Acer Aspire S3 review: Acer Aspire S3

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Typical Price: $1,399.00
3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars 4 user reviews

The Good NAND memory on the motherboard means quick resume times. Decent multi-touch touch pad for Windows.

The Bad The MacBook Air offers better, for cheaper. Power button is fiddly. Screen noticeably wobbles when typing.

The Bottom Line The first ultrabook is a glimpse of what's yet to come. As it stands, though — and we thought we'd never say this about an Apple product — you get more for less money with the MacBook Air.

7.0 Overall

Update: this review has been modified to take into account new information. Specifically, we've confirmed the S3 does contain 20GB of flash memory compared to the earlier thought 16GB.

So, here it is: the first of the "ultrabooks", thinly veiled MacBook Air clones for the Windows crowd. Forgive the direct comparisons; it's hard to think of this new rash of laptops in any other way, given the obvious inspirations.

This one happens to be from Acer, although Asus and Toshiba should follow up shortly. We have no doubt that each will try to out-thin the other, like some sort of perverse fashion model competition.

Acer doesn't quite manage to outdo the Air in this field — at its thickest, it's 17.5mm, half a millimetre thicker than the Air — but we're not too fussed. Interestingly enough, we've found that there comes a point when you stop caring how slim a laptop is, and you start worrying about how heavy it is, or how solid it feels.

In this regard, the Aspire S3 is definitely the Air's inferior. Lift it up by the corner, and you can feel the chassis flex slightly, the lesser rigidity making the S3 feel heavier than it is. It's meant to be magnesium alloy and aluminium, but it feels like cheap plastic.

That's not to say that it's heavy, even if Acer chooses to use the disingenuous "less than 1.4kg", rather than quoting the real weight. We'd figure on 1.399kg, but we don't have scales sensitive enough to verify the hunch.

For a 13.3-inch machine, the available SKUs are priced higher than we'd expect, too, especially considering that the two base models come with a mechanical hard drive.

For a Core i3 1.4GHz machine with a 320GB hard drive, Acer prices it at AU$1199. Upgrade that to a Core i5 1.6GHz, and the price increases to AU$1399. Switch over to a 240GB SSD, and things increase once more to AU$1699. Push that one more time to a Core i7 1.7GHz, and you've hit AU$1999. They all come with 4GB of RAM, Bluetooth and, disappointingly, only 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi.

Acer throws a pair of Toshiba TH58TVG6S2FBA89 toggle NAND chips on-board as well — flash memory cache that helps reduce resume time, and appears as a 20GB SSD to the system. These two chips only account for 16GB of the 20GB — the remaining 4GB chip seemingly out of sight.

The resume reduction isn't noticeable if you've suspended to RAM (that is, powered the machine down briefly), but if you've suspended to disk (left the machine off for an extended time, or the battery has run flat), the time is reduced significantly, from around 25-30 seconds to two seconds. It's a small thing, but welcome.

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