The MacBook Air has been the leading premium 11-inch ultraportable for as long as we can remember, but the Acer Aspire S7-191 ($1,199) is here to knock Apple's portable off its pedestal. What does this Ultrabook bring to the table? A sharper full HD touch screen for taking full advantage of Windows 8 inside a gorgeous 2.2-pound, 0.5-inch thick design that's thinner and lighter than the Air. Acer also bundles an extended battery. Find out if this slim machine is a cut above.
It may not be the world's thinnest -- that title belongs to its 13-inch brother, the S7-391 (0.47 inches thick) -- but the 11-inch Acer Aspire S7-191 is remarkably svelte and portable. This aluminum beauty weighs just 2.2 pounds, making it lighter than the 11-inch MacBook Air (2.4 pounds), as well as the Sony Vaio Duo 11 (2.8 pounds). It's even lighter than the HP Envy x2 (3.1 pounds) when that tablet is connected to its keyboard.
Even more remarkable is that the S7-191 is, at 11.2 x 7.7 x 0.5 inches, thinner than the Air (11.8 x 7.6 x 0.11-0.68 inches), and the Duo 11 (12.5 x 7.8 x 0.75 inches).
Unlike the 13-inch Aspire S7-391, which has a Gorilla Glass lid, the 11-inch S7-191's lid is made of aluminum with a cross-hatched pattern. The inside is just as sleek, with its aluminum deck looking and feeling every bit the part of a premium system. The underside is a white plastic, whereas the 13-inch version is all aluminum.
But it's not all aces: The front edge of the S7 is very sharp, making it uncomfortable to rest your wrists on the system. Acer also put the power button on the left side, a design decision we also questioned on the S7-391.
Attach the S7's extra battery, and the weight increases to 2.8 pounds, and the notebook's slim profile gains a bulbous appendage at the rear. The battery is roughly cylindrical in shape, and attaches to the back of the notebook using two small screws. A spring-loaded plug then connects to the notebook's power port. In all, it's not the most elegant docking solution, but it does prop up the rear of the system for a more comfortable typing position. We do like that blue lights on the right side let you know at a glance if the battery is charged.
It's not often you see a full 1080p touch screen display on an 11-inch notebook, but Acer has done just with the S7-191. Watching the trailer for "Star Trek Into Darkness," the display rendered the red of alien plants and planets well.
The VAIO Duo 11 also has a 1080p display; both are higher than that of the 11-inch MacBook Air, whose display resolution is 1366 x 768. While we appreciate the extra pixels, it becomes impractical when trying to use the touch screen in desktop mode. Icons are just too tiny to easily press with a finger.
The Aspire S7-101's average brightness of 147 lux failed to impress. That showing is considerably less than the category average (229 lux), and less than half that of the Duo 11 (402 lux).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like the larger Aspire S7-391, the S7-191's keyboard has a cool blue backlighting that's bright but comfortable on the eyes. Also like its bigger brother, the keys have very limited travel, but that didn't affect our typing speed too much. The front edge of the notebook dug into our palms, though not as much when the extra battery was attached.
In the interest of space, there's no Function row: Acer combined those keys with the number row at the top of the keyboard. We didn't miss them, but would prefer to see dedicated volume controls.
The Aspire S7-191's 3.6 x 2.2-inch touchpad was workable, but a little too slick for our tastes. Still, we performed multitouch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom and rotate, as well as Windows 8 gestures, with ease.
Two bottom-mounted speakers on the Aspire S7-191 kicked out quality audio for a system this size. While not overpowering, we could hear the full range of instruments in Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" streamed from Pandora. To be sure, sound was slightly hollow, and bass was a little lacking, which became more apparent in hip-hop songs such as Notorious B.I.G's "Hypnotize."
Included is Dolby Home Theater 4.0 software, which lets you tweak equalizer and sound profiles. This utility is only available in the desktop interface, though, not via the Modern UI.
After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes at full screen, the middle of the Aspire S7-191's touchpad measured 84 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys was 82 degrees, and the middle of the underside was 88 degrees. All areas were well below what we consider uncomfortable - 95 degrees. However, the rear of the bottom was a hot 100 degrees.
