Starting price: £679.99
Since its inception, Apple’s MacBook Air has become the benchmark by which all other ultraportable laptops are measured. We’ve seen a few cracking shots at the throne from the likes of the Samsung Series 9 900X3A, but overall there wasn’t too much competition.
That’s all about to change thanks to Intel’s Ultrabook concept, which sets a number of requirements to ultraportables: ultra-thin (less than 1in), well-performing (Core i3 minimum), well-connected, stylish (and usually metal-clad); in other words, essentially MacBook Airs running Windows. Today we’re looking at the first UltraBook to hit our labs in the form of the Acer Aspire S3. So let’s see how this 13.3in ultraportable holds up.
On paper, things are certainly impressive. The all-metal S3 is made from a combination of aluminium and magnesium, offers specs up to a Core i5 CPU backed by 4GB of RAM and a 240GB SSD, and all the usual niceties such as Bluetooth 4. Perhaps the best news is that prices start at just a penny short of £700.
As with every Ultrabook we’ve seen to date, the S3 is a thing of beauty. Well under an inch thick at its thickest point (17.5mm to be exact), this slim beast will fit neatly in most compartments. You are stuck with the 321mm width and 217mm depth dimensions though, as there is no 11in model in Acer’s Ultrabook line-up. Still, at a mere 1.4kg, it’s not much effort to carry.
The outer shell is made from brushed aluminium, while the inner panels are constructed from magnesium alloy. The latter gives a pleasantly warm and relatively soft surface for your palms to rest on, offering the benefits of plastic (to which it feels very similar) - without the drawbacks.
Only the rubberized black hinge spoils the S3’s clean lines a little, but overall it’s still a darn attractive Ultrabook. Even the keyboard has been given a grey finish, which doesn’t look quite as classy as the black most rivals use, but at the same time blends better with the rest of the chassis.
Build quality is excellent, with no unwanted flex or creak anywhere. Obviously the fitted panels don’t give the same feel of unbreakable solidity as the MacBook Air’s milled unibody chassis, but it’s still up there with the best of the rest. We also like the absence of sharp edges, which are an annoyance with Apple’s laptops.
Connectivity is our first disappointment, and it’s a pretty major one. To keep this laptop looking good from as many sides as possible, Acer has moved most of the connectivity to the rear, meaning you’ll only find a single headphone/microphone combi jack to the left and the SDXC card reader to the right.
This leaves twin USB 2.0 ports and HDMI at the back, and leads to similar issues as with Dell’s recent XPS 14z: it makes USB devices awkward to plug in and exposes them to possible damage when picking the laptop up or putting it down at a slight angle (as many people frequently do). The USB ports are also far too close together.
And it’s not just location we have issues with; it’s frankly astonishing to find a new premium laptop that doesn’t offer USB 3.0, and the connection selection on rivals like the Asus UX31 Ultrabook (USB 2 and 3, HDMI and DisplayPort) really puts the S3 to shame. The only positive for Acer is that its HDMI port is full-size.