Acer Aspire S5 review

Acer Aspire S5 review

Summary: The Aspire S5 is an exceptionally slim, light and stylish ultrabook. However, it's also expensive: to blow us away, it needs a better screen, an Ethernet port and longer battery life — and a lower price.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.9
  • User rating:
    4.8
  • RRP:
    £958.32

Pros

  • Small, light, stylish
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Thunderbolt port
  • Ports on clever drop-down MagicFlip system

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Moderate-quality display
  • Disappointing battery life
  • No Ethernet port
  • MagicFlip system is a potential point of failure

Acer's new 13.3in. Aspire S5 ultrabook pushes the super-light, super-slim notebook format close to its current zenith in design terms. The system's innards are pretty impressive too, with new Intel Ivy Bridge processors across the range. But does it deliver enough to justify the high price, which ranges from £999 to £1,249.99 (inc. VAT; £832.50-£1,041.66 ex. VAT)?

Design
We defy anyone to glance at the Aspire S5 and not be drawn in by its sleek, slim appearance. At 1.5cm thick, 32.4cm wide and 22.7cm deep it's not far off tablet sized. Only slightly thicker than the 0.94cm iPad and a good match for the 13-inch MacBook Air's 32.5cm by 22.7cm by 1.7cm, it's clear which market segments Acer is targeting.

Acer Aspire S5
Acer's 13.3in. Aspire S5 is just 1.5cm thick and weighs 1.2kg.

The all-black chassis is somewhat undermined by Acer's large silver branding on the lid — the company could perhaps have toned it down here for maximum effect. We like the way the chassis tapers to a point at the front, though, and how the lid section forms a slightly overhanging lip that makes it easy to open the notebook up.

The base and lid are weighted so that you have to anchor the base onto a table when opening the device, but that's not uncommon. The Aspire S5 weighs 1.2kg, making it light enough for most people to carry easily. By way of comparison, Apple's MacBook Air weighs 1.35kg.

The build is quite solid: there's some flex in the lid, and we wouldn't want to stand heavy objects or piles of books on top of the Aspire S5 when it's closed on a desk, but we've seen worse.

There's a very interesting design feature called MagicFlip, controlled by a slightly raised button to the upper right of the keyboard. Press this and a section at the back of the notebook emerges, accompanied by a mechanical grinding sound from its motor. The keyboard is then raised at a slight angle, and one HDMI, two USB 3.0 and one Thunderbolt port are accessible in the newly-revealed section:

Acer Aspire S5
A button above the keyboard activates the motorised MagicFlip system, which drops down to reveal an HDMI port, a pair of USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt connector.

When you close the lid the MagicFlip shuts itself automatically with another whirr. The mechanism is rather loud, and you won't get any thanks for activating it in a library or other quiet environment.

It's great to see Thunderbolt make an appearance here, and there's no doubt that the MagicFlip idea delivers a 'wow' factor. But we're not convinced it's a good idea. What if the mechanics or the button break? The MagicFlip will then be stuck either open or — worse — closed.

We also aren't too happy with the main ports being on the back of the chassis. They're not very accessible here — you either have to walk round the desk, turn the Aspire S5 around or lift the notebook to use them. Side-mounted ports are far more ergonomic.

The remaining ports and connectors are an SD/MMC-compatible card reader on the left edge and a headset/microphone combo jack on the right. The power switch is on the left, and the power socket is at the back.

The isolation-style keyboard is comfortable to use at full touch-typing speeds. It's well made and very responsive under the fingers, although heavy-handed typists may notice some flex. The cursor keys are small, and include embedded volume and screen brightness controls.

Acer Aspire S5
The Aspire S5 has a high-quality isolation-style keyboard and a large buttonless multitouch touchpad.

The touchpad is relatively large, which has its good and bad points. One the one hand it's easy to sweep the cursor around the screen, and there's plenty of room for two-finger gesture controls. However, it's also easy to accidentally tap or sweep the touchpad when typing. Although it can be disabled with an Fn key combination, we'd prefer a dedicated key near the touchpad for this task. The touchpad has a buttonless design that we don't generally like, but it works well enough in this case.

The S5's 13.3in. 'CineCrystal' screen has a reflective finish that makes it good for video viewing, but less suitable for working in bright lighting. Viewing angles aren't great, especially on the vertical plane. The LED-backlit TFT's resolution is the standard 1,366 by 768 pixels.

Features
There are three models of the Acer Aspire S5 currently available in the UK. The entry-level model costs £999 (inc. VAT; £832.50 ex. VAT), the mid-range unit reviewed here costs £1,149.99 (inc. VAT; £958.32 ex. VAT) while the flagship system comes in at £1249.99 (inc. VAT; £1,041.66 ex. VAT). All of these systems run Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, the key differences relating to processor and storage.

Our mid-range review sample had a dual-core 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317UM processor, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The entry-level model has the same processor/RAM combination, but a smaller 128GB SSD. The top-end model has a 256GB SSD and 4GB of RAM, but a faster 1.9GHz Intel i7-3517U CPU.

All three S5 models have integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPUs, dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0. There's no wired Ethernet port though, which may put off some business users. A 1.3-megapixel HD webcam that can shoot stills at resolutions up to 1,280 by 720 pixels is mounted in the usual location above the screen.

The Aspire S5 comes with a fair amount of bundled software — a bit too much in our view. You get Microsoft Office 2010 Starter and the inevitable security software trial in the shape of McAfee Internet Security. Skype and Evernote are included, along with a free trial of Norton Online Backup, plus links to eBay and Netflix. And that's not listing everything.

Performance & battery life
The Aspire S5's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 5.8 (out of 7.9) hides a 'perfect' store of 7.9 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) — a sign that the 256GB SSD and Core i5 CPU work extremely well together.

