Subjective Evaluation: If Looks Could Kill

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: this is, bar none, the thinnest true laptop that I've ever handled. Ultrabooks are renowned for being thin—it’s a prerequisite in fact—but the Acer S7 is crazy thin and puts other Ultrabooks to shame. Measuring a whopping 0.5" (12.7mm) thick, and with a uniform thickness, the Aspire S7 strikes an amazing pose when you first set eyes on it. We received the model with Gorilla Glass 2 casing on top, which looks pretty awesome and serves to further set the S7 apart from other laptops. There is an alternate configuration with a silver aluminum casing, but we've seen that sort of styling plenty of times before and I'm definitely partial to the white glass coating.

While the thin factor is really impressive, the overall build quality is equally so. This is, simply put, an awesome looking laptop. I've long since left college, and I don't even travel all that much these days, but when I do I generally find one of the thinner, lighter laptops in my office and take that on the road. I'm still somewhat partial to slightly larger displays for regular use, but for travel purposes I find 13.3" or 14" displays (with their accompanying chassis size) to be my preferred option. At a half inch thick, the S7 is significantly lighter than most college textbooks and can still last through a day of moderate use. If you need something with eight or more hours of battery life, it's going to come up short, but the AC adapter isn't all that large and could easily be packed along for occasional charging.

The next item we need to get out of the way is the LCD: it's beautiful and bright and has a native 1080p resolution. Yes, we're talking about a high-end Acer Ultrabook that truly aims for the high-end. I've seen a few attempts by Acer to create higher class products, but this is the first that actually succeeds. The LCD is glossy, but since we're dealing with a touch screen LCD that's expected—unless you want your matte finish to show wear and tear as you use it, glossy is the way to go. Whether the touch screen is truly necessary is a different matter that I'll cover later, but it does work if you want to use it in place of the touchpad (which is still present below the keyboard), and over the coming year(s) as we see more Windows 8 Apps come out the presence of a touch screen could become increasingly important.

Taken purely on its aesthetic merits, the Aspire S7 rates as a highly desirable and extremely stylish Ultrabook. Tastes certainly vary, but I can't imagine many people looking at the S7 and saying, "Wow, that thing is ugly!" In fact, quite the opposite: pull it out at a coffee shop and I suspect you'll have more than a few inquiries about the laptop, and even the MacBook Air folks might cast an envious eye your way (note that I said "might"). What you want to do with your laptop will end up determining how well the S7 fits your needs, and there are some aspects of the S7 that might make me raise an eyebrow, but if price were no object I'd definitely want to have one. And that, unfortunately, is where we run into some problems.

Let's start with the quirky aspects first. The keyboard looks nice in pictures, but in practice there are some concerns. How serious they are really depends on how you use your computer—my wife didn't even notice the problems, but I grumble about them on a regular basis. There are two primary things that I don't like about the keyboard. The first is that the key travel is super shallow, which can make the typing experience a bit less pleasant though not impossible by any stretch. The second item is something that comes up far more often in my irritations column: the keyboard layout. I can adapt to just about everything given time, but Acer's decision to eliminate the row of dedicated function keys means many of my oft-used keyboard shortcuts now require an extra finger to press the Fn key. Alt+F4 becomes Fn+Alt+4 (effectively making it a two-handed key combination), pressing F2 (e.g. to edit the contents of a cell in Excel) is now Fn+2, F3 for search is now Fn+3, and so on. It's not the end of the world, particularly if you're not the type of person that uses keyboard shortcuts in the first place, but it does irritate me.

That brings us to the elephant in the room: on an Ultrabook selling for over $1400 I simply don't want to compromise. The overall design aesthetic is a win, the display is a win, and I can live with the battery life given the first two items. The keyboard is far more of a compromise but it's still tolerable. What I really have a problem with is the price of entry. Ultrabooks with 128GB SSDs and Core i5 Ivy Bridge processors can be had for under $1000, and Dell's new XPS 12 is roughly in the same category and comes with a 1080p touch screen starting at $1100. There will be plenty of other touch screen Ultrabooks in the near future (as well as some that are already shipping), and many are less expensive than the S7. That means we're looking at $200 to $300 more for the design. Will some people be happy to pay that much? Probably, but the market for high-end, high-cost Ultrabooks just doesn't seem that big.

Before we wrap up with some additional thoughts on the touch screen and overall experience, let’s get to the benchmarks and see how the S7 compares to the competition.

