If you want a laptop that packs both beauty and brawn, Acer's new Aspire S7-392-6807 ($1,399) is a strong contender. A refresh of last year's model, the gorgeous Windows 8.1 Ultrabook offers zippy Haswell performance and a new high-definition WQHD display. However, with this sharper panel comes a trade-off some people may not want to make.
Still as sexy as ever, the all-white Acer Aspire S7-392-6807, whose lid is covered in Corning's Gorilla Glass 2, screams premium. Sharp-straight edges line the aluminum unibody, and a silver, straw-width hinge houses two subtle indicator lights for power and battery. A metallic-gray Acer logo sits on the lid and lights up when the computer is on.
Under the lid is a silver deck that houses a matte-silver Chiclet-style keyboard, and a rectangular touchpad with rounded corners sits below. The glossy, 13.3-inch display is protected by Gorilla Glass, lending it an air of class and security. On the white bottom of the notebook, a vent runs horizontally along the back, while two speakers sit on either side, closer to the front.
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Oddly, the S7's power button is on the left edge, next to the power jack, which Acer says prevents accidental pressing and makes it easier to find. We would have preferred it on the deck for easier access, but at least it won't turn on the computer until the lid is open, preventing accidental startups.
At 12.72 x 8.78 x 0.51 inches and 3.0 pounds, the new Aspire S7 has the same barely-there profile as its predecessor. It's smaller and heavier than Asus' Zenbook UX301 (12.8 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches, 2.6 pounds), but somewhat bigger and lighter than the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display (12.35 x 8.62 x 0.71 inches, 3.46 pounds) and Samsung's ATIV Book 9 Plus (12.6 x 8.8 x 0.54 inches, 3.2 pounds).
Click to EnlargeAcer bumped up the S7's 13-inch IPS display to WQHD (2560 x 1440 pixels), and the result is a stunning visual experience. On a 1080p trailer of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," individual strands of Scarlett Johansson's auburn hair and scratches on Captain America's shield looked crisp.
Colors were also vivid; we enjoyed the bright greens of foliage in wide shots and light gray of Steve Rogers' eyes. Viewing angles were ample, but images washed out a tad when we tilted the screen till it lay completely flat.
The S7 packs the same resolution as the Zenbook UX301 (2560 x 1440p), but it's not as sharp as the MacBook Pro (2560 x 1600p) and the ATIV Book 9 (3200 x 1800p).
Probably due to the higher resolution, text in windows and websites such as Laptopmag.com and NYTimes.com had pixelated edges.
Registering 276 lux on our brightness meter, the Aspire S7 is brighter than the ultraportable average (250 lux) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (251 lux) but dimmer than the Zenbook UX301 (368 lux) and the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display (340 lux).
The 10-point touch screen on the S7 was responsive and sturdy, budging only slightly to our jabbing fingers, thanks to the right hinge. Windows 8 gestures -- such as pinch to zoom and swiping back and forth -- worked quickly, and we easily swiped in from edges to switch between open apps.
The Dolby Home Theater speakers on the underside of the Aspire S7 provided booming but tinny sound. We didn't enjoy the canned quality of Lady Gaga's voice and the instruments on "Do What U Want," but the music easily filled a small office.
You can adjust sound profiles on the S7 with the included Dolby Digital Plus software, which unfortunately is hidden in the desktop file explorer. Digital Plus lets you select from Movie, Music,Game, Voice and two custom audio modes to adjust how your music filters out.
We found Movie and Game modes delivered somewhat better sound for songs such as "Do What U Want" and "Royals" by Lorde, but the audio had a metallic echo. Music mode delivered a more enjoyable experience, even on the more nuanced opening music for the "League of Legends" game launcher.
On Laptop Mag's audio test (playing a tone and measuring from 23 inches), the S7 notched 82 decibels, slightly lower than the ultraportable average (84 db). However, it did outdo the Zenbook (80 dB).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeAcer added 0.3mm (0.01 inches) of key-travel distance to the new S7, making the black-on-silver island keyboard more comfortable to type on. We still wish the keyboard offered more depth, but given its sleek aesthetic, this is a minor trade-off. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, we scored an average of 85.2 words per minute with a 1.6 percent error rate, which is better than our desktop average of 77 wpm (no errors). The keyboard also features adjustable LED backlighting, which was bright and even.
Our biggest bone to pick with the layout on the S7 is the odd key placement. Buttons to quickly toggle the volume, font size, display brightness and connectivity are on the second (QWERTY) row, and you activate them by pressing the Fn and relevant key. The top line lets you switch between numbers, symbols and functions. We also don't like that the tilde button sits next to the Caps Lock, and that the latter has been reduced to a pinkie-size segment.
The 4.25 x 2.5-inch touchpad is spacious and proved responsive when we performed Windows 8 gestures such as two-finger scrolling and pinch to zoom. Only the bottom half of the touchpad can be depressed to trigger clicks; pressing the bottom-right corner activates a right click, while the left side results in a regular click.
Just as on its predecessor, the new Aspire S7 comes with a cooling system called TwinAir that uses two small, high-speed fans -- one pulls in cool air, while the other expels hot air.
For the most part, this technology was effective. After 15 minutes of streaming a full-screen Hulu video, the laptop's touchpad measured a cool 81 degrees Fahrenheit, while the space between the G and H keys hit 85 degrees. That's about the same as the ultraportable category averages of 79 degrees (touchpad) and 84 degrees (G and H keys). We find temperatures below 95 degrees to be comfortable.
However, the S7 reached 102 degrees on its underside, just below the vent. While that's not scorching, we didn't want to keep the system on our lap for extended periods of time.
