The changes to the Aspire S7 are hardly skin deep, and for good reason. It had a gorgeous design to begin with, and Acer has stuck with it. This is the same aluminum frame wrapping a pearly white plastic and Gorilla Glass encasement. There’s the same aluminum keyboard deck with silver plastic keys, and the laptop’s underside is coated in soft touch plastic, just like it was last year.Subtle adjustments have been made, like the larger power button near the hinge. It’s more prominently placed near the power port – rather than next to the audio jack on the side of last year’s S7 – making it much easier to find. The S7 still maintains a clean, MacBook-like look, with a lot of space between the function keys and hinges.Before we start getting into internals, I should mention that Acer has revisited its cooling solution for the Aspire S7.
It’s kept the dual fans just above the keyboard, but reduced the amount of fan blades and is now running them at 10,000 rpm. Fan noise was a common complaint with last year’s model, that it sounded like a jumbo jet when streaming Netflix or a little Photoshop.These fans suck less power, and while you may not see it on your electric bill, they do make for an incredibly cool and quiet computing experience, which is rare get from an Ultrabook.
Acer bumped up the S7’s 13-inch IPS display to WQHD (2560 x 1440 pixels), and the result is a stunning visual experience.Colors were also vivid; we enjoyed the bright greens of foliage in wide shots and light gray of Steve Rogers’ eyes. Viewing angles were ample, but images washed out a tad when we tilted the screen till it lay completely flat.The S7 packs the same resolution as the Zenbook UX301 (2560 x 1440p), but it’s not as sharp as the MacBook Pro (2560 x 1600p) and the ATIV Book 9 (3200 x 1800p). Registering 276 Lux on our brightness meter, the Aspire S7 is brighter than the ultra-portable average (250 Lux) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (251 Lux) but dimmer than the Zenbook UX301 (368 Lux) and the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display (340 Lux). The 10-point touch screen on the S7 was responsive and sturdy, budging only slightly to our jabbing fingers, thanks to the right hinge. Windows 8 gestures — such as pinch to zoom and swiping back and forth — worked quickly, and we easily swiped in from edges to switch between open apps.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Now, this is a company that understands the importance of a laptop’s keyboard, especially when it comes to a premium machine. Acer even claims to have adjusted the depth of each key’s travel by three tenths of a millimeter.What’s even more interesting is this keyboard’s backlighting. Acer’s electroluminescent backlighting is said to be a gentler, thinner lighting solution for keyboards than LEDs. The result is an aquamarine glow emanating from each key, which the company says produces less bleeding light than LEDs. This might be true, but I’ve noticed some bleed here and there. The sci-fi-like effect that turning on the backlight produces, illuminating the keys slowly and dramatically, is more exciting anyway.As for the touchpad, I’ve had no issues scrolling through web pages, clicking and dragging files or summoning the Windows 8.1 Charms menu. The tracking space is nice and wide, albeit lacking a bit of depth. And it would be nice if Acer centered the touchpad in reference to the keyboard deck – not the space bar.Before moving on, Acer’s goofy key layout won’t get off scot-free. For one, the Caps Lock and Tilde keys are smushed together where otherwise a single Caps Lock key would be. There’s also the Delete key nudged next to the navigation keys, and the function keys superimposed on top of the number keys. A six-row keyboard would be nice, but the trade-off might have been a much hotter laptop.
The Dolby Home Theater speakers on the underside of the Aspire S7 provided booming but tinny sound.You can adjust sound profiles on the S7 with the included Dolby Digital Plus software, which unfortunately is hidden in the desktop file explorer. Digital Plus lets you select from Movie, Music,Game, Voice and two custom audio modes to adjust how your music filters out.Music mode delivered a more enjoyable experience, even on the more nuanced opening music for the “League of Legends” game launcher.On Laptop Mag’s audio test (playing a tone and measuring from 23 inches), the S7 notched 82 decibels, slightly lower than the ultra-portable average (84 db). However, it did outdo the Zenbook (80 dB).
