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Hands on with Acer's pair of ultrabooks: Aspire S5 and Timeline Ultra

We take a look at the superthin Aspire S5, and the 14- and 15-inch Timeline Ultra at Acer's press conference at CES.

Acer's "world's thinnest ultrabook," the Aspire S5.
James Martin

LAS VEGAS--Today at CES 2012, Acer officially unveiled a poorly kept secret: two new ultrabooks.

Now playing: Watch this: Acer Aspire S5

One is being called the world's thinnest, and the other is an update to the TimelineX series. We got a chance to spend some up-close time with both for some initial impressions of Acer's latest.

The Aspire S5 uses the same numerology as last year's Aspire S3 ultrabook. Unlike that more budget-minded model, the S5 is 15mm thick--2 millimeters thinner than the last year's Aspire S3--weighs less than 3 pounds, and has a sleek Onyx Black magnesium alloy chassis. Its razor-thin design recalls the MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9.

The Aspire S5 should be an Ivy Bridge laptop; its "Q2" launch date and onboard Thunderbolt port certainly point in that direction. The featured ports--HDMI, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt--are tucked away via a MagicFlip port door, which aims to eliminate clutter. The S5's port door is situated on the back, and flips open via a motor at the touch of a button, like a fancy sports car. We've seen port doors on ultrabooks like the Samsung Series 9, but we've never been fond of them. The S5's MagicFlip solution is clever, but we prefer side ports for sheer convenience. Perhaps the rear door might be a solution meant to interface more easily with a future dock.

The Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra Scott Stein/CNET

On the more conventional side, the new Timeline Ultras are 14- and 15-inch ultrabooks, but to the casual eye you'd be hard-pressed to not just call them normal laptops. This series adopts a larger design and features that befit mainstream laptops, including an optical drive and dedicated graphics.

Scott Stein/CNET

That's not all that much different from what we've seen out of thin and light TimelineX laptops in the past several years, but this year they're being formally welcomed into the ultrabook fold, with the possible advantage of better performance and battery life. The Timeline Ultra is 20mm thin, and has the same instant-start features as the Aspire S5.

The Timeline Ultra has a two-spindle design, offering 8 hours of battery life according to Acer.

Both the Aspire S5 and Timeline Ultra support Acer's new "Always Connect Technology," a cloud-based service that's a competitor of sorts to Apple's iCloud. Clear.fi Photo, Clear.fi Media, and AcerCloud Docs are the core services, performing similar types of integrated ecosystem features for photos, videos, music, and documents. In addition, both will have Acer Green Instant On, a fast 1.5-second wake-from-sleep feature.

One important note: at Acer's press conference, Acer promised a "whole new wave" of ultrabooks later this year with Windows 8, possibly making these irrelevant. Will those have different design elements than the Aspire S5 and Timeline Ultra? That's unclear, but it bears watching.

Check in soon for our hands-on video with the Aspire Aspire S5.