Acer Aspire S7 – Review

A few years ago I thought that to have a small lightweight easily transportable device you would have to get an iPad or an Android Tablet. Or get cross with a Netbook or break the bank and get a fancy Ultrabook. I settled for an Android Tablet a while back and constantly got annoyed with it’s limitations. Various kinds of websites didn’t work, anything more complicated than browsing would invariably break and then there was the app situation.

A while back I bought a Microsoft Surface RT tablet and I had my eyes opened to what Windows 8 could actually do. Yes there were a few problems with it, but the more I used it the more I realised I wanted something just a little bit more powerful and just a bit bigger. The Surface Pro seemed ideal but I still fancied seeing what a fancy Ultrabook would be like.

Acer offered to send me an Aspire S7 touchscreen Ultrabook and after checking out the specs I decided it might be the machine for me. Light enough to carry around and the whole Windows 8 thing would mean I could get my fill of apps and games.

Having used the Aspire S7 for a few weeks now and having left my Surface RT and Transformer Prime in a cupboard It’s time to let you know how it’s gone. Starting with my good and bad points

Good Points

  • Great build quality
  • Intel Core i5 CPU
  • 1080p screen is astounding
  • 13″ touchscreen makes navigating easy
  • Nice range of accessories in the box

Bad Points

  • Glass lid feels like it is going to break one day
  • Sealed battery and chassis hinder longevity
  • Screen isn’t detachable
  • Windows 8 is a mess
  • Cost is a bit high
  • the backlit buttons are hard to see in bright light

Design

The Acer Aspire S7 is a looker, whilst opening the box up I was amazed at the quality of the device. A mix of Aluminium, Glass and Plastic, it really was ticking boxes in my head from the moment I unpacked it. Once out of the box the S7 is really light and has a nice feel to it.

The lid is a mix of metal and glass, the frame is made of metal and has a machined curve cut into the edge of it, this gives you a slight lip to grab onto whilst opening the S7 up, the lid has a Gorilla glass lid and a touchscreen front. The glass lid really makes the S7 look special, you really want to touch every part of the S7. Although every time I put it down I do worry about getting it scratched or broken. Luckily Acer ship a nice leather flip case with the S7.

The bottom part of the S7 is made of plastic and metal, the base is white plastic, with two speakers positioned at the front, the back edge has a wide fan running across the width, this fan is the only cooling vent and after a while the noise coming out of there is audible.

The keyboard is nice, feedback is good and typing at speed is possible. The keys are backlit, which from certain angles in daylight makes them hard to pick out. The keys are plastic and the lettering is made of see through plastic, the light shines through and next to the silver buttons you can’t really see which is which. Normally I wouldn’t need to see which is which, but the buttons are slightly out due to the caps lock, shift, enter key arrangements. It is something that is minor though, you’d soon work out where everything is.

The various ports are arranged on either side of the chassis, with Micro HDMI, 2 X USB 3.0 ports, headphone jack, power point and thepower button.

Quite surprisingly in the box you get the following, a leather style flip case, a white power cable, an MHL to Ethernet cable, an MHL to VGA cable, both of which plug into the Micro HDMI port and also a white Bluetooth mouse. All of which really made the S7 a complete package.

Hardware

There are a great many things in the S7 that make it a great laptop, the screen being the top of the list, at 1080p it shows some great detail and has surprisingly good viewing angles. Trying to read it from above, below or beside doesn’t morph text like you get on cheaper screens.

The CPU, GPU and RAM really make a nice combination, you really do fly through the UI, swiping away at stuff and getting dumped unceremoniously into the desktop environment now and again. Using a real Windows 8 device with a desktop grade CPU really shows me how lacking my Microsoft Surface RT tablet is.

Battery life isn’t astounding, you get a good few hours out of it, like you’d expect with a really thin and light ultrabook. In this point lies the compromise, you get a tablet like the Surface to get improved battery life and reduced functionality. Or do you get an ultrabook with bucket loads of extra functionality but worse battery life.

The touchpad on the S7 is really nice, albeit a bit clicky. It supports multi touch gestures as well, so you can scroll through websites, zoom into pictures, scroll through the UI, open the charm bar and probably some other stuff I haven’t found. It is a nice size as well.

