With an already stunning design from last year, most of the improvements Acer made to this year's Aspire S7 come under the hood. This year's model bears the same luxurious white glass aesthetics from last year, but Acer gave the S7 a speed boost with the latest generation of Intel Core processor and integrated Intel HD graphics.
The Aspire S7 takes on a more minimalist, and less gaudy, design than the faux-leather cover on last year's Samsung Ativ Book 9, a decision that Samsung has since abandoned for a more simple metallic finish on this year's iteration.
Fashionable, luxurious and chic are a few adjectives that I would use to describe the Aspire S7's glass design. The white finish and aluminum trim makes the Ultrabook unique in the Ultrabook market, appealing to those who prefer white electronics given that most laptops today come in silver or black, and Apple has since abandoned the color option on the discontinued plastic MacBook.
With a 12.72 x 8.78-inch (32.31 x 22.30cm) footprint and a uniformly slim 0.51-inch (1.30cm) frame, the Aspire S7 comes in at 2.87 pounds (1.30kg). This means that the Aspire will occupy slightly more real estate on your desk compared to the smaller 12.35 x 8.62-inch (31.37cm x 21.89cm) footprint of the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display ($1,299, £833, AU$1,766), but the MacBook is thicker at 0.71 inches (1.80cm) and weighs more at 3.48 pounds (1.58kg). With Apple's option, you'll gain a higher resolution display, but lose the Aspire's touchscreen.
Neither notebook is as light as the Lenovo LaVie Z ($1,499 US-only, but about £952, AU$1,936), which comes in at just 1.87 pounds (0.85kg), giving it the title of the lightest laptop in the world.
Dell's XPS 13 ($799, £512, AU$1,086) with its bezel-less infinity display screen takes up even less desk space with its compact 11.04 x 7.74-inch (28.04 x 19.66cm) footprint. The XPS 13 has a similar thickness as the Aspire, but appears slimmer with its tapered design, similar to the Apple MacBook Air ($999, £640, AU$1,358).
The white lid of the Aspire S7 is very slim. A silver Acer logo is etched onto the left-hand side of glass lid. Power on the Aspire S7 and the Acer logo glows white, similar to how the Apple logo glows on the MacBook Pro.
The glass attracts a fair amount of fingerprint, but thankfully the white color does a good job of concealing fingerprints. It's unclear how well the Gorillas Glass lid can withstand scratches over time compared to metal and plastic notebooks.
On the other side of the lid is a bright 13.3-inch display. Our review unit comes with a full HD 1080p touchscreen making it ideal for watching videos and movies. For productivity tasks, I felt the 16:9 aspect ratio to be a bit too narrow and would have preferred the 3:2 aspect ratio of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 ($799, £512, AU$1,086) or the 16:10 aspect ratio found on Apple's 12-inch MacBook ($1,299, £833, AU$1,766).
Surprisingly, even though last year's model can be configured with a WQHD screen, bringing the resolution to 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, this year's model is capped at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, making the 2015 Aspire S7 seem like a downgrade for those chasing a Windows version of Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.
The wide viewing angle and 180-degree hinge makes the Aspire S7 an attractive option for mobile professionals and students. Coupled with the compact frame and light weight of the laptop, the Aspire these screen features make peer-to-peer collaboration easier for projects and small presentations.
Unfortunately, unlike newer convertibles, like the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 ($1,599, £1,026, AU$2,138) and the HP Spectre x360 ($999, £899, AU$1,899), the hinge on the Aspire S7 doesn't go all the way to 360 degrees to allow the notebook to convert into a tablet.
While the display of the Aspire S7 is more than bright enough for indoor use, the screen is instantly washed out under a bright sun. Those looking to do most of their productive work indoors shouldn't have any issues with the screen, but the display shows glare and reflections under the sun.
