The first Windows 8 machine off the rank, Acer’s Aspire S7 brings with it a clean sense of design and combines it with aluminium, Gorilla Glass, and a 13 inch Full HD touchscreen that’s sure to get your attention. It definitely has ours.
With the design and build of the S7, Acer has moved on from the plastic chassis we saw in its S3, and most of its laptop range. Here, you’ll find an aluminum unibody casing, kept in silver inside but painted white on the bottom and top, and covered – at least when closed – with a piece of Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.
The use of strengthened glass continues at the screen, where Acer has covered the 13.3 inch widescreen 1080p (1920×1080) touchscreen with another piece of Gorilla Glass, protecting your delicious 178 degree high-grade In-Plane Switching (IPS) display from the dreaded fingernails of doom, though you may still have to wipe off your prints from time to time.
There’s an island-key keyboard inside, with backlighting provided in light blue, sitting above a widescreen trackpad that sits at 11.5cm wide, just slightly bigger than the spacebar, and providing more room that’s closer to the Full HD screen.
Under the hood, you’ll find a third-generation dual-core Intel Core i7 processor, paired with 4GB RAM and a 128GB solid state drive, though once Windows and Acer’s range of software has been installed, you’ll only find 70 to 80GB left for you to use.
WiFi is, of course, a standard with any notebook, and Acer has a dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n chipset here, with the antenna located at the top of the screen, designed to improve wireless performance. Bluetooth 4.0 is also offered, and you’ll find a 720p (1280×720) webcam at the top of the screen.
You can’t expect many ports on a thin machine, and there are just enough on the Aspire S7, with two USB 3.0 ports and an SDXC slot on the right, with the left side of the machine offering a 3.5mm headset jack, microHDMI out, and two power ports, one of which is for the regular power brick and the other for a second external battery, we’re told.
The power button is also along the right side.
Acer’s first touch-enabled Ultrabook, the Aspire S7 brings with it a hope that maybe Acer will get it right, nailing the formula out of the gate and coming up with a perfect place to springboard from for future releases.
Open the box and you’ll see that this is a computer Acer has thought long and hard about, making it more than just your typical brown or beige computer box, with a hint of that magical quality Apple brings to its own manufacturing process.
Inside the cardboard of the Aspire S7 package, everything is divided into little boxes, all of which can be pulled out with little tufts of fabric, and the entire thing feels like a giant advent calendar with little bits and bobs for your computer, such as the manual, power pack, video and Ethernet cable, and even a carrying case to keep the screen all nice and clean.
Get the computer out and you see the quality continues, with a lovely white finish that’s all shiny thanks to the piece of scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass sitting on the very top of the machine. Open it up and the clean aesthetics continue, with a lovely aluminium look and feel around the plastic keys and wide trackpad mouse, with white underside.
The 13.3 inch screen on offer shows a Full HD 1920×1080 image, and is easily one of the best laptop screens we’ve come across on an Ultrabook, not only showing more resolution, but offering more angles. Almost an echo from the quality that you get on an Apple iPad, Acer is using an In-Plane Switching (IPS) display here, showing near perfect viewing angles from all sides.
Images are, of course, better looked at dead on, but the screen looks gorgeous from all sides, which is a fair bit better than what we saw on the Aspire S3.
Acer has married that with a ten-point touch digitizer, offering up a machine that really aims to impress. Swipes from all sides as well as pinch to pull zooms all show off the speed and quality of the touchscreen, and with the touch friendliness of Windows 8, it makes the Aspire S7 shine.
Windows 8 doesn’t take long to get used to, either, even with how much touching it really requires. A simple swipe from the right to left brings up the start button and settings option, scrolling through the menu, selecting things with a touch, and dragging up from the bottom of the screen for more options. It’s more intuitive than you initially expect, and once you’re used to it, you wonder why more operating systems don’t work like this.
You also have a proper desktop mode that looks and feels like Windows 7, even if the translucent Aero glass effects have been removed, like the Start button, which is now built into the right side whenever your mouse lands in the corner or you swipe from the right. Obviously, the past versions of Windows were developed for a pre-touchscreen world, and as such, shouldn’t be amazing with a touchscreen, which is no doubt why you have your mouse.
But even here, Acer’s touchscreen manages to impress, providing reasonably accurate control in games and applications that were designed for a mouse. Adobe’s Lightroom 4, for instance, wasn’t designed for the large presses of a finger, but we had no problems loading up images and pressing the right areas, even if there was a touch of lag in between. It might take two or three pushes when you start, but gradually you’ll find that you and the screen come to an understanding.
For the most part, the apps work best when they’ve been designed for Windows 8, such as the new Internet Explorer, and included applications for mail, weather, calendar, stocks, and more.
