A funny thing happened in the mad rush to adopt hip new tablets: People realized they still needed a PC. Mobile apps are certainly fun and handy, and an impossibly thin and light device with a touch screen is convenient to have around. But business buyers still need a laptop to run critical applications, not to mention a real keyboard to get work done. But what if you could combine the thin-and-light attributes of a tablet with the form and function of a laptop?
That's the idea behind the Acer Aspire S7 UltraBook. Available in models with either an 11.6-inch or 13.3-inch HD touch screen, the Aspire S7 is less than half an inch thick—as thin as some tablets—and incredibly light. The 11.6-inch model weighs a mere 2.3 pounds, while stepping up to the larger screen increases your burden to just 2.8 pounds. Raw numbers don't do the Aspire S7 justice, though; to truly appreciate how svelte it is you have to hold it. We got our hands on the 13.3-inch model, and at first touch it's hard to believe this is a full-sized laptop.
Cutting-edge Ultrabook Design
Acer says it hit the aggressive size and weight design goals through a combination of advanced materials and new manufacturing techniques. The body of the Aspire S7 is created from a single piece of aluminum, and depending on the model, the lid is either aluminum or high-strength Gorilla Glass (the same material used for popular smartphones). The sleek white-and-silver Aspire S7-391 we tested sports a modern, minimalist aesthetic that looks as good as anything from Apple.
Figure 1: The Acer Aspire S7 UltraBook
But light weight and sharp looks aren't the only things the design has going for it; the Aspire S7 also has a few tricks up its sleeve. Most notably, the hinge on the S7-391 allows the lid to open a full 180 degrees. That means you can have the laptop opened flat on a table to better share the touch screen with others. It's ideal, for example, for a real estate agent sitting with clients across a desk— everyone can view the screen as she flicks through property photos. The hinge also features a "dual-torque" design that provides enough resistance in the open position to eliminate bouncing or wobbling as you touch the screen in its upright position.
The S7-391's full-size, light-touch keyboard makes typing almost effortless. We also appreciate the subtle backlight for the keyboard that makes discerning the characters etched into the key tops easy even in a dark room. And unlike many UltraBooks, which make do with tiny touch pads to match their diminutive size, the S7-391 sports an oversize one-piece touch pad for controlling the mouse pointer. And if you prefer to move the cursor the old fashioned way, Acer includes a compact wireless travel mouse in a coordinating white color scheme.
Of course, Acer made some design tradeoffs to get the laptop down to its size and weight. For example, the Aspire S7's razor-thin sides of leave limited room for connectivity ports. You will find two high-speed USB 3.0 ports and a memory card slot on the right edge and a headphone jack on the left, but the mini-HDMI port (for attaching an external TV) requires an adapter to connect to full-size HDMI connectors. Also, there is scant room for other ports, so Acer included both a USB-to-LAN adapter for wired Ethernet connectivity and a mini-HDMI-to-VGA adapter for attaching VGA peripherals such as projectors.
And, as is common among UltraBooks, the machine's battery comes sealed inside the case. You can't remove it and swap in a spare battery if you are away from AC power all day. Fortunately, the main battery delivers up to 12 hours of runtime per charge (depending on model and usage), and Acer offers secondary external battery packs to extend that even further.