There's not much room for ports on the S7: The right side has a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack and a microSD card slot. The rear has a microHDMI port, and the left has a second USB 3.0 port and the power button. When the extended battery is attached, there's a small divot right where the microHDMI port is located, making it easier to access.
Using the included Acer CrystalEye Webcam software, the Aspire S7-191 recorded video at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 720. When viewed under office lighting, our skin tone was warm, but the image was fairly grainy. Certain details, such as the pleats in our black sweater, were not visible.
The 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor in the Aspire S7-191 is used in nearly all of the ultraportables we've tested recently. However, Acer also includes a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM in the S7, which helped to boost its performance numbers.
In the PCMark 7 benchmark, the S7-191 scored 4,584, which is about 100 points less than the Duo 11, but 1,400 points higher than the category average.
The Aspire S7-191's 128GB SSD booted Windows 8 in a blinding eight seconds. That's five seconds faster than the Duo 11, and more than 25 seconds faster than the average. The S7's SSD completed the LAPTOP File Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files) in 26 seconds, for a rate of 195.7 MBps. That's more than 100MBps faster than average (75 MBps), and crushes the Duo 11 (145MBps) and the 2011 MacBook Air (78 MBps).
Less impressive was the S7-191's performance on our spreadsheet test. The notebook took 6 minutes and 11 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice. This time was a minute faster than average (7:14), but twice as long as the Duo 11 (3:00).
The integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics in the Aspire S7-191 is suitable for everyday tasks, but playing even moderately intensive games may pose a problem. On our "World of Warcraft" test, the S7-191 averaged just 28 frames per second with the resolution set to 1366 x 768, and the effects level on Good. That's significantly below the average (44 fps), but on a par with the Duo 11 (31 fps). When we changed the resolution to its native 1920 x 1080, the S7's frame rate barely budged, to 27 fps.
However, when we increased the effects level to max, it plummeted to just 13 fps, the same as the Duo 11.
On the synthetic 3DMark11 benchmark, the S7-191's score of 608 is on a par with the Duo 11 (615), but well below the category average of 750.
It's a good thing that Acer includes an extra battery with the Aspire S7-191. Without it, the notebook lasted just 3 hours and 51 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. That's more than two hours less than the ultraportable average of 6:16, and about an hour less than the Duo 11 (5:08) and the 2011 11-inch MacBook Air (4:46).
Strap on the extra battery, and the S7-191's endurance jumps to a more tolerable 6:41. We appreciate the additional runtime the extended battery provides, but it makes the notebook less attractive.
Bloatware is starting to creep back into notebooks. Aside from its own Acer Explorer and SocialJogger apps, the Aspire S7-191 also comes with 7digital, Evernote, Kindle, Amazon, Hulu Plus, eBay, Encyclopedia Brittanica, Netflix, ChaCha, iCookbook, TuneIn, StumbleUpon, Skitch, Skype, Social Jogger, Spotify, newsXpresso and Wild Tangent Games.
However, we wish Acer included its Acer Ring utility on its touch-screen notebooks, as it does with its tablets. This software makes it easy to access your favorite apps, documents, photos and more without having to return to the Start screen.
You can add more apps to the Start Screen by downloading them from the Windows Store -- just tap on the Tile that's labeled "Store." At the moment, the selection of apps for games, entertainment, music and video is very limited when compared with the hundreds of thousands of applications available for Android and iOS, but the selection is steadily improving.
There's no arguing that the $1,199 Acer Aspire S7-191 is one of the sleekest and smallest notebooks we've seen. The aluminum lid and deck look and feel sturdy, and the 11.6-inch 1080p touch screen, while relatively dim, is certainly sharp and responsive. We also like that Acer includes an external battery to get the S7-191 past the 6-hour mark, but getting the endurance you deserve shouldn't require a bulky appendage. Still, the S7-191 is the first 11-inch Windows 8 notebook that truly challenges the MacBook Air in terms of design and features.