Load up some games like the Australian “Fruit Ninja” and you see that touchscreen controls do work, at least decently, and should evolve better with time, though it does take a bit of getting used to, swiping and controlling on a laptop screen in front of you.
Gaming on a touchscreen gives us an insight into something else, too: hinge construction on the screen.
With rapid finger swipes in frenetic gaming, you find that Acer’s hinge does a decent job, not throwing too much screen shake or vibration our way, and showing off the excellent build quality here. If you’re on a bus or public transport, you shouldn’t find your screen falling over thanks to the work found here. We had to give the machine a good and solid shake to force the screen to fall, so unless you’re in a violent earthquake, the screen on your S7 should stay in place (and if you are in an earthquake, you have more important things to worry about).
In fact, you can push the screen all the way back if you so choose, keeping the laptop so flat that it could probably slide under a door with both the touchscreen and the keyboard exposed. Why you’d do this, we have no idea, but it’s rare to see such a strong hinge on a laptop, outside of the machines in Lenovo’s X series.
The keyboard is also quite nice, with a comfortable click and a soft press. This review was typed on the keyboard, and while there were a few mistakes initially, it is easily one of Acer’s best keyboard implementations to date, even if it is a tad shallow. Mind you, the machine has a thickness of 11.9mm, so it’s hard to have a lot of keyboard travel in that.
And then there’s system speed, and with the machine giving us an on to off time of five seconds and a standby to on time that’s practically instantaneous, we’re suitably impressed. Windows pretty much flies on this computer, and even though there is only 4GB of RAM, it’s certainly no slouch, though you won’t be doing any heavy gaming here, as our Steam experience showed some titles just won’t run on the Intel graphics.
While Acer has done exceedingly well with the S7, there are a few things stopping it from attaining that level of perfection one can hope for.
It’s the little things that bug us here, specifically, the little things that appear to be missing, or weren’t quite finished.
One of these is a Caps Lock light, with no discernible way to pick up that your capital lock button is on outside of the applications. Some apps in Windows will tell you when it’s on, but not all, so without a small LED on the computer, we’re left hoping we didn’t accidentally press the shrunken Caps Lock that now shares a space with the tilde key.
Another is the backlighting, which hardly feels like a win at all. At least it’s here, something we really desired on the S3, but even at its brightest, its so dim that you wonder why Acer bothered. For the most part, you’ll find the bright screen is enough company in the dark, which is more than we can say for the backlit keys.
Acer’s choice in storage options is a tad underwhelming too, with only 128GB of solid state storage, on a laptop where you’d expect 256GB. It might seem like a decent chunk of space, but out of that, you’ll only find roughly 70GB for you to use once you start using the laptop, dividing that relatively small number between apps, documents, photos, music, movies, and more.
And even though the multitouch on the screen is very impressive, zooming and scrolling as fast as anything we’ve seen on the iPad, the gestures on the ultra-wide trackpad provided by Acer could be better.
You’ll probably end up using the screen anyway to zoom and scroll, because it’s just way more intuitive to do it this way than with your mouse, but if you do need to use the touchpad, be aware the drivers aren’t as good as they probably should be, and there will be jagged movements and slowdowns.
The SD card slot is barely a half height slot, so don’t expect to ever travel around with a card inside the computer, unless you’re sure you want to break it relatively quickly.
Battery could be a little better, too. Sure, it’s a first generation touch-enabled Ultrabook, so really we’re just seeing the first attempts at nailing battery life, but with WiFi turned on and moderate use of the touchscreen, you’ll find yourself grabbing roughly four to five hours out of the Aspire S7. That’s not bad, but it could easily be better, considering the six to seven hour mark expected out of these transit-friendly machines.
Standby time seems to be very decent, and we had no need to charge the machine with sporadic use over a period of several days, but you generally won’t find a way of reaching over six hours unless you turn the screen brightness all the way down and switch wireless connectivity off.
The power pack could probably be improved, too. At least it’s smaller than the typical plug packs we’re used to seeing from computer companies, but it lacks that lovely design finesse we see from Apple, among other companies, and it really would have completed the package for us.
For the first Windows 8 machine we’ve seen, and Acer’s first attempt at a machine for the operating system, the company has done a bloody impressive job with the Aspire S7, producing a machine that not only checks a lot of boxes, but damn near nails them.
It’s hard not to admire the amount of work Acer has thrown into the S7, pushing its Aspire S range into the next generation with a better build, keyboard, display, and overall feel than we saw with the last – and first – Acer Ultrabook to hit Australia.
Acer’s S7 isn’t perfect, but it’s some part of the way there, especially for the first Windows 8 laptop Acer is putting out. If you’re considering a Windows Ultrabook this year, this is definitely one you should look at.