Acer Incorporated is one of the world’s most recognised brand names. Founded in 1976 as Multitech, Acer specialises in desktop, laptop and tablet computers; storage devices, displays, smartphones and peripherals.
The Acer Aspire S-series is Acer’s most recent foray into world of Ultrabook branded technology – what Intel have named laptops designed to be lightweight and compact without compromising performance.
Design and build quality
The Acer Aspire S3 weighs in at a very light 1,330-grams and manages to be a bare 17.5mm thick.
The top of the device is aluminium – which is something I’m particularly fond of. However, the cover is a façade that hides what seems to be a very poorly designed interior.
The display is held in place by a very wobbly frame that doesn’t exactly instil much confidence in its longevity; even cautious users may fear accidentally bending it or, worse, damaging the display in some way.
The wrist rest area looks to be little more than painted plastic. Long-term laptop users may find that the naturally corrosive properties of sweat will inevitably wear through the veneer, revealing the milky white plastic beneath.
On the right of the device is an endearing 2-in-1 (SD and MMC) card reader that will please lovers of photographic and film media. The back houses the charger port, HDMI and two USB 2.0 slots. The left side of the device has a single headset jack.
One notable criticism is that the display has a number of small lateral rubber buffers that, one assumes, serves to protect the display itself from the keyboard when closed. It seems to serve a lesser, more bothersome, purpose of sorts by either lightly scuffing or rubbing off on the veneer, leaving small marks. I’m not entirely certain whether this means that the veneer is easily scuffed or whether the rubber simply rubs off very easily.
The power button is situated on an independent black bar between the monitor and keyboard and highlighted by a rather elegant use of chrome on either side of it, which works eye-pleasingly well with the black.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is a soft grey that matches the colour of the rest of the device. I suppose it would be a matter of preference whether a user wants contrasting colours (black keys for example), or matching. Personally, I’ve always liked my keys to contrast rather than blend in.
The keys are very quiet and almost entirely inaudible. Although, I’m guilty of enjoying the tactile feedback that a gentle clickity-clack gives.
Some possibly lesser-used keys, such as the arrow-keys. are painfully shrunken, but this is what you would expect from a compact device.
There is also no key back-lighting which, while not in any way a deal-breaker, is something that stands out as a bit low-budget, especially on a device with a recommended retail price of R9,999.
The touchpad is quite decent and responsive, although it’s very easy to unintentionally fire off clicks while moving the cursor around. It, fantastically, supports multi-touch gesturing.
The Acer Aspire S-series is terribly uniform and hardware options are limited to three categories, according to the South African Acer website:
- The S3 G34iss, with an Intel Core i5 at 1.60GHz with a 320GB SATA hard drive.
- The S3 G52iss, with an Intel Core i5 at 1.60GHz with a 500GB SATA hard drive.
- The S3 G25nss, with an Intel Core i7 at 1.70GHz with a 256GB solid-state hard drive.
Ours is a fourth, model, unlisted on the South African website, the S3 G24iss, and it comes loaded with an Intel Core i7 at 1.70GHz with 4GB of RAM running at DDR3-1333MHz and a 240GB SSD.
A 1.3-megapixel webcam sits at the top of the screen and a microphone sits to the left of the keyboard.
Connectivity and I/O
The Acer Aspire S3 comes packed with the usual standard goodies: 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0+ HSR (High-Speed Response) and, as previously mentioned, a 2-in-1 card reader.
The Acer Aspire S3 also touts a phenomenal sound system in the form of a “professionally-tuned” Dolby Home Theatre v4 configuration. The audio quality is very good and has a very three-dimensional surround-sound quality to it.
Of course, it’s a sound system in a laptop, so don’t expect the IMAX, but for a laptop, it’s very impressive.
The S3 comes with an LED backlit 13.3-inch TFT LCD display with a native resolution of 1366×786. The contrast on our model was overly saturated and colour balance was uneven. Running HD video content it seemed sharp and detailed for the most part but picture quality easily feels washed out at certain viewing angles and bad environment lighting, of course, doesn’t help.
As a gamer, I always find great disappointment in the discovery of an Intel HD 3000 GPU lurking inside what could otherwise be a marvellous performer for graphically heavy tasks. However, considering the form-factor and desire of many companies trying to pull off a reliable long-lasting device in the Ultrabook market, it makes a kind of strange sense.
Performance and Battery Life
The device boots to desktop within 23-seconds, thanks, no doubt, to its snappy solid-state drive. Acer claims it will resume from sleep in 1.5-seconds: something I am, of course, quite sceptical about when considering long-term use and far more processes running in the background. All the same, it is impressively fast.
The S3 has a three-cell 3,280mAh, built-in Lithium-Polymer battery. In a test running HD content solidly with all the bells and whistles such as Wi-Fi running, the device managed a pretty average three hours and fifty minutes.
Acer insists that the battery can last up to seven hours – possible perhaps with far more moderate use.
A non-replaceable battery is always a disappointment for the longevity of a device, but otherwise, as in the case of a Lithium-Polymer battery, it does help manufacturers design a device to the specifications they want and compete effectively.
I’m genuinely torn with this device. It’s hard not to like the lovely aluminium cover, but it’s also difficult to not to be disappointed by the plastic, cheap-feeling interior and wobbly display, especially after reviewing Dell’s very well-built XPS 13 earlier this month which has a recommended retail price of R1,500 less than the Acer Aspire S3′s R9,999 RRP.
However, the inclusion of a 2-in-1 card slot (a feature I look for in an Ultrabook), the excellent performance and the quiet keyboard are notable.
In the end, it would be a matter of preference really, but this is one Ultrabook that I would overlook in favour of another.
Try again, Acer, you guys are capable of so much more.
- Aluminium cover
- Excellent performance and start-up times
- Quiet keyboard
- 2-in-1 card reader
- Dolby Digital Sound
- Plasticy interior
- Cheap-feeling veneer
- Non-replaceable battery
- Intel GPU