"Easier said than done" is the best phrase I can think of to describe Intel's ultrabook initiative. On paper, the plan seemed simple enough, although manufacturing partners and knowledgeable consumers alike would testify that it was anything but that. The quest to compete with Apple's ultra-thin MacBook Air has faced a number of tradeoffs as hardware manufacturers struggle to find the perfect blend of features while the total price is somewhere around Intel's $ 1,000 goal.
The last few ultrabooks we reviewed were not without its flaws, but both of them sold for less than $ 900. This led me to wonder what kind of product would be possible if Intel's suggested price target of $ 1,000 wasn't a constraint. Could a few hundred dollars on the high end make any difference between a vanilla ultrabook and something really special?
This is something Acer wants to play on with its latest flagship ultrabook. In addition to an accessory package, the S5 equipped with i7 contains a number of innovations designed to make computing easier on the go. Our evaluation unit costs ~ $ 1,250. That's a little more than what Intel would ideally want to spend on you. But in the same way, what is a few hundred dollars more for someone who is already ready to throw a grand piano at a new notebook? A line from planes, trains, and automobiles comes to mind here: "Anyone who would pay $ 50 for a taxi would certainly pay $ 75."
Acer Aspire S5-391-9880 – $ 1,249
- 13.3 "1366×768 TN display with LED backlight
- Intel Core i7-3317U (1.7 – 2.6 GHz)
- Intel HD Graphics 4000
- 4 GB DDR3 RAM
- 2 x 128 GB SSD in RAID 0
- SD / MMC card reader (left)
- Audio jack (right)
- 2 USB 3.0, HDMI, Thunderbolt (rear)
- 802.11b / g / n, Bluetooth 4.0 + HS
- 1.3 megapixel webcam (1280 x 1024)
- Chiclet keyboard (no backlight)
- 3-cell battery with 2310 mAh (6.5 hours)
- 12.80 x 9.85 x 0.59 inches, 2.6 pounds
The S5 has a powerful Core i7-3517U with 1.9 GHz (Turbo Boost up to 3.0 GHz), 4 GB of RAM and 256 GB of flash memory – no hybrid caching system here. The latter hardware upgrade is of particular interest to me, as I have been asking manufacturers to ship portable devices with fast flash-based storage for some time.
In most cases, an SSD is the best component upgrade for any modern system. Acer went one step further, however, as the S5 comes with two 128 GB SSDs in a RAID0 configuration. It goes without saying that the storage subsystem should be lightning fast.
At first glance, the S5 seems like an excellent ultrabook, but on closer inspection we noticed a few shortcomings that we hoped could be avoided at this price point. The keyboard deck, palm rest, and outer lid all appear to be made of brushed aluminum, but unlike some classic ultrabooks that use a unibody aluminum shell, there is a lot of plastic involved. One could argue that a plastic shell reduces weight, but aluminum is a very lightweight building material in itself.
The keyboard is not very flexible, and while the layout is familiar and acceptable, the backlight is noticeably missing on the S5 – again a bit disappointing given the cost of the system. Acer did a good job with the trackpad in terms of placement, size, and responsiveness, although it's worth noting that it's slightly recessed, which can take some time to get used to.
To keep the S5 as slim and slim as possible, Acer implemented a unique solution called MagicFlip, which has a motorized I / O panel that rises from the bottom of the computer and raises the back of the laptop a little when in use. Unsuspecting observers will only find a headphone jack on the right side of the system, the power jack on the back, and a power switch and SD card reader on the left edge. Pressing the MagicFlip button on the right side of the keyboard reveals a full-size HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, and a Thunderbolt port.
The innovative feature gives the AS an extremely slim profile – 0.59 inches to be precise – but it's ultimately little more than a gimmick.
Some of the exhaust vents are built into the retractable access door. This means that the S5 will expand automatically as the system warms up and needs additional cooling. Additionally, having to open the door every time you need to connect an external drive or connect the system to an external monitor can be a hassle. Fortunately, the mechanism is smart enough to tell if you accidentally close the door, if something is plugged in, or if you shut down the computer.
The S5 comes with an at best mediocre 13.3-inch TN panel of 1366 x 768 TN framed by an uninspiring, bulky bezel. At this price, I really expected an IPS display, or at least an improvement in resolution over cheaper ultrabooks. Instead, the S5 comes with a glossy screen that has decent color rendering but terrible viewing angles. Color shifts were particularly noticeable during video playback, where any off-center position resulted in poor image quality. In addition, the lid was not very stiff overall and showed a lot of wobbling when moved with a finger.