The larger of the two big-hitters in the Acer Aspire S7 series Ultrabooks sits here on our desk like a high-powered glass-covered knife, ready to bring the best we've seen in touchscreen-toting Windows 8-optimized notebook action to the market. This machine has been delivered to our doorstep in its most powerful configuration, all $1,649 USD of it - complete with a 3rd Generation (Ivy Bridge) Intel Core i7-3517U Processor clocked in at 1.9GHz. The 13.3-inch display here is a beastly Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution widescreen CineCrystal LED-backlit bit of technology with 10 finger touch and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Now we've got to see if this is enough to match up with that price - or if after all is said and done, the price will be the last of your thoughts in this next-generation experience!
This machine works with a set of two USB 3.0 ports, one micro-HDMI-out port, a combo headphone/mic jack, and a DC-in jack for your power cord. On the right you've got a dual memory card reader for SD and MMC, and also included in the box you've got a couple of adapter cords, one made for VGA output, the other allowing you to use an Ethernet cord (USB to RJ-45). The camera up front is a 1.3 megapixel HD webcam able to pick up 1280 x 1024 for video chat, the battery inside is a 4-cell lithium polymer at 4680mAh, and you've got 4096MB DDR3 dual-channel memory (4GB onboard memory) as well as Intel HD Graphics 4000 to keep that massively dense display high-powered.
This machine works with Optimized Dolby Home Theater v4 audio enhancements with two built-in stereo speakers and high-definition audio support. There's also a built-in digital microphone for use with your video chat adventures, and under the hood you've got a lovely 256GB SSD drive as well. The touchpad is what Acer calls their "ZoomPerfect" unit with single and multi-finger scroll action - that's up to 5 fingers to scroll, pinch, rotate, flip, and the like.
Weighing in at 2.86 lbs / 1.3kg and measuring in at 17.2" W x 3.58" D x 10.67" H (437mm W x 91mm D x 271mm H), you'll find this mix of metal and glass to be a joy to use - and to look at. When you open it and feel the unique edges around the touchscreen as well as the Gorilla Glass top, you'll find yourself dually impressed. This machine is an Acer triumph without a doubt in its hardware build - the aesthetics alone make this easily one of the most beautifully full-looking notebooks on the market - and not just in the Windows 8 category.
The machine folds down to a thinness that's straight up surprising, making it opening it for the first time an experience that may very well have you skipping the pleasantries and kicking your pocketbook out immediately. But you'll want to take heed: there are some drawbacks to such a thin beast with a display that's both touch-capable and incredible sharp, not to mention bright as you could possible want it to be. Battery life - as I'm sure you're wondering about - will betray you if you're expecting to go more than 4 hours at full-blast high-action video streaming and interactive touchscreen gaming.
But if you're a realist and never go anywhere with your notebook computer without a power cord anyway, you're going to have a bit more difficult a time finding reasons not to want this machine. Of course the price is always going to be a factor here in our present when it's above $1,600 USD. That's a massive price for a computer, especially if you only plan on using it to impress your friends and surf the web. That's not what this computer is made for.
Instead you're going to want to focus on what you get for the price. Acer has created a masterpiece for the Windows 8 generation. This is the computer Steve Ballmer should be carrying around to show off what Windows 8 can do - it's that slick.
Peruse the rest of the reviews of this machine as they appear popping up across the web over the next few weeks and see where the low points are - you'll find many folks saying the price is prohibitive while the rest suggest that the battery life in any notebook should be 6 hours or more. First you should know that we've gotten 5+ hours out of the device on multiple heavy-use occasions - great by your average user's standards. Next you'll be glad to hear that standby time for this notebook is undeniably great - Acer assures that with "Acer Hybrid Standby Technology" you'll be able to get 80 days of standby power: that's intense, and we've not seen any evidence yet to suggest they're telling us anything less than the truth there with months of up-time. These "low points" are completely forgivable for what Acer is presenting here in the Autumn of 2012.
