made from sturdy Gorilla Glass 2, surrounded with a thin strip of silver. It's very minimalist, but undeniably pretty. Together with its diminutive height, it looks like a very premium machine -- which, of course, it is.
Build quality seems generally quite high, with little flex in the lid when you open it and no unpleasant creaking from the base or keyboard tray when you press down on them. It's not a perfect design though -- there's not much of a lip at the front, making it surprisingly difficult to open and that glossy white surface is a haven for all kinds of fingerprints and grease.
Around the sides you'll spy two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, a micro-HDMI port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Storage comes in the form of a capacious 256GB solid-state drive.
Keyboard and trackpad
Silver is the name of the game under the lid, with silver keys set into a base clad in yet more silver. It's a plain look, but inoffensive enough to avoid offsetting the attractiveness of the outside. If you're trying to make a real impression somewhere fancy, just make sure the lid is always facing outwards.
The keys are fairly large and well spaced across the tray. They don't have much travel though, making it sometimes difficult to know if you've pressed them. You need to develop a rather sure-footed typing style to avoid mistakes at speed. It's backlit though, so you won't struggle to see at night.
The trackpad is wide and is clickable, dispensing with dedicated buttons. It's not particularly responsive though. It's fine for hitting the big Windows 8 tiles, but for speedy Web browsing or accurately tapping small icons and sliders, you'd be better off plugging in a proper mouse.
Thankfully, Acer provides one in the box -- presumably because it knows the trackpad isn't great. It's a pretty cheap offering, so you'll probably want to grab a better one. It's not a massive issue, as you'll probably spend the majority of your time navigating using the touchscreen.
The S7 packs a 13.3-inch screen with a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution. That's Full HD, so it's perfectly poised to tackle all the high-definition content you can throw at it. Many similar-sized machines offer 1,600x900-pixels, so it's good to see 1080p on board -- although, at this price, I'd have accepted nothing less.
It's bright and bold too, providing rich colours and pleasing contrast. You can find better screens knocking around, but this is certainly among the top players. It shows off high-definition content perfectly adequately and the brightness helps counteract the worst of any ambient light.
The screen is fully touch enabled to let you properly take advantage of the large tiles and gestures that make up Windows 8. Using the touchscreen and keyboard almost in tandem feels intuitive, and its very comfortable to switch between swiping at the screen to load apps and the Web browser and typing on the keyboard.
The downside is that you're often left with greasy fingerprints on the screen. It's a problem facing every touch-enabled laptop and tablet of course, but it's always worth having a cloth or soft t-shirt nearby to give it a quick polish before loading your videos up.
Power and performance
The S7 is powered by an Intel Core i7 processor clocked at 1.9GHz, teamed with 4GB of RAM. That's a decent processor, but I would like to have seen a faster clock speed, and I'd certainly like to have seen 6 or even 8GB of RAM, especially considering the high price.
It managed to achieve 8,257 on the Geekbench benchmark test, which is certainly a good score, but given how much you have to shell out for it, I did hope for a bit more. By comparison, the Asus U500 scored over 12,000 and costs the same. It did put in a better performance than the Dell XPS 12, but it wasn't significant enough to warrant the extra £500.
In general use though I found it to be very competent. It whizzed through the Windows 8 interface without any kind of lag and switched between open apps without delay. It coped fine with having numerous Web browser tabs open and streaming video, even with the lesser amount of RAM.
In all, there wasn't much I could throw at it that really slowed it to a
crawl, so it'll happily put up with any of the everyday computing tasks
you're likely to throw at it. It was able to do a good job with editing photos in Adobe Lightroom 4 and managed to encode my 11-minute 1080p video file into 24fps H264 in
around 11 minutes.
That's not the fastest time I've ever had, but it's good nonetheless. Sony's sliding Windows 8 Vaio Duo 11 managed to do it in 8 minutes, courtesy of its 8GB of RAM. In terms of straight-line speed, the Sony probably has the edge, but the traditional keyboard setup on the S7 is much more comfortable.
The Aspire S7 combines a super-slim, attractive design with a good touchscreen to help get the best out of Windows 8. Its Core i7 processor provides a decent performance, but it's not the powerhouse you'd hope it would be for the price.
If portability and the touchscreen are more important to you than raw power, the S7 is a decent option to consider, but you'll be paying quite a premium for that slick design.