Given my new focus on Windows 8 apps and the loss of my MacBook Pro I was in the market for a Windows 8 laptop.
My requirements were that it had a touchscreen display with at least 1080p resolution, fast (i5 or better with an SSD) and very slim. You’d be surprised at how such simple requirements leave you with such a small selection right now.
I settled on the Acer Aspire S7 although I had a couple of reservations as it supports a maximum of 4GB of RAM and a glossy display. Here’s my thoughts so far after two months of almost-daily use:
I picked up the machine from my local Microsoft Store in the mall. The process was quick and painless and I was in and out in under 10 minutes even though the store was rather busy. I did have to decline a free Windows 8 tutorial but otherwise it was plain sailing.
The product was well packed and nicely presented very much like an Apple product. The similarities ended there however as unlike Apple the box included a bunch of items Apple would charge extra for. These were:
- Leather-like slip-cover
- Small Acer-branded Bluetooth mouse
- USB to Ethernet adapter
- Mini-HDMI to VGA adapter
The adapters are very useful, the mouse of no use to me (I only use Logitech G5/G500′s) and the slip-cover I thought would be useful but is a bit unwieldy and it started to break after light use.
Anyone complaining that the machine doesn’t have Ethernet or VGA physically built into the device (I’m looking at you ZDNet) would do well to remember that both those connectors are thicker than this machine and there are plenty of thick klunky machines to choose from if having it built-in is important to you.
There is a good video on YouTube that shows somebody else actually going through the unboxing process.
The tiny 13.3″ display sports almost the same resolution as my 24″ Dell at 1600 x 1080 and at this size and resolution the screen is great. Small text is not unreadable at the regular DPI and larger text feels smooth and refined.
The touch aspect of this screen is incredible and I’m able to reliably move 8 objects concurrently on the game we wrote called Sticker Tales. The display actually supports ten concurrent touch points but at 13.3″ trying to find space for ten fingers to move is tricky unless you have tiny fingers.
That’s not to say everything about the display is good. As usual the gloss finish is incredibly annoying and within a week it has three indentations presumably from being pressed against small specs when closed against the keyboard although I’ve not seen the actual cause. Thankfully you can only spot them when the screen is mostly dark and the display is very bright and colorful.
Unlike some of the current touch-capable machines the screen on this one doesn’t completely flip over. It can however go completely flat… that might erm, be useful… to someone?
The keyboard is a mixed bunch. The basic layout and feel of the keyboard is good and it follows an almost-flush (2mm raised) chiclet style keyboard with back-lighting. Okay, that’s the good news.
The bad news is that there are no function keys so it’s Fn+numbers for those. The back-light comes on every time you bring the machine out of sleep and you have to tap Fn+U several times to get rid of it. There are a bunch of Fn special keys across Q through O the worst of which is Fn+T which is easily hit and turns off the trackpad with no notification. You’ll be incredibly confused the first couple of times you do this when you meant to press Ctrl+T to open a new tab.
Another annoyance for developers and power users is that the home/page up and end/page down are flush with the left and right arrows. Get used to typos. Symbols and the caps/enter keys are also a bit unusual too. Overall the keyboard feels more style over usability.
The trackpad is probably good enough for most people. Frankly my mind is so hard-wired from the hard-button on my pre-unibody Macbook Pro that I’ve been struggling with buttonless trackpads ever since. Thankfully the included software lets you disable some of the more annoying gestures like zoom if you’re having issues retraining your digits.
Weight and size
I have to admit the weight is awesome and despite my reservations after 4 years on a 17″ laptop the size is great. I really wouldn’t want to go any smaller though and when I get my own personal machine (this Aspire is a work one) later this year it will likely be a 15″ primarily because of the keyboard space limitations on a 13.3″ and the fact I don’t want…
Like all sub-15″ ultrabooks you’re stuck with the Intel HD 4000 graphics that are actually embedded inside the Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5/i7 CPU. Yes, even Apple’s 13″ MacBook’s suffer this limitation too.
If you want better graphics performance in an Ultrabook you’re probably going to have to wait until June when Intel’s new replacement for Ivy Bridge comes out and the graphics get ramped again.
This is a great machine for overall regular and light usage but I can’t recommend it to developers.
The lack of function keys mixed with the 4GB RAM limit are going to be painful for users of virtual machines or IDEs. If Acer had sense they would up the RAM on the i7 version to 8GB to further differentiate the two.