Going ultra with Acer
Writer: Edwin Yap
Published: Fri, 23 Dec 2011
What will they think of next? I mean, first we had desktops. Then came laptops, notebooks and netbooks.
Yes, the terms continue, but essentially, computer vendors are trying to introduce new products to keep consumers coming back for more. But to do that, they would have to find new unique selling points, and the latest trend to hit us consumers is the ultrabook.
Essentially a very lightweight laptop with enhanced battery life but not compromising on processing power as netbooks did, the ultrabook is designed with mobility and long-lasting battery life in mind – hence the term “ultra.”
Another distinguishing feature of ultrabooks is that they all have at least one model that uses solid-state drives, or SSDs for shot. SSDs are basically large flash drives, akin to your thumb drives, usually having at least 64GB, or 128GB of space.
Arguably the first ultrabook to hit the market was Apple’s MacBook Air, which arrived about two years ago.
Since then, Windows-based machines have all come out with their variants and all the usual suspects are there – Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba, Asus, HP, Dell.
So last month, I got me an Acer Aspire S3 on loan for a test drive, and here’s what I think of it.
Good start for Acer
Out of the box, the S3 felt solidly built and at the same time quite light. Weighing about 1.4kg and only 13mm thick, the S3 was quite a joy to carry around.
The overall feel of the S3 was good, and I liked the feel of my fingers wrapping the brushed aluminium as I carried it around.
You will find the S3 a very minimalist design, especially on the sides of the machine. On the left hand side is where you’ll find the headphone and mic jacks; on the right hand side, the SD Slot.
Most of the ports have been placed at the back, and that includes the CPU air vent, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI out, and the AC socket for charging. I was a tad disappointed that the S3 didn’t include the newer USB 3.0 standards that boast of higher transfer speeds, which its rivals like Toshiba and Lenovo have.
The unit I had was unfortunately not the model with the SSD but a hard-disk variant. Thus, booting up took a lot longer than I would have expected on the model with an SSD, which would have typically taken 20-30 seconds. Nonetheless, it only took about one minute to boot up, and I was up and running immediately after.
Setting up the S3 was pretty straightforward, thanks to a much-improved Windows 7 operating system bundled with it. I was able to set up wireless network and connect to my home network in under five minutes. Once that was done, I could easily browse the internet while having access to my network files to watch videos.
Next up was to test the battery life. I took the S3 along with me and generally speaking was able to get up to four hours of battery life. I had expected better from an ultrabook as I wasn’t doing anything significantly taxing on the battery.
But I was told that the unit I had was not a fully optimised commercial unit, so that may have played a part in its performance.
One area I did feel a little disappointed in was the keyboard. While the layout was big enough to accommodate typing comfortably, I did find the tactile feel of the individual keys somewhat tacky and unresponsive at times. Compared with my Logitech Bluetooth keyboard that I use with my tablet, it fell short.
Other test I conducted on the S3 were video and audio playback, productivity stuff, browsing, and a few games. All in all, the S3 performed well on the usual activities.
The S3 screen was pretty good and it performed well generally under bright lights as well as dim situations. Equipped with a standard 1366x768 resolution, the S3’s 13.3-inch display is quite standard for a screen this size, although the MacBook Air’s resolution is higher.
High-definition videos generally played well on the S3, even with different viewing angles. Sound on the S3 was also good, but curiously enough, the speakers were placed at the bottom of the device rather than on the sides or front, which I felt impaired the overall quality.
One of the better selling points of the S3 is that it claims to be able to “wake up” from sleep in two seconds, a technology called “Acer Green Instant On.” Tests suggest that this was indeed achievable, provided the machine hasn’t slept for more than 30 minutes. This was a welcome change from older Windows-based laptops, which typically takes much longer to wake up from sleep state.
At the end of the day, I would say that this is a very decent effort by Acer to get out its first ultrabook into the market. It has nice design curves, seems solidly built, and has some potential to be a good machine, especially at RM2,599 for the hard-disk model I tested.
But for me, the lack of tactile keyboard feel and battery life are something of a miss. Also, I believe it’s fair to note that rival brands will also be out in full force over the next few months with their ultrabook variants (such as Toshiba and Lenovo, both of which have since launched their products since this review).
Still, for those in the market for something light and fuss-free, the Acer Aspire S3 could still be your choice.
For more information, visit www.acer.com.my or call Acer Product Infoline at 1800-88-1288 (9am-6pm Mondays to Fridays).