Acer is swinging for the fences with the new $1,499 Acer Aspire S7-392-6411 Ultrabook. The second generation of the company's S7 series sports some welcome updates, such as improved battery life, a better keyboard and a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor. But the Aspire hasn't ditched the aspects of the S7 we loved, namely the super-slim, all-white chassis and the 1080p touch-screen that continues to turn heads. The end result is a home run for Ultrabook shoppers.
One thing's for sure: Acer can definitely make a pretty laptop. Like the Aspire S7-391 before it, the S7-392 rocks a scintillating, all-aluminum, unibody chassis. Covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 2, the lid of the S7 is an absolute vision in white. We love the silver border that lines the lid as well as the light-up Acer logo in the center.
The lid is about a millimeter shorter than the deck, a configuration that is interesting to look at, but makes opening the notebook a bit of a hassle. When closed, the lid shows off the sturdy, rounded, silver hinge that enables the display to tilt back a full 180 degrees.
After opening the lid, we took a moment to appreciate the silky feel of the silver, matte keyboard deck. We love how the sides of the deck curve upward at a gentle angle and how the keyboard resides in a subtle recess.
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Too bad the power button is stashed along the left side of the laptop toward the hinge; there would be plenty of space on the deck for the power button.
Like its predecessor, the 3-pound Aspire S7-392 has a barely there profile, measuring 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.51 inches. That skinny figure makes the 2.4-pound, 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.68-inch Sony VAIO Pro 13 and the 3-pound, 12.8 x 9 x 0.11 - 0.68-inch MacBook Air look a little chubby. However, the 2.6-pound Samsung ATIV Book 9 matches the Aspire S7 for thinness, with its 12.4 x 8.6 x 0.51-inch frame.
The Aspire S7's 13.3-inch, 1080p display does a great job of displaying vivid colors, particularly blues, greens and yellows. When we weren't being freaked out by the flesh-colored demon during the 1080p trailer for "Bad Milo," we had time to check out the finer details of the creature's eerily moist skin folds. Ken Marino's blue shirt and olive-green tie drew our gaze as he shrieked in terror. Viewing angles were broad, allowing us to move past 45 degrees in either direction.
The 10-point touch screen proved responsive to our probing digits. We easily pinch-zoomed, cycled through apps and cued up the Charms menu. We also like that the S7's hinge stiffens as you approach 90 degrees, which kept the lid from wobbling as we used the touch screen.
This notebook's screen measured a bright 329 lux on our light meter, beating the 236-lux ultraportable average. The S7 also outshone the ATIV Book 9, the Air and the Pro 13, which scored 284, 263 and 237 lux, respectively.
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Acer insists on placing the Aspire S7's pair of speakers on the bottom of the notebook. The end result is muffled audio that barely fills a small room, but it should suffice for a small audience. The Dolby Home Theater v4 software did little to alleviate the hollowness we heard on Kem's "If It's Love." The keyboard was clear, as were the vocals, but the bass was virtually nonexistent.
Acer has also included its Purified.Voice technology, which the company claims will eliminate background noise and volume reduction during video chats and VoIP calls. During our test Skype call, our caller reported loud and clear audio when we were in the general proximity of the Ultrabook. When we began to move around the room, however, the caller said our voice became distant. He could also hear our keystrokes as we typed.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Aspire S7's gray, island-style keyboard has relatively well-spaced keys. Thanks to the keyboard's electroluminescent backlighting, it's easy to keep typing in dim situations. Better yet, the lighting automatically adjusts depending on the ambient light levels.
While still a little shallow for our liking, Acer noticeably improved the travel from the first-generation S7. We encountered snappy feedback on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, scoring 50 words per minute, slightly below our 55 wpm average.
However, there's still room for improvement. The Tilde button is much larger than the Caps Lock key, and the Left Tab button is undersized. There's also more than enough room for a row of function keys -- no need to double them up with the number keys.
The 4.2 x 2.4-inch Synaptics touchpad is both spacious and responsive, a great improvement over the original S7. Performing Windows 8 gestures, such as summoning the Charms menu and switching apps, was a fluid experience. Two-finger scroll and rotate were also smooth and reliable.
Acer outfitted the S7 with a new thermal system designed to keep the laptop at a cooler temperature. Comprised of a pair of high-speed thermal fans, the TwinAir system uses one fan to pull in cool air, while the other blows out hot air.
After 15 minutes of streaming a full-screen Hulu video on the S7, the notebook's touchpad measured a cool 79 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the S7's undercarriage were slightly warmer, at 84 and 85 degrees, respectively. All of these measurements are below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees. Nevertheless, the previous S7 registered a cooler 75, 80 and 80 degrees in the same locations.
Toward the back of the S7, near the hinge, we measured a toasty 101 degrees, but it wasn't uncomfortable in our lap.
Combined with Acer's Crystal Eye software, the S7's 720p webcam captures bright color in photos and in stills, under both natural and fluorescent lighting. The test shots accurately captured our chocolate skin and our green shirt. Despite some pixelation, the camera managed to catch some of the black-and-gold shading on our shirt.
