Beautiful, thin and durable design; Gorgeous 1080p touch-screen display; Accurate audio; Really fast SSDs; Runs cool
Short battery life with standard battery; Expensive; Sharp palm rest
The Acer Aspire S7 is an absolutely stunning Windows 8 Ultrabook with a full HD touch screen and fast performance, but short endurance holds it back.
"Acer" and "jaw dropping" don't usually appear in the same sentence, but that's exactly what the Aspire S7 is. Dubbed the world's thinnest Ultrabook, the S7 (starting at $1,399, $1,699 as tested) is also the most striking, sporting a white Gorilla Glass Glid and aluminum deck. It's just beautiful. That aesthetic appeal extends to the touch-screen display, which not only presents Windows 8 in all its 1080p glory but can bend all the way flat. However, all of this sweetness comes at price. Is this the best Ultrabook yet?
Editor's Note: We reviewed the Canadian version of the Aspire S7. The U.S. version features the same specs, but uses a different keyboard layout.
The deck is about a millimeter wider than the lid, which creates for an interesting design feature, but makes the lid slightly more dificult to open, despite a small metal tab.
While it may not be as flexible as Lenovo's new IdeaPad Yoga, the Aspire S7 can do some calisthenics of its own. The screen can open 180 degrees to lay completely flat. This should make the S7 useful for working with a partner, though, at its price, we would have preferred if the screen could rotate to turn the notebook into a tablet.
Our biggest beef with the design is that the power button sits on the left side of the system instead of on top of the deck. Why Acer, why?
Keyboard and Touchpad
The star of the show is the Aspire S7's 13-inch LCD touch screen. A rarity among 13-inch notebooks, the S7 features a full 1920 x 1080 display that looks incredibly sharp and boasts rich colors. Watching a 1080p trailer for "The Hobbit" on YouTube, we could make out the filagree on Bilbo's elven sword, and the deep greens of the Forest of Mirkwood popped off the screen. Viewing angles proved equally excellent -- we could move more than 45 degrees in either direction before losing clarity.
Still, at 215 lux, the S7's display is significantly dimmer than the competition's. The average ultraportable notebook registers a brightness of 234 lux, while the XPS 12 and the Zenbook Prime eclipse the S7 with readings of 434 and 423, respectively.
From the Start Screen, you can launch apps by tapping their respective tiles, or you can open a complete list of apps by either swiping down from the top of the screen or up from the bottom. To close an open app, swipe or drag it from the top of the screen to the bottom. The tiles themselves update depending on their context and usage. For instance, the Photos tile displays the latest picture you've taken with the S7's webcam, while the News tile shows the most recent headline and its accompanying photograph.
You can cycle through open apps by swiping your finger from the left side of the screen toward the center. Performing the same action, while keeping your finger on the app, allows you to open two apps simultaneously in split-screen mode.
One way or another, however, you'll eventually have to navigate in desktop mode. The Windows 8 desktop looks identical to its predecessor in Windows 7, with one glaring difference -- there's no Start Menu. First-time users will undoubtedly find this obnoxious, as opening new applications forces you to return to the Start Screen (either by swiping from the right side of the screen and selecting the Start button, or pressing the Windows button on the keyboard). Your best bet is to pin your favorite apps not just to the Start screen, but to the taskbar as well.
Thankfully, the Aspire S7's responsive touch screen and Windows 8-enabled clickpad make navigating both the modern and desktop UI a pleasure. Gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolling and edge swipe worked reliably, and transitioning between the operating system's dual interfaces was more intuitive than on traditional mouse-and-keyboard notebooks.
Acer also includes a number of its own desktop-based applications, such as Acer Recovery Management, which lets you restore the notebook to its factory settings, create a customized restore point or reinstall drivers and applications; Acer Theft Shield, which lets you set an alarm notification via Wi-Fi for when your notebook has been moved out of a specific range; Acer USB Charge Manager; Acer Backup Manager and Acer Instant Update Utility. Clear.fi Media and Clear.fi Photo, Acer's iTunes alternatives, also come preinstalled.
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.
Ports and Webcam
The S7's 0.9-megapixel webcam was a mixed bag. Although colorful, the photos and video we captured appeared grainy, and fine details such as the hairs in our beard were lost. Video also suffered from a fair amount of stuttering during playback.
The S7's dual Lite-On CMT-128L3M SSDs delivered even more stunning speeds. On the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, the notebook copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in a mere 16 seconds, a rate of 318.1 MBps. This not only destroys the category average of 71 MBps, it leaves the competition in the dust. The ASUS Zenbook Prime turned in a measly 51 MBps, while the Dell XPS 12 managed to achieve a more admirable 150 MBps.
Thanks to its speedy SSD and the efficiency of Windows 8, the Aspire S7 boots the operating system in just 10 seconds. Acer also includes a feature in which the laptop turns on as soon as you open the lid, which makes booting into Windows feel even shorter.
On the LAPTOP Spreadsheet Macro test, the S7 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 12 seconds. This beats the ultraportable average by more than 2 minutes, but falls short of the Zenbook Prime by 13 seconds. The XPS 12, by contrast, took an extra 22 seconds to complete the same test.
When we ran "World of Warcraft" on Good settings with the resolution set to the S7's native 1080p resolution, the notebook averaged a just-barely playable 30 frames per second. Bumping up the graphics to Ultra, however, caused the frame rate to plummet to 12 frames per second. The notebook saw slightly better performance when we downgraded the resolution to 1366 x 768, reaching 41 fps on Good settings.
Fortunately, Acer offers an external battery for the S7, a $150 option. In our tests, the battery increased the notebook's runtime to 9 hours and 17 minutes.
Configurations and Warranty
In addition to the 13-inch configuration we reviewed ($1,649 for a Core i7 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD), Acer also offers a $1,399 configuration that features a 1.7-GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.
For all configurations of the Aspire S7, Acer offers a one-year limited warranty, including parts and labor. See how Acer fared in our annual Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands Report.
Shoppers that can live without a touch screen may prefer the $1,099 ASUS Zenbook Prime, which sports a full HD display, brushed-metal design and more than 6 hours of battery life. But if you can't wait to get your hands on the sleekest Windows 8 machine on the planet, the Aspire S7 will make your MacBook Air-toting friends jealous. You'll just have to either bring the charger or that extra battery.
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|CPU||Intel Core i7-3517U|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to|
|Hard Drive Size||Dual 128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Atheros MD222|
|Touchpad Size||4.2 x 2.4 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||micro HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Card Slots||SD/MMC memory reader|
|Warranty/Support||One-year limited warranty|
|Size||12.7 x 8.8 x 0.46 inches|