Any other Ultrabook this thin would easily double as a heating pad. Not so with the Aspire S7. Acer has employed an upgraded cooling method with this laptop, dropping the amount of blades in each of its two fans (one for intake, one for output) from 29 to 23. Acer claims that this thermal design grants a boost to battery life.But all I’ve noticed is a much cooler, quieter laptop than most in Intel’s Ultrabook class. So much as an HD video would cause most thin-and-light notebooks to burn up, whereas the Aspire S7 keeps it cool. This is a boon for travelers and couch potatoes alike.
Packing a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200U Haswell CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), the Aspire S7 is a speedy device for daily tasks. We smoothly typed a Google Doc while streaming an episode of “American Dad” on Netflix and installing the “League of Legends” client in the background.On synthetic benchmarks, the S7 delivered above-average results, but fell short of some of its competitors. The Ultrabook’s PCMark 7 score of 4,755 is better than the ultra-portable average (4,033), but not the 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-powered ASUS Zenbook (5,838) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (5,017). The ATIV Book 9 Plus sports the same CPU as the S7, but with 4GB of RAM.The Aspire S7 did better on Geekbench 3, scoring 5,101 to beat the average ultra-portable (4,473) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (5,077). It still trailed the Zenbook (6,862) and the MacBook Pro (6,294). The 128GB SSD in the S7 booted in a mere 6 seconds. That’s less than half the time it took the average ultra-portable (15 seconds), and significantly faster than the MacBook Pro (12 seconds), the Zenbook (12 seconds) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (11 seconds). On Laptop Mag’s File Transfer Test, the new S7 copied 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 26 seconds (196 Mbps), which is significantly better than the average ultra-portable (118 Mbps). Acer’s Ultrabook also beat the Zenbook (127 Mbps) and the ATIV Book (127.2 Mbps), but fell short of the blazing MacBook Pro (299 Mbps). Unfortunately, the S7 trailed its competitors on our OpenOffice Test, matching 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 15 seconds. While that’s almost a minute and a half faster than the average ultra-portable (6:47), it’s slower than the Zenbook (4:05), the ATIV Book (5:13) and the MacBook Pro (5:02).
Graphics and Gaming
Backed by Intel’s HD 4400 graphics chip with 128 MB of dedicated system memory, the new Aspire S7 delivered decent results on graphics benchmark tests. Scoring 33,185 on 3DMark Ice Storm, the laptop beat the average ultra-portable (27,905) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (29,377) but trailed the Intel HD Graphics 5100 (Iris) ASUS Zenbook UX301 (38,338). For more serious gaming, however, the Aspire S7 failed to deliver. When we played “World of Warcraft” at 1366 x 768p resolution and effects set to auto-detect, the S7 averaged 36 fps, just above the ultra-portable category average of 31 fps. While playable, this showing is poorer than its predecessor’s 39 fps and also trails the Zenbook (62 fps), the MacBook Pro (52 fps at 1280 x 800p) and the ATIV Book 9 Plus (54 fps). At its native 2560 x 1440p resolution on auto-detect, the Aspire S7 pushed an unplayable 22 fps.
The Aspire S7 will make the decision over your next laptop a difficult one. Acer isn’t the only manufacturer to jump on the hyper-HD bandwagon without adding the advanced 802.11ac network cards that can help so much for 1440p streaming.At any rate, the Aspire S7 truly feels like a machine built for the now, 2014, and one that you won’t mind using well into 2016, possibly longer. So love the Aspire S7 for its cutting edge build, fine typing experience and premium specs. Lament the lack of next-gen WiFi and lukewarm battery life dragged down by that pixel-dense 2560 x 1440 IPS touchscreen. The 13-inch MacBook Air is more of a scrappy road warrior, but the Acer Aspire S7 is the luxury model, and a smart one at that.