Introducing the Acer Aspire S7 Performance, Now with Windows 8
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  • cknobman - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    Hard to sell at such a high price when your competitors sell comparable (or better) items $500+ cheaper.

    The Asus UX31A is one of my favorites right now. 1080p touch screen, all aluminum build, core i5, 128gb SSD and
    UNDER $1100!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am toying with getting this right now from best buy:
  • Zanegray - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    I have a ux31a-ab71 (same as db71 except a smaller ssd) and I LOVE the thing. I don't care for Windows so I put Linux on it and find it my favorite computing device. Under my usage the battery also last for 2 to 3 days at a time. It is snappier than I ever expected and the aluminum case is awesome looking.

    To summarize... It's just plain sexy.

    Paid just over 1000 dollars for it on black Friday too :-)
  • ironargonaut - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    Is an IPS screen that fantastic on a 14in laptop that I should pay $700 more?
  • kyuu - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    You're not paying $700 for the IPS screen.
  • drjacko - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    Original: "I can’t understate how impressively thin this thing is"

    But the article is very good as a review as well as a commentary of the path taken by Acer.

    Would you have considered a side by side shots against MB counterparts and previous version of Acer's ultrabook?
  • rarson - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    For the life of me, I can't understand why someone would want one of these over a normal laptop. Am I the only person who cannot stand ultra-thin (and ultra-flimsy) notebooks? I feel like I'm going to break the thing just by opening it up. A crappy keyboard, touchscreen, and absurd pricing makes this about as useful as a Surface tablet. Which is to say, pretty f#&@ing useless.

    Even if you do like the ultra-thin junk, I still don't see why you'd want to pay such a premium for a touchscreen on a laptop, although I suppose when your keyboard is that crappy, you'll be yearning for some other kind of input device.

    If I want a consumption device, I'll buy a Nexus tablet or similar. If I want a computing device, then I'll buy a regular laptop. For the price of one of these, I could buy one of each and STILL save a chunk of change.
  • kyuu - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    1) These devices are not "ultra-flimsy", despite being very thin. If you "feel" like you're going to break it, that's your problem. You remind me of my grandmother arguing that you have to drive a gigantic Oldmobile or an SUV to be safe because smaller cars don't "seem" like they could be as safe.

    2) If you don't see the value proposition in a device like this, then obviously it's not for you. I don't see the value proposition in buying a Mercedes, for example, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be built.
  • Tech-Curious - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    To be fair, your grandmother is right: all else being equal, a lighter car is less safe, possibly a lot less safe depending on the particulars.
  • AnnoyedGrunt - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - link

    Except that all else isn't equal, is it? Cars today are much, much safer than they have ever been, and even a small, modern car would be much safer than Granny's Oldsmobile.

    As far as the ultra-thin laptops go, I'm not a huge fan, but I can understand how someone who travels would really like the smaller, more portable size. My wife has a Macbook Pro 15 (non-retina), and I have a Dell Precision M4600 for work, and those are reasonable sizes for me.

    This Acer is interesting, very similar in cost to a Macbook Air, but with better specs in most areas. However, one thing the Macs have done MUCH better than Windows laptops is make the touchpad useful. I don't know if it's a combination of OSX and hardware, or better drivers, or what, but it is so much easier to use the touchpad on my wife's Macbook than the one on my Dell (and any other Windows laptop I've used). I don't feel the need to use a mouse on the Mac, but on the Dell I always feel handcuffed without it (and this is for things like MS Office, web browsing, etc.).

    I would have liked to see some Macbook Air battery life results and performance results, since I feel that is one of the biggest competitors for the Acer.

    Ovreall I'm happy to see some in the PC industry making products that move in the direction of quality rather than price. Once you get to the point where the price isn't as much of an issue (especially for something you'll be using for 4-5 years) the enjoyment of using something that has high-quality interface points (monitor, keyboard, etc.) quickly overcomes the cost difference. Still would prefer something a bit thicker with a better keyboard and more battery life, though.

  • Tech-Curious - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - link

    As to your first comment, I don't know that that's universally true. Sure, in general, a modern car will have safety advantages an older car doesn't -- but size does matter: Is a 2013 Smart Car as safe as granny's Oldsmobile? Not a chance. All the airbags in the world can't compensate for the loss of mass.

    Even today, there are significant differences in mass within the same class of car. So if you have a choice between otherwise analogous vehicles, choosing the heavier one is (generally) safer.

    The heavier option is probably also less fuel efficient, though, so like everything else, it's a trade-off.

    As to the rest, I have to agree.

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