Acer Aspire S7 review: An Ultrabook worthy of the name

The well-made Aspire S7 is thin and light yet sturdy, but try the keyboard before you buy

I'm just as tired of the "Ultrabook" label as anyone, but every now and then along comes a machine that does justice to the category. The Acer Aspire S7 is one of those machines, thanks to some clever design decisions. However, the Aspire S7 also suffers from a few problems that might well be deal-breakers depending on how finicky you are.

It's hard to complain about the Aspire S7 being thin and light -- a mere 0.48 inch thick and 2.29 pounds. Despite the ultrathin chassis, Acer still managed to pack two USB ports, an SD card slot, and a Micro-HDMI plug into the unit. And the Aspire S7 feels sturdy, thanks to an all-aluminum body and a Gorilla Glass display.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Serdar Yegulalp reviews the Acer Iconia W700 " Lenovo X1 Carbon | Dell XPS 12 | Ultrabooks duke it out in InfoWorld's slideshow | Stay ahead of advances in mobile technology with InfoWorld's Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

One way Acer managed to thin out the unit was by reducing the height of the keyboard. The whole keyboard is inset slightly to lower its profile, although this also means each key has a fairly short travel distance. As a result, there's very little tactile feedback when typing on the Aspire S7; it's barely a step above typing on a membrane keyboard. If you prefer a notebook with full-travel keys, this may be a big turnoff. There are no dedicated F keys, either (which I personally don't miss); you have to use the Function key, plus a number.

But many other design decisions are spot-on. The keyboard not only has adjustable backlighting, but an ambient light sensor that automatically flicks on the backlighting and adjusts the display brightness when the room lights are low. Hotkeys let you toggle off the multitouch touchpad to keep it from spuriously registering when you type (although I experienced this problem a lot less often with this model than some others I've used). Best of all, the thermal vents on the Aspire S7 are on the rear of the unit, not the sides or the bottom -- no more Roasted Lap Syndrome.

I complained about the full HD screen on the Acer Iconia W700, but only because of its size. Here, the 1,920-by-1,080, touch-enabled display is a comfortable 13.3 inches. (An 11-inch model is also available.) I ramped up the text pitch to make reading a bit easier, but the default sizing is still comfortable. Included dongles let you plug the system into a standard VGA video display or attach it to a wired Ethernet connection. The latter came in handy when I needed to update the system with a 140MB video driver patch, courtesy of Acer's included Live Updater utility.

I've never been enthusiastic about the amount of software preloaded into commercial PCs, and unfortunately Acer has earned my ire once again. I'm not talking just about the aforementioned updater, or even the Acer-branded utilities (recovery, antitheft), but the presence of apps like Spotify, the Bing Bar, and the WildTangent games pack. At least they can be uninstalled without incident.

The Acer Aspire S7 is a slender yet solid machine that's worthy of the Ultrabook name. The shallow keyboard may be a deal-killer for some users, and it lacks security features (TPM, Intel AT) that business users might desire, but the rest of the Acer Aspire S7 is intelligently put together. 

 

This article, "Acer Aspire S7 review: An Ultrabook worthy of the name," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in computer hardware and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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