The Bottom Line
Sep 4 2012 - With its $1400 price tag, the Acer Aspire S5 is certainly aiming to be a premium level of ultrabook design and it does succeed quite well in some areas such as its performance and thin and light profile. The problem is that there are a number of gimmicks and shortcuts that make it a less than outstanding choice for a high end ultrabook. For instance, the full size USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports are nice for the thin profile but it is hidden behind a motorized panel on the back that is annoying to deal with. In addition, the premium price does not give it a display any better than a laptop that costs roughly half of this. The result is something that had great potential but failed to make it because of a few big missteps.
- Strong Performance
- One Of The Thinnest Ultrabooks Available
- Thunderbolt Port
- Lackluster Display
- Below Average Battery Life
- Annoying Port Cover Mechanism
- Intel Core i7-3517U Dual Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB PC3-12800 DDR3 Memory
- Two 128GB Solid State Drives In RAID0 Array
- 13.3" WXGA (1366x768) Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- Intel HD Graphics 4000 Integrated Graphics
- 802.11a/g/n Wireles, Bluetooth
- Two USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, One HDMI, 5-in-1 Card Reader
- 12.8" x 9" x .6" @ 2.7 lbs.
- Windows 7 Home Premium, Office Starter
Review - Acer Aspire S5-391-9880
Sep 4 2012 - Acer's Aspire S5 is the company's new premium second generation ultrabook design with a higher $1400 price tag compared to the roughly $1000 for its Aspire S3. In terms of build quality, it is a step up from the Aspire S3 but is no where near what has been seen from Apple, Lenovo or Samsung in their premium ultrathin designs. For instance, while there is aluminum on the exterior of the system, the keyboard deck uses plastic which is probably done to also keep its weight low at 2.7 lbs. The profile though is very thin at .6-inches which is less than even the MacBook Air 13 but it doesn't have that extreme taper down to the very narrow front edge.
Acer is certainly looking to offer performance thanks to the Intel Core i7-3517U dual core mobile processor for the Aspire S5-391-9880. This is the highest level of the ultralow voltage processors for ultrabook designs. This combined with 4GB of DDR3 memory provides a very smooth experience within Windows. The only downside is that the memory does slow it down a bit when there are a large number of applications options. In addition, the processor does not offer the same high level performance for tasks such as desktop video that a traditional laptop. Still, it does offer some superb performance for the majority of computer users.
For the storage, Acer uses two 128GB solid state drives in a RAID 0 array to provide 256GB of total space that for this price range of ultrabook. What this does is help boost the performance of the system such that it is able to achieve boot times between 10 and 15 seconds. Most users probably won't the difference though when it comes to loading applications or data. If you do require additional storage space, there are two USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port available on the back to connect to high speed external drives. It should be noted that these ports along with the HDMI connect are hidden under a special port hatch. The problem is you have to press a button to allow the hatch to fold down for several seconds before you can use it. This is more annoying than if it just had a standard port cover or just exposed ports. The reason is that with the port cover closed, it has a thin .6-inch profile but open it expands to nearly an inch thick.
While the Aspire S5 carries a pretty hefty price tag, the display is not one of the features that seemed to benefit from it. The 13.3-inch display panel is something more akin to a budget class ultrabook thanks to the TN panel with its 1366x768 resolution. This is lower than the Apple MacBook Air 13 at 1440x900 or the ASUS ZenBook Prime UX31A at 1920x1080 both of which also have better color and viewing angles. Driving the display is the Intel HD Graphics 4000 from the new Ivy Bridge processors. This updated processor adds improved 3D performance but still can only really be used for PC gaming of older games at modest resolutions and detail levels. What it does offer though is superb video transcoding ability with Quick Sync compatible applications.
The keyboard design of the Acer Aspire S5 uses the standard isolated layout that is typical of many laptops now. While the isolated design tends to provide a more accurate layout, Acer has left a fair amount of space on both the left and right side of the keyboard that makes the keyboard more cramped than it should be. In addition, the keys have a very short travel that results in a feel that is certainly not as good as many other companies like Apple, HP, Lenovo or Samsung. The trackpad uses an integrated button design but has a nice large surface area. Even with its large size, it does an excellent job of managing accidental touches from the palms while typing yet had accurate cursor response when in use.
Acer provides a three cell internal battery pack with the Aspire S5 which the company claims can offer up to six and a half hours. It should be noted that this is less than the eight hours or more than many of the competing 13-inch ultrabooks in this price range offer. In video playback testing, the laptop was able to run for just under four and a half hours before going into standby mode. This is disappointing and falls short of what some of the other 13-inch ultrabooks provide. It certainly is much lower than the six hour running time of the Apple MacBook Air 13 or the HP Folio 13.