The 10-finger touchscreen you're working with here includes some software enhancements - most of them aesthetic - that make your Windows 8 experience the best we've seen thus far. You get tiny momentarily-visible transparent dots wherever you tap the screen, and as you move your fingers around, you get ghostly trails from your fingertips, allowing you to instantly understand how your tips are touching and moving. Having used several touchscreen PCs before the dawn of Windows 8, we can safely say that this is a major leap forward in real-world usability, without a doubt.
Have a peek also at our full Windows 8 review to see exactly what we're dealing with here, with a few additions that include mostly new apps and security measures from Acer. You've got Acer Theft Shield, Acer Cloud, Acer Backup Manager, ePower Management, and eRecovery Management, and a whole lot more. For the most part, Acer's additions to the basic Windows 8 build include connections to their own ecosystem - most of which are entirely positive and worth the effort you'll be using to attach yourself.
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You'll be using your touchpad here in combination with the touch screen, but you'll be able to use one or the other exclusively if you're up for it. There's an on-screen touch keyboard you can use if for some reason you want to move your hands up 4 inches above your perfectly capable physical keyboard, and the touchscreen isn't necessarily required, so to speak, for anything if you don't want to. You also get a Bluetooth mouse with the package if you're feeling like some standard plastic mouse action - it's standard, and certainly usable, but not a whole lot more than that. The physical keyboard also uses the computer's light sensing abilities to keep your eyes happy, with backlighting activating as the atmosphere dims.
If you have trouble with "setting up" your computer, you can refer to the included "Setup Poster" included in the box, or you can use your Wireless Setup Card too - Acer has made the process simpler than ever before here - strange since the process includes no more than a few button taps and maybe even a connection with password to your wireless network. Important point here is that it's simple enough for your parents to do themselves - really!
Have a peek at our standard benchmarking results here with Geekbench and feel the power - it's a top of the line experience whether you're cruising through your newest massively power-hungry game or viewing your favorite HD feature film.
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The speakers on this machine are good enough for a personal computing experience and accurate even up to their loudest positions. Acer isn't messing around with the external speaker sound quality here, with two Acer 3DSonic stereo speakers backed up with sound enhancements by Dolby. The fans on this machine, working with Acer TwinAir cooling technology, can get a bit louder than we'd like to hear on a regular basis. It's not an issue unless you're working with high-powered gaming or hours and hours of streaming video, and the trade-off is a rather pleasant lap experience - we've not felt anything hot going on yet.
Unique Touchscreen Experience
This machine has a hinge that allows it to fold back to 180 degrees - that means you'll be able to go flat against a table, keyboard and touchscreen included. If you've used a machine that folds back further than this, you'll find yourself feeling a bit limited by the flat-stop. If you've only ever used a notebook that folds back to 45 degrees, on the other hand, you'll be surprised by how often you'll want to push that screen back further, and further, and further. The viewing angles on the display are also near-perfect, making any angle look as great as the next (unless you count the high-gloss reflection-intense glass, of course).
This will also be a new experience for those of you used to using a tablet computer exclusively, as it really does combine the notebook and tablet experiences into one. If you've ever found yourself tapping your notebook screen after extensive tablet use, you'll fall right in line with the S7's experience. Windows 8 and the developers optimizing their applications for touchscreen action here in the first Windows 8 wave of app upgrades make this touch-and-tap combination one we're really, truly enjoying. Working with the Aspire S7 will make you want to convert to this new universe - it'll make you want to change and be assimilated.
This machine is Acer's best effort yet. It's an Ultrabook that makes the Windows 8 experience an enjoyable one - and on a personal note, it's the first in many moons that's made certain Apple-exclusive family members of mine think about trying a switch (having seen it at Thanksgiving, of course). You'll certainly have to weigh the benefits of having this top-class machine in your position against the amount of cash you're going to have to dish out since it's certainly not the most budget-minded beast on the market, but after that, it's all smooth sailing.
As with all of our reviews of products large and small, this is not the end of the review - let us know if there's anything else you'd like to know about the machine and we'll do our best to let you know what we know! We'll continue to test this machine into the future and will let you know if anything ground-shattering changes our experience in any grand way - meanwhile feel free ask any and all questions you may have and make requests to your heart's content!