Webcam and Ports
Click to EnlargeWith its 720p webcam, the Aspire S7 took grainy but accurately colored pictures. The lime-green headphones and multicolored iPhone case in our selfie retained vibrant hues, but we saw significant noise on our face.
The Aspire S7 packs plenty of connectivity options, including an HDMI-out port with HDCP support, an Acer Converter Port (which can be used with an adapter to support miniDisplay) and two USB 3.0 ports for faster media transfer. The USB port on the right side even supports power-off charging so you can juice up your other devices without having to turn on your laptop.
Click to EnlargePacking a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200U Haswell CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), the Aspire S7 is a speedy device for daily tasks. We smoothly typed a Google Doc while streaming an episode of "American Dad" on Netflix and installing the "League of Legends" client in the background.
On synthetic benchmarks, the S7 delivered above-average results, but fell short of some of its competitors. The Ultrabook's PCMark 7 score of 4,755 is better than the ultraportable average (4,033), but not the 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-powered ASUS Zenbook (5,838) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (5,017). The ATIV Book 9 Plus sports the same CPU as the S7, but with 4GB of RAM.
The Aspire S7 did better on Geekbench 3, scoring 5,101 to beat the average ultraportable (4,473) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (5,077). It still trailed the Zenbook (6,862) and the MacBook Pro (6,294).
The 128GB SSD in the S7 booted in a mere 6 seconds. That's less than half the time it took the average ultraportable (15 seconds), and significantly faster than the MacBook Pro (12 seconds), the Zenbook (12 seconds) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (11 seconds).
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On Laptop Mag's File Transfer Test, the new S7 copied 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 26 seconds (196 MBps), which is significantly better than the average ultraportable (118 MBps). Acer's Ultrabook also beat the Zenbook (127 MBps) and the ATIV Book (127.2 MBps), but fell short of the blazing MacBook Pro (299 MBps).
Unfortunately, the S7 trailed its competitors on our OpenOffice Test, matching 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 15 seconds. While that's almost a minute and a half faster than the average ultraportable (6:47), it's slower than the Zenbook (4:05), the ATIV Book (5:13) and the MacBook Pro (5:02).
Graphics and Gaming
Backed by Intel's HD 4400 graphics chip with 128 MB of dedicated system memory, the new Aspire S7 delivered decent results on graphics benchmark tests. Scoring 33,185 on 3DMark Ice Storm, the laptop beat the average ultraportable (27,905) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (29,377) but trailed the Intel HD Graphics 5100 (Iris) ASUS Zenbook UX301 (38,338).
On the more taxing 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme, the new S7's 22,499 result trumps the ultraportable category average (20,483) and the ATIV Book (19,511). The Zenbook did better, with 31,151.
For more serious gaming, however, the Aspire S7 failed to deliver. When we played "World of Warcraft" at 1366 x 768p resolution and effects set to autodetect, the S7 averaged 36 fps, just above the ultraportable category average of 31 fps. While playable, this showing is poorer than its predecessor's 39 fps and also trails the Zenbook (62 fps), the MacBook Pro (52 fps at 1280 x 800p) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (54 fps).
At its native 2560 x 1440p resolution on autodetect, the Aspire S7 pushed an unplayable 22 fps.
Click to EnlargeAcer says it has improved the battery life on this version of the S7, but our test results paint a different picture. The notebook's 4-cell 6,280-mAh lithium-polymer battery (the same as the one in its predecessor) lasted just 6 hours and 44 minutes on Laptop Mag's battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi. While that's on a par with the ultraportable average (6:44), it's more than 2 hours less than the runtime of the previous S7 (8:53), and trails the Zenbook (7:54), the ATIV Book (8:06) and the MacBook Pro (9:31).
Running Windows 8.1, the Aspire S7 is, thankfully, free of bloatware. Acer bundles just its Recovery Management, Live Updater tools and User Manual, with the typical apps you'd expect on a Windows notebook, such as Skype, Xbox Music, Bing and Internet Explorer.
Since you can flip the display all the way back till it lays completely flat, Acer included a nifty rotation feature so you can switch the screen's orientation by pressing the Fn and O keys. This way, you can easily share your content with someone sitting across from you.
Configurations and Warranty
Our unit of the Aspire S7-392-6807 sports a WQHD screen and an Intel Core i5-4200U chip with a 128GB SSD, all for $1,399. You can also get a 256GB SSD with the same processor for $1,499 (S7-392-6425). For $1,599, you get a Core i7-4500U CPU with Turbo Boost to bring the clock speed up to 23-GHz when needed. This version also comes with a 256GB SSD. All the new S7s run Windows 8.1.
The lower-res (full-HD) version (S7-392-6832) of the S7 with the same specs packs an Intel Core i5-4200U CPU with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $100 less ($1,229 on Amazon). You can also get the Aspire S7-392-9890 with a 1.8-GHz Core i7-4500U chip, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $1,429 on Amazon. These older versions run Windows 8 instead of 8.1.
All models of the Aspire S7-392 come with a one-year warranty.
Click to EnlargeAt $1,399, Acer's Aspire S7 392-6807 packs a gorgeous, quad-HD screen and capable performance into a drool-worthy package. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough high-res content suitable for this display yet to make up for the trade-off in battery life. For $100 less, you can get the same sexy design with a nice full-HD screen in the older Aspire S7-392-6832, which boasts 2 more hours of juice.
If you're in the market for a quad-HD experience, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus can be found for $1,299 on Amazon and offers 8 hours of battery life. But if you want a better-looking machine with an equally attractive screen, the Aspire S7 is still one of the better Ultrabooks.