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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  • rarson - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    First of all, it depends on the type of accident. I can guarantee you that a head-on collision with a wall at, say, 30 mph will be safer in a Smart Car than an Oldsmobrick.

    The fact of the matter is that when it comes to protecting the passenger, crumple zones and safety cages are more important than mass. Today's cars are designed to absorb the energy of the crash, to soften the impact on the passenger. Older cars were designed with the mentality that if the car survived mostly unscathed, then the passenger would as well, which is obviously incorrect. If safety is your primary concern, then you're better off looking at crash testing than vehicle size or weight. But the absolute best way to increase your safety is to become a better driver.
  • Tech-Curious - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    I can guarantee you that a head-on collision with a wall at, say, 30 mph will be safer in a Smart Car than an Oldsmobrick.

    The fact of the matter is that when it comes to protecting the passenger, crumple zones and safety cages are more important than mass.

    It's a matter of mass and size. Your guarantee is preposterous, because a Smart Car has precious little space within which to crumple, without also crumpling the people inside of it. The size of the wheelbase, the cabin, and yes, the mass of the vehicle are all important.

    I've been in a head-on collision in a compact car with a much heavier object (a semi-truck). Trust me when I say that I'm lucky to be alive; if I hadn't swerved at the last second, I would have been vaporized, because the truck literally drove through the right side of my engine compartment, and didn't come to rest until its front bumper was sitting on my passenger seat.

    Thank god no one was sitting there. The truck's damage? A cracked headlight.

    Now, if I had been involved in the same accident in an Oldsmobrick, as you call it, the car would much more likely have kept something approaching its original shape. A passenger or I could have died from the internal trauma caused by the savage stop; that's true -- but the passenger would have died in more-or-less one piece.

    Let's not kid ourselves: The Smart Car is little more than a roofed motorcycle, for all the protection it offers your body. Many modern cars are safer than their (often heavier) ancestors, but I chose the Smart Car because it represents an extreme, and I thought (erroneously, as it happens) that the extreme example would illustrate the point without courting controversy.

    And yes, good driving habits comprise the best safety measure available -- but it's a mistake to assume that you're ever 100% in control of any situation on the road. The essence of safe driving is to understand that you don't have that control, to minimize your risk by putting yourself into the best position to react to sudden hazards. Even so, not all hazards are avoidable.
  • Tech-Curious - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    Oh, and with regard to crash testing, you have to be very careful. Tested safety ratings might rule out weight and size: for instance, the Smart Car recently got a safety rating similar to the Trailblazer's -- but you'd have to be out of your mind to conclude that both vehicles are equally safe.

    The Trailblazer is simply at the same level, relative to its analogues, as a Smart Car. A couple of statements from (or paraphrases of) the president of the Insurance Institute from Highway Safety follow:

    “All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better. But among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package,” Lund said.


    In new crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rammed three automakers' smallest cars into their midsize models. Although the small cars had passed other IIHS tests, they flunked in collisions with larger but still-fuel-efficient sedans. "The safety trade-offs are clear," IIHS President Adrian Lund says. "There are healthier ways to save gas."

    "We're hearing people say, 'Everything gets a 'good' rating now, so I might as well buy a small car,' " Lund says. "A lot of people are forgetting that the laws of physics still hold" and even a little bit bigger still is safer.

    And finally, the tale in pictures. Trailblazer:

    Smart Car:
  • rarson - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    "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."

    In that case, the Acer (and the Macbook Air) fail completely. I've got a $350 Trinity laptop that I'm using right now that has a much better keyboard than both of these, and even my old PII Compaq laptop is DRASTICALLY better. I understand what you're saying about touchpads (the laptop I'm using definitely has some quirks that can make the touchpad frustrating), but I find it laughable when people call these devices "high quality" when they have such terrible keyboards.
  • rarson - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    1) Uh, every device that I've tried feels fragile in my hands due to the actual thickness, not the construction or materials. That's why I said I "feel" like I'm going to break the thing.

    2) Well that's just absurd. Anyone can easily see the value of a Mercedes. You can't tell the difference between a car with solid body construction and quality sound deadening? It's a pretty marked difference between, say, a typical economy car. You don't seem to understand the difference between seeing the value and actually desiring it.

    There's no exceptional build quality here. The device isn't going to last longer or significantly outperform a comparably equipped, but much cheaper laptop. All you're getting is a decent display (with the added cost of touch), a slimmer chassis, and an unjustifiably higher price. So where exactly is the value proposition here?
  • The0ne - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    This is an Ultrabook laptop. These are usually not cheap to begin with because they are Ultrabooks. Why are people comparing these to notebooks that are not even in the same class? These are not even in the same class as business notebooks as well. Subjectively, these are expensive because they are light and thin. Most of the readers here won't even consider buying one to be honest or may have never own an ultrabook before. The market for these are business travelers where they need the light weight and thinness to carry it around for long periods of time.

    I just don't understand why people would complain about something that they don't begin to comprehend what it is and what market it is aimed at.
  • rarson - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    You're right, I don't comprehend what market these are aimed at, since a regular laptop is only about a pound heavier than this thing, and might actually offer a decent keyboard and slightly larger screen real estate, things that I'm pretty sure would be far more important to the average businessman than "thin and light," at a significantly lower price, no less.

    Perhaps you could explain to me why a businessman would need a touchscreen on a laptop, or 1080p resolution in a 13" screen.

    You said it above: "These are usually not cheap to begin with because they are Ultrabooks." Right, they are'nt cheap because they're marketed as expensive devices. I'm sure it costs more money to make the thinner, lighter chassis. But that doesn't mean that it makes sense to pay more for it.
  • jabber - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    .....did we get a indication of what this machine is like out of the box?

    In other words -

    1. How long did it take from first switch on till actually being able to use it properly?

    2. How much crapware was installed and how long did it take to uninstall?

    I have known Acer laptops (and others from similar companies) to take a couple of hours messing around till you can actually use them. I love the ones that force you to burn a set of recovery disks at start up and threaten thats its a once in a lifetime deal.
  • bobjones32 - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - link

    I posted elsewhere in this thread with my impressions, but my wife purchased this from a Microsoft Store. That means it comes with a Signature image, so no bloatware, and ready to use straight out of the box.

    The thing turned on instantly, set up quickly, and she was using it fully within just a few minutes.
  • thesavvymage - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - link

    I seriously do not understand on having the "thinnest" laptop you can have. You dont hold it in your hands, it sits on your lap. The screen size and overall volume are what matters the most (for bulk). This laptop is .5" thick. If they even increased it to .7", they couldve added a bigger batter and better cooling, and it wouldnt even seem that different to anyone without a milimeter caliper.

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