The lowest (WEI-defining) score of 5.8 is for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero), the remaining numbers being 5.9 for RAM (Memory operations per second), 6.4 for Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) and 6.9 for Processor (calculations per second).

Overall, the Aspire S5 is an impressive performer that should cope with a range of workloads, although the integrated GPU may struggle with demanding graphical applications.

Acer suggests that the S5's 4-cell 2,310mAh lithium-polymer battery will last for up to 6.5 hours from a full charge. You'll probably have to rein back your usage pattern and adopt some pretty draconian power management settings to get that sort of longevity though: in our tests, the notebook managed video playback from a USB stick for around 4.75 hours, which is hardly stunning for a system designed specifically for portability.

We also noticed that the fan got rather noisy. The vents are on the back of the chassis: the main vent strip sits above the MagicFlip, which when opened reveals two additional vent strips.

Conclusion
The Core i5-based Aspire S5 model reviewed here performs well, booting quickly and loading applications without undue delay. It's an exceptionally slim, light and stylish ultrabook, and the MagicFlip system is clever. However, it's also expensive and we're not sure you get enough value for money. To blow us away, it needs a higher-resolution screen (or at least better viewing angles on the existing display), an Ethernet port and longer battery life.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 32.4 x 1.5 x 22.7 cm
Manufacturer's specification http://www.acer.co.uk/ac/en/GB/content/models/aspires5
Case form factor clamshell
Weight 1.2 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Software included Office 2010 Starter, McAfee Internet Security (trial), Skype, Evernote, Norton Online Backup (trial)
Chipset & memory
Chipset Intel HM77 Express
RAM installed 4096 MB
Number of memory slots 1
RAM capacity 4 GB
Video
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4000
GPU type integrated
Video connections HDMI
Display
Display technology TFT (active matrix)
Display size 13.3 in
Native resolution 1366x768 pixels
Connections
USB 2 x USB 3.0
Flash card SD/MMC-compatible
Thunderbolt 1
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Bluetooth 4.0
Input
Pointing devices buttonless multitouch touchpad
Keyboard isolation-style
Camera
Main camera front
Main camera resolution 1.3 megapixels
Audio
Audio connectors microphone/headphone combo
Speakers stereo
Microphone yes
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter (65W)
Battery
Battery technology lithium-polymer (4-cell)
Battery capacity 2310 mAh
Estimated battery life (mfr) 6.5 h
Number of batteries supplied 1
Number of batteries supported 1
Removable battery No
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.7 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Core i5-3317UM
Solid-state drive
Interface SATA III
Capacity 256 GB
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Prices

There are currently no prices available for this product.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Reviews

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5 comments
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  • Not bad at all

    5.0

    As a laptop owner, I usually focused on the specs, since the review tell it all I guess it is an average laptop. Come on we tend to use our laptop in a longer hours, and having a laptop with short time is not a so good, and also there is no Ethernet port. I guess this laptop is for those who are not into docu-save. Overall I'm hoping acer would build something light yet can carries good features.
    laptopaid01
    • Nice, very nice

      8.0

      I got this laptop yesterday. I was in the market for an Ultrabook with all-SSD storage, which, it turns out, narrows down the options quite a bit. It turns out that most Ultrabooks have regular spinning drives for mass storage, plus a small SSD for quick booting, etc.

      One unique feature is the "I/O door". Basically, during normal use, the USB, etc. ports are hidden. You press a button on the top-right area of the keyboard and a little motor activates and sort of extrudes the ports. The whole back of the laptop lifts a quarter inch or so. I didn't even know about the I/O door before I opened the package, so it wasn't a selling point for me. Seems like a decent idea--the ports should get less gunked up if they're hidden during normal unplugged use and when it's sitting in a bag.

      Pros:
      - Very fast.
      - Very nice screen.
      - Boots hella fast.
      - All SSD storage, and enough of it for this to be your primary computer (256GB)
      - Good power consumption, although I haven't really tested it yet. It lasted several hours last night, and it was downloading gigabytes of updates and email the whole time.
      - Light (just over 2.5 pounds)
      - Thin
      - Comes with an HDMI-to-VGA adapter for older monitors

      Cons:
      - Fan is somewhat noisy and runs most of the time. I guess that's what you get with so much awesome inside, but I feel like the cooling could be better designed.
      - I/O door is noisy. Not a big deal, but it surprised me the first time I opened it. If you have pets, they might freak out.
      - Could be a little sturdier. I was coming from a MacBook Pro, which was really solid. I don't expect problems with this, but you can tell it's made a little more cheaply.

      *More profit on this laptop check out my blog: ultrabookdeals2k12.blogspot.com/p/acer-aspire-s5.html
      MRuppert09
  • Not good enought for that money

    5.0

    I found myself not ready to buy expensive laptop with disappointing battery life, but i like the design.
    djohn017
  • Lemom

    1.0

    I have been a long time supporter of Acer.
    I purchased the i7 s5 a few days ago in the usa. When I booted up for the first time there was a small burnt out spot/pixel on the screen...very small but noticable. I contacted Acer and the reply was that less than 6 burnt out pixels is acceptable/expected and they would not do anything about it. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? To top it off after a few days of use there is a terrible sound coming from the computer....I am assuming a broken fan.....and it is more than just the noise described in the review.
    ben_looby
  • Acer Aspire S5

    5.0

    Acer Aspire S5 battery life sucks - only 1 hour and 50 mins for a new purchase. Forget about those reviews of 6 hours... Singapore Acer Customer Service also don't bother to reply and their answers are like reading from a script. Try harder Acer, you haven't improve in customer service over the years. Thumbs up for Apple and HP
    Jason Ong