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Acer Aspire S3 review

Verdict

Despite being one of the cheapest Ultrabooks on the market, Acer's Aspire S3 is a solid, unshowy performer with serious low-budget appeal

Review Date: 12 Mar 2012

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £563 (£676 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £795
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
3 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

We first clapped eyes on Acer’s Aspire S3 back at the IFA 2011 trade show in Berlin. Given we’d already seen much of the competition, and been suitably impressed, Acer’s Ultrabook didn’t quite have the wow factor to match. Until, that is, Acer mentioned the price.

At £676 inc VAT for the entry-level model here, the Aspire S3 is one of the cheapest Ultrabooks on the market, and since our time with those pre-production models, it looks as if Acer has been busy applying the spit and polish.

It isn’t quite as stunning to look at as Asus’ Zenbooks, but the Aspire S3 is still a bit of a looker. It’s pleasingly understated, with the chassis tapering to a curve around the edges of the brushed-metal lid, and matte silver spreading across the rest of the chassis. Push, twist and prod at the Acer and there’s a tiny bit of give in the base and a little more in the display above, but nothing serious. Compared to the wafer-thin Toshiba Portégé Z830, the 1.37kg Acer exudes a far more rugged air.

Acer Aspire S3

A quick scan through the Aspire S3’s specifications reveals exactly how Acer has squeezed so much into such a tiny budget. The Intel Core i5-2467M processor is no surprise, and neither is the 4GB of memory, but Acer has had to tweak the storage setup. Instead of a single large SSD, there’s a mechanical 320GB hard disk and a smaller 20GB SSD. It’s a sensible compromise, with the SSD used only for hibernation data – it isn’t accessible as storage – and the traditional hard disk providing plenty of room for movies, music and games. If you’re desperate for a proper SSD, you’ll have to shell out for the top-of-the-range model, which costs £1,099 inc VAT.

The lack of a large SSD doesn’t impair performance as much as you might expect. With a score of 0.55 in our Real World Benchmarks, the Acer is neck and neck with the Asus Zenbook UX21. Given the only difference is the Asus’ SSD, it goes to show how little difference an SSD makes to overall application performance. Subjectively, the Acer certainly doesn’t feel quite as zippy as Asus’ Zenbook UX31 – applications take a touch longer to load, and it doesn’t wake from sleep as promptly as its rivals – but, given the price difference, the tangible differences are minor.

Acer Aspire S3

Acer has economised more drastically on the Aspire S3’s battery. With only 5hrs 56mins in our light-use battery test, the Acer lags significantly behind the longest lasting Ultrabooks.

While it’s easy to cut the Aspire S3 a little slack in the performance stakes, the keyboard doesn’t put us in such a forgiving mood. Our first quibble is due to the ridiculously small cursor keys. Not only are these woe-inducingly fiddly to use, but the decision to shove the Page Up and Page Down keys hard against the left and right cursor keys left us regularly diving up and down the pages of Word documents and web pages. Only those with the tiniest of fingers will find otherwise.

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