Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the Acer S3 Ultrabook must have a high regard for the Apple MacBook Air. As with many ultra thin and light ultrabooks coming to the market, the Acer S3 borrows a lot of design elements from the 13-inch MacBook Air but does it add anything to the form factor? We see how it measures up.
It is hard to skirt around the obvious but a side by side comparison (above) shows how similar the Acer S3 ultrabook is to the MacBook Air. Similar chiclet-style keyboards, large multi-touch trackpads, nearly identical dimensions and screen size (although the MacBook Air's resolution is higher) as well as a mostly metal enclosure.
The Acer S3 is three pounds heavy and half an inch thick. The sleek brushed aluminum exterior looks professional and more expensive than the S 3's $899 price tag might indicate. It feels like a premium device and is one of the better looking notebooks Acer has turned out of late.
With Acer's expertise in smaller netbooks, I wondered why they didn't make an 11 inch variant of te Acer S3 Ultrabook (but the more I thought about it, Intel dictates that Ultrabooks are 13-inch computers), we still think that a $600 or less 11-inch Acer notebook with a similar build, style and finish would have been hugely popular.
Acer's CEO J.T. Wang recently told The Wall Street Journal that his company will stop making "cheap and unprofitable products." The Acer Aspire S3 seems to be a positive step into the right direction.
A low power 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M CPU and 4GB of RAM, none of which are upgradeable are more than enough muscle for most users.
It also features a 20GB solid state drive and a 320GB platter based hard drive (for quick startup and resume) a good comprimise to an all SSD drive.
The amount of storage is generous and larger than what once can get on all solid state SSD drives which are in the 64GB to 256GB range right now and cost considerably more.
For the most part, the Acer S3 is a stunning product but it isn't an all aluminum unibody notebook. The plastic parts of the notebook are mostly on the interior ( most notably the plastic bezel surrounding the screen) detract from the integrated look it is trying to emulate.
Still, everything is solidly put together, construction is laudable.
What I like about the Acer S3 is that it is rounded and smooth on most surfaces, this means some corners and ends arent as sharp as the MacBook Air which some users find a bit uncomfortable after hours of use.
Geared towards road warriors and students, the Acer S3 Ultrabook is a choc full of features that are mostly above average for a notebook in this price point.
It has a second generation Intel Core i5 processor which is clocked at 1.6GHz, which is more than good enough for running Windows 7 and most applications one would need to get through a business or school day.
Rated for 7 hours of battery life on a full charge, we barely managed around 4.5 hours of use which is in line with how these thin and light notebooks usually perform.
The sealed in battery may be a detriment to users who need a whole day's worth of use and who don't have ready access to a power source.
In terms of ports, you get two USB 2.0 and one HDMI video out port which none of the MacBook Airs have (although they have that super-fast Thunderbolt port). You also get a SD Card slot which in convenient but pretty much a given on most notebooks these days.
You can see where Acer saved some money by not using an SSD drive or by adding a backlit keyboard or Bluetooth capability, all of which are present in even the most basic MacBook Airs.
Emulating the features and strengths of a rival product is one thing and we think that, as a first effort, the Acer Aspire S3 does a good job at approximating the PC version of a MacBook Air. But is that all it is?
It is thin light and capable and can satisfy most user's needs. For users who need a gaming machine or something to last more than 4.5 hours on battery life, however, this may not be it.
Acer, it seems, spent all of its time working on the form factor and neglected to add its own innovation or features that set it aside from the competition. It succeeds as a good copy but fails to surpass the template from which it derived its inspiration.
Still, the 13-inch MacBook Air costs $1300 and while it has a slightly more powerful 1.7GHz Core i5 Processor (as opposed to the Acer's 1.6GHz one) the MacBook Air ships with less storage at 128GB. The Acer S3 does cost $400 less.
The Acer S3 might still have the upper hand over the competition and by this we mean all the other PC companies with similar ultrabooks.
The biggest feature here is the price and yes the skinny form factor does limit what you can do or add to the device and we're certain that the next revision will up the ante while maintaining the relatively low price.
Rating: 4 out of 5