|Review: Acer Aspire S3|
Tuesday, 03 April 2012 09:15
Slim, sleek and shiny, the Acer Aspire S3 is the secret agent of notebooks – an ultrabook under cover as a Macbook Air that costs a few grand less.
It also sneakily runs Windows, a relief for those who prefer the Microsoft operating system.
If you're looking for something highly portable that's just a bit flashy, and able to cope with an on-the-go lifestyle, it's perfect. It won't fit into your handbag though, and you'll have difficulty trying to connect it to anything except over wireless – so be warned.
Look and feel
The Aspire S3 is silver with a brushed aluminium frame. It has a 13" display, is 13mm thick and weighs a mere 1.35kg. On the outside it can't be faulted. Inside, the ultrabook is a little less pretty – the chiclet keyboard is reminiscent of a calculator – blocky and (obviously, since the device is so thin) not very deep. Though, all things equal, in the age of the touchscreen this shouldn't be an issue. The glossy HD Acer CineCrystal LED LCD Display looks good in a dark room, but is prone to glare and fingerprints.
Every secret agent has to have a nemesis, and for the S3, it appears to be peripherals. It only has two USB ports – right next to each other, so you're out of luck if one of your drives is on the wider side. It has an HDMI port, but no VGA port. It has a combined headset port for earphones and mic, and no Ethernet port. It's a machine built to be wire free – to run on wireless, access data on the cloud and to access all its other resources remotely (e.g. printer).
That said, it does have a useful 2-in-1 card reader that accepts both SD/SDHC cards and MMC (multimedia cards). If you're able to put your data onto SD card rather than flash drive, that should help somewhat with the port problem.
For such a capable machine, the battery life is unfortunate. The three-cell, 3,280mAh battery Li-polymer only lasts just over 4 hours in use (despite a claimed 6+ hours).
Despite the shallow, cramped, keys, I did not find typing on the keyboard a problem. What I did find interesting was the track pad – a single pad with no visible indication of right/left click mouse buttons. Secret Agent Aspire S3 strikes again. They're there – if you tap on them you can feel them "click" – you just aren't permitted to see them. They're what they call "integrated", you see. Despite the disconcerting lack of clickable keys, this track pad design makes it spacious enough for two-fingered scrolling and pinch zooming – the agent has gimmicks after all.
Fancy finger work isn't the last of the Aspire S3s tricks. It comes with Dolby Home Theatre 4 which means, yes, surround sound. She handles HD video like a pro – though the bundled Windows Media Player on the review unit (running Windows 7 Home) lacked the codecs to handle it, so be aware you'll need to install your own codecs or media player before attempting to play HD. Watching HD video with a pair of earphones, the colour was incredibly sharp, outdone only by the superb quality of the audio. The only problem was the screen. While the 1366×768 resolution LED-backlit display did a great job with the details of the video, the glare on the glossy screen was a constant distraction. A real pity.
The Aspire S3 has a built-in webcam and mic, though the webcam is 1.3-megapixel so not particularly exciting.
With 4GB of RAM and a 1.6Ghz i5 processor, the Aspire S3 can also manage editing video and may even do a good job with gaming. It is by no stretch of the imagination a gaming computer, though. The cramped keyboard layout and the lack of Ethernet port mean that even if the CPU could handle it, the player most probably would not.
Pros: It looks good and performs well, especially considering the price. It’s light to carry and thin to store.
Cons: The short battery life means you’ll spend a lot of time in search of power outlets, the lack of ports (Ethernet and dongle space) means you’re reliant on wireless access.
I say: If you spend a lot of time hanging around airports, the Acer Aspire S3 could be your new best friend. Just bear in mind in many ways she’s more than she appears to be, in many other ways she’s less. Don’t just fall for the sexy exterior and HD effects.
Hard disk: 320GB
Flash memory: 20GB
Processor: Intel Core i5 2467M CPU, OS: Windows 7 Home
Processor speed: 1600 MHz
Graphics card: Intel HD Graphics 3000
Battery: Three-cell, 3,280mAh battery Li-polymer (4.5 hours)
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