Acer Aspire S7-391 Ultrabook review

Reviews Mark Pickavance Mar 19, 2013

Mark discovers the Acer S7 Series and immediately wants one

I nearly didn’t review this equipment, assuming at first that it was just a variant of the Acer Aspire S3-391. It might have a similar code, but this is a very different computer from the S3, and it's a dramatically more spectacular device.

The S7 series is a poster-boy for Windows 8, showing exactly what Microsoft was looking for when it imagined its target hardware. Acer made it remarkably thin, light, powerful and stylish, just like Microsoft wanted.

The review S7 system had a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU, 256GB SSD, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a stunning 1080p ten-point touch-sensitive display. Yet, the whole system is just 11.9mm thick and weighs a modest 1.3kg. As if to highlight the narrow profile, Acer provides a leather slim carry cover that looks like it should hold a dozen sheets of paper. While this accessory is very elegant, the cover doesn't have room for the power supply or mouse, so the minimalist sophistication lacks a degree of practicality.

Another downside of it being so thin is that Acer has cut a few corners to fit a powerful system inside the svelte aluminium Ultrabook shell. There’s no optical drive, no easy upgrades, no LAN port, and no VGA or DVI outputs.
In mitigation, Acer has included a USB 3.0 to Ethernet adapter, and a micro-HDMI port with cable to convert to full size HDMI. There are only two USB ports, so using one for the LAN reduces you to one, unless you have a USB 3.0 hub.

Windows 8 Pro comes pre-installed, as you might expect, with the usual offer to add Microsoft Office if you open your wallet wide enough. It's the 64-bit edition, even if the amount of RAM in the computer isn't enough to justify using it over the 32-bit version of Windows 8.

After I'd stopped swooning at the amazing viewing angles of the CineCrystal screen, the exceptional six-hour battery life and the other wonderments, I started to use the S7 in earnest and found it wasn't the faultless experience I'd hoped for.

The lack of better than Intel HD 4000 video hardware in a system this expensive was marginally shocking, but the real disappointment was the poor hardware/OS combination. Curiously, while Windows 8 works well with the touch screen, Acer also provided a touch-pad and a mouse. It wasn't long before I worked out why it provided those: it's due to the high quality of the display.

A very high 1080p resolution panel makes Window icons and controls remarkably small - at least a third the width of a typical finger tip. Because of this you can use the touch interface until you enter an application, and then you're forced to either deploy the mouse or touchpad.

This inconvenience is a Microsoft made one, along with Metro apps that are difficult to dismiss, and that then slow the system down. There's a general lack of coherent thinking that flows throughout the entire user experience. When you have a keyboard, it's irritating to have the touch keyboard occupy half the screen, although this regularly happens! This can probably be configured away, but it's the default setting.

Many of these usability issues are of Microsoft's making, so I can't entirely blame Acer, but it's not a great experience considering that this computer was built specifically to showcase Windows 8. As I've seen similar complaints about Microsoft's Surface Pro, one can only conclude the common component here is Windows 8.
However, not everything wrong can be blamed on Windows 8; some tactical choices are patently Acer's mistakes.

An obvious one is that it chose not to allow the screen hinge to rotate back on the body so that you could use the system as a pure tablet. Another is the grey stencilled colour on silver key tops, a combination that makes it difficult to read them in almost all lighting conditions. The keyboard isn't great, though I've yet to try an Ultrabook one that's half decent. The devil is in the detail, and he's been very busy of late it seems.

The last problem, as always with something so beautifully made, is the price. You can get a Core i5 version for about £1,000, but that is still a major chunk of change. For entirely personal reasons, I wish it weren't so expensive, but wanting to pay less is probably unrealistic considering what hardware Acer has packed in here. I'd still love to own one, but clearly for many reasons the S7 isn't the tour de force it should have been.

Details:

• Price: £1199.95 (John Lewis)
• Manufacturer: Acer
• Website: www.acer.co.uk/
• Model No: S7-391-73514G25aws

Specifications:

13.3" Multi-Touch FHD Acer CineCrystal LCD
Intel Core i7-3517U
4GB DDR3 RAM
256GB SSD
2in1 card reader
Acer Nplify 802.11a/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
4-Cell Li-Polymer battery
Acer Crystal Eye HD webcam
2x USB3.0 Slots
Windows 8

Scores:

Quality: 8/10
Value: 5/10
Overall: 7/10