A single USB 3.0 port sits on the Aspire S7's right side along with HDMI, an Acer Converter Port, a combination headphone/mic jack and a secure lock slot. Another USB 3.0 port sits on the left with a SD Card reader and the power jack.
Although it looks like a miniDisplayPort, the Acer Converter Port is not guaranteed to work with peripherals that use the former connection. Rather, the S7 ships with a dongle that has connectors for VGA, Ethernet and USB 2.0.
For such a svelte laptop, the Acer Aspire S7-392 packs quite a wallop. Its 1.6-GHz fourth-generation Intel Core i5-4200 CPU with 8GB of RAM ably streamed an episode of "Breaking Bad" from Netflix while performing a system scan with 8 open tabs in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer.
On the PCMark 7 benchmark, the S7 notched 5,051, well above the 3,800 ultraportable average. The Sony VAIO Pro 13 and its 1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4500U CPU scored 4,698. The Samsung ATIV Book 9's 2-GHz Intel Core i7-3537U processor posted 4,490.
During Geekbench, the S7 notched 5,184, failing to meet the 6,082 average. However, the S7's score placed it only slightly behind the ATIV Book 9's showing of 5,187. The Pro 13 did somewhat better, with 5,507, while the MacBook Air and its 1.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4650U processor scored 8,333.
The Aspire S7's 128GB SSD booted Windows 8 in an agile 9 seconds, faster than the 23 second average. The ATIV Book 9 (128GB SSD) and the Pro 13 (512GB SSD) both loaded Windows 8 in 7 seconds.
The S7 lost a little footing during the File Transfer Test, duplicating 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 45 seconds. That equals a transfer rate of 113 MBps, slightly above the 101 MBps average. However, the ATIV Book 9 clocked in at 154.2 MBps, while the Air (256GB SSD) and Pro 13 registered a blistering 318.1 MBps and 392 MBps, respectively.
When we ran the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Aspire S7 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 12 seconds. That's faster than the 5:55 category average, but several seconds behind the Pro 13 and ATIV Book 9, which posted times of 5:10 and 5:09, respectively. The Air completed the task in a speedier 4:26.
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The Acer Aspire S7-392's Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU with 128MB of VRAM offers better performance than the last-generation integrated GPU. However, you'll still be limited to mainstream fare such as "World of Warcraft."
On the 3DMark11 benchmark, the S7's score of 895 easily toppled the 749 ultraportable average. The Sony VAIO Pro 13, which also has an Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU, notched 600. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 and its older Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU scored 597.
During the "World of Warcraft" test, the S7 managed 39 fps on autodetect at 1366 x 768, which dropped to 28 fps at 1080p; both are below the 40 fps ultraportable average. By comparison, the ATIV Book 9 notched just 20 fps at 1080p, and the Pro 13 hit 30 fps. At its native resolution of 1400 x 900, the MacBook Air averaged 50 fps.
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The biggest improvement of this newest edition of the Acer Aspire is its endurance. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuously surfing the Web over Wi-Fi), the Acer Aspire S7-392's 4-cell, 6280mAh lithium-ion battery lasted 8 hours and 53 minutes. That's more than double the previous S7 (4:10) and nearly 3 hours longer than the 6:05 ultraportable average. This runtime is also almost 4 hours longer than the Samsung ATIV Book 9 (5:07). The Sony VAIO Pro 13 posted 7:20, but nearly doubled that time to 14:38 with its extended battery. The MacBook Air lasted an epic 12:29.
Software and Warranty
Acer has trimmed the fat on its software offerings -- in a good way. Multimedia aggregators Clear.fi Photo, Clear.fi Media and Docs come in handy for keeping track of all your files, including documents, images, video and music. Acer Cloud lets you share all sorts of files stored on your PC with other devices, including smartphones and tablets.
Acer Recovery Management lets you restore the notebook to its factory settings, and Acer USB Charge Manager allows you to change the charge settings on the designated USB port.
Skype is the only third-party app preloaded onto the S7.
The Acer Aspire S7-392-6411 comes with a one-year limited warranty.
Our $1,499 configuration of the Acer Aspire S7-392 features a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200 CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and an Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU with 128MB of VRAM. The $1,699 model (S7-392-9890) has a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4500U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU with 128MB of VRAM.
With the Aspire S7-392-6411, Acer has shown that it can incorporate reviewer and user feedback. The company improved both the keyboard and the battery life from the first go-round, all while retaining the sleek, sexy chassis we adored in the first version. The 4th generation Intel processor adds a nice boost in performance, and the 1080p touchscreen really pops. We just wish Acer didn't play peek-a-boo with the power button placement.
However, $1,499 isn't pocket change. For the same price, you can get the lighter Sony VAIO Pro 13 with the same CPU and RAM, and a larger 256GB SSD. Nevertheless, we prefer Acer's keyboard and like that you get nearly 9 hours of endurance without strapping on an external battery. The MacBook Air offers more than 12 hours of battery life and a faster SSD, but that system has a lower-resolution display and lacks a touch screen. In all, the modifications Acer made to the Aspire S7-392 make it the best Ultrabook yet.