The specs are as follows

  • Operating System Windows 8
  • Core i5 -3517U 1.70 GHz Cache 4 MB 64-bit
  • RAM Memory 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • Memory Card Secure Digital (SD) Card MultiMediaCard (MMC)
  • Storage Solid State Drive Capacity 128 GB (about 78GB free out of the box)
  • Display Screen Size 33.8 cm (13.3″) Active Matrix TFT Colour LCD
  • Screen Resolution 1920 x 1080 Full HD Touchscreen
  • Graphics Intel HD 4000
  • Wi-Fi Standard IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Webcam
  • Microphone
  • Micro HDMI
  • 2X USB 3.0 Ports
  • Battery Capacity 2340 mAh 4 Cell Lithium Polymer
  • Physical Characteristics Width 323.3 mm Depth 223.5 mm Weight (Approximate) 1.30 kg

Software

The more I use Windows 8 the more I get used to it. In the past I had an expectation of what should happen when you try to do something, like plugging a memory card full of pictures into your laptop or trying to connect your laptop via a Micro HDMI cable. Then along came Windows 8 and tried to reinvent the wheel and everything I have ever know is now slightly different. I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface for a few months now and I’ve pretty much got to grips with Windows 8, although using the S7 has turned up a whole load of new features/bugs in the OS I have never spotted before.

Acer haven’t really installed much bloat on the S7, I guess they’ve come to realise that Windows 8 pretty much has you covered on the app front, especially as SkyDrive is basically baked into the OS. No struggling to setup Acer Cloud for me this time.

The 1080p screen is glorious whilst using the Modern UI side of things as the apps in there are optimised for the screen sizes, but browsing the web or using the normal desktop mode and you suddenly start to have to zoom in a lot or reach for the mouse to press the tiniest of buttons. Although the large resolution did allow me 5 rows of app tiles, which was nice.

home example

Conclusion

The Acer Aspire S7 is a great device, it really showcases what Windows 8 is really about. Therein lies the problem, with a totally touch optimised interface you’d absolutely love the S7, for me the split personality of Windows 8 detracts from the glorious hardware on offer here. I guess it is something you’d get used to, I just wish Microsoft made more of the whole Modern UI side of things. The times you end up using the desktop mode are painful, especially using the touchscreen.

The Acer Aspire S7 is available online for around about £1200 which for me is a step too far, you could buy a whole lot of other stuff for that or even a Chromebook Pixel!

  • Martin

    Wow, that is one expensive machine. The keys backlighting not being visible in daylight seems strange, you surely wouldn’t need that, after reading your reasoning that seems like a bad design error, especially on a £1000 device, style over function perhaps? Poor battery life on a device that costs this much is a no-no too. I’ve done a search and the i5 is £999(ish) the i7 version would be £1200 I think. But an i7 in a device like this, as impressive as it sounds would drive the battery life down even more. For that sort of cash I’d buy a proper old school Windows 7 laptop and spend the rest on a Transformer TF300.

    Anyways, good review James, makes me not want to buy one!

    I have a Transformer Prime, it does everything I expect from it. I can play games on it, read emails, watch movies / tv episodes (primary purpose). I don’t use it to work on, the keyboard is very slow to keep up with typing (either the dock or the screen). I didn’t buy it to work on so no biggie, who buys an Android tablet to work on? Yes some websites don’t work properly, I have got round this by having 3 different browsers, if it doesn’t work in one, it’ll work in another, pain in the bum sometimes but I live with it and it doesn’t stress me out. I really do like my Prime, best gadget I have ever bought, EVER! For work I have a Dell Windows 7 laptop which will do me fine till it dies.

    The one thing that really bugs me about the Prime, the poxy charger voltage, it is so difficult to get a ‘good’ spare power unit with the correct voltages. iPad chargers are 10 a flippin penny!

    • James Pearce

      Yeah I’ve still got my Transformer Prime. Haven’t used it in a while, to many Windows 8 tablets to distract me.

  • Dale Wilks

    ‘Windows 8 is a mess’? In what way, James? Then again, your ‘Modern Interface screenshot’ looks like someone has pasted every sort of tile you can get, all over the shop – please don’t try to tell me you *use* all of them? (Says Dale, on a Surface Pro)

    • James Pearce

      Hi Dale
      The screenshot was to emphasise the five rows that’s all.
      Windows 8 is a mess refers to the split personality it has. Just my opinion of course.
      Also I wrote most of this on my Surface RT so it’s not that all that bad.

  • Paul

    Nicely written, with honest points well made.

    Any chance of some photos of the actual ultrabook so we can see exactly what it is you’re reviewing please :)

    • James Pearce

      Hi Paul
      For some reason the entire gallery of images removed itself at some point during the day. Apologies.

  • Harv

    Didn’t you feel the screen was on upside down at the edges? It feels unfinished. The bottom of the machine was nice and beveled..but the screen was stepped..and the wrong way. I had it for 2 days…and had to send it back cos the screen edge bugged me that much when i opened it and closed it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dipstick13 Alwyn Williams

    hi if your not using your transformer prime how about sending it my ha ha