The Aspire S7 uses a barrel hinge design, which is unique for a consumer-class Ultrabook as it allows you to open the screen out to 180 degrees. This hinge allows the screen to lay flat, and for students looking to use the Aspire S7 in classrooms, this allows for better peer-to-peer collaboration. Lacking a 360-degree hinge, the Aspire S7 is not a convertible and can't be used as a tablet like the HP Spectre x360.
There are also LED light indicators on the barrel, which are visible whether the laptop is closed or open, and gives you a quick visual on whether the system is in standby mode and if it's charging. The plastic cover surrounding the hinge on to the Aspire S7's body isn't as secure as I had hoped – apply a bit of pressure to the silver plastic and the hinge cover pops out of place. I am not sure if this is a design flaw or just an anomaly with my review unit.
Opening up the lid, you'll find an aluminum keyboard deck and silver keys. Even though the Aspire S7 comes with full-sized keys arranged in an island-style layout, the keyboard is missing a dedicated row for the function keys. Instead, the function keys live alongside the top number row, and the keys are accessible with the Fn button.
Because of the more compact keyboard arrangement, Acer had to shuffle around some symbol keys. This means that the Caps Lock button has been compressed, the Delete key has been moved from the top to the bottom next to the arrow keys and the tilda key ( ) has found a new home next to the miniaturized Caps Lock.
Despite coming with full-sized keys, Acer made some compromises to fit everything into the Aspire's thin frame. The key caps are flat on the Aspire S7, and key travel is shallow.
Even though the keys don't move in as far as on a MacBook Pro when depressed, there is more key travel compared to Apple's MacBook. Key travel feels about on par as the Microsoft Surface 3 with Microsoft's Touch Cover keyboard case.
The keyboard backlight glows a blue-green hue when you're typing in the dark. The choice of color appears less harsh on my eyes compared to the bright white LED backlighting on competing notebooks when typing in darkened environments, but the color seems to jar with the white aesthetics of the hardware.
Just below the keyboard is a large trackpad. Similar to the design of the touchpad on Apple's MacBook line, the trackpad is a large, single button affair, meaning you can press the trackpad to register a click. Pressing on the left side tells Windows you're trying to perform a left click, and pressing on the right side of the trackpad indicates a right click.
A white sheet of matte plastic covers the bottom of the laptop. It's unclear if stains on the undercarriage will be an issue over long-term use as they were on the white plastic MacBook. Bottom firing stereo Dolby-branded speakers are also located at the bottom.
Despites its thinness, the Aspire S7 was able to deliver left- and right-channel sound isolation for stereo sound. There is also rich audio fidelity, and even at higher volumes there is minimal sound distortion.
The side-mounted power button on the left-hand side sandwiched between the USB 3.0 port and power connector is an odd choice. Given the spacious keyboard deck on the Aspire S7, it's curious why Acer didn't place the power button there.
Specifications and performance
With this year's model, Acer boosted the processor to the latest Intel Broadwell processor while at the same time dropping the 2K WQHD resolution screen down to a 1080p display.
The Broadwell-equipped Aspire S7 is available in a single configuration:
Processor: 2.4 GHz 5th Generation Intel Core i7-550U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.0 GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5500
RAM: 8GB, dual channel
Display: 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen
Storage: 256GB SSD
Camera: Built-in 720p
Ports: 2 x USB 3.0 (with one power-off charging), HDMI with HDCP support, combo headphone and microphone jack, SD memory card reader, Mini DisplayPort, charging port, 802.11ac Wi-Fi (dual-band), Bluetooth 4.0, Intel Wireless Display, TPM 1.2
Battery: Four-cell, 10-hour rated
Weight: 2.87 pounds
Size: 12.72 x 8.78 x 0.51 inches (W x D x H)
The Aspire S7 benefits from a generous selection of ports. Even though it has the same number of USB ports as the Dell XPS 13, it's more consumer-friendly with a built-in HDMI port. Apple's MacBook has even more ports, with two Thunderbolt ports in addition to the two USB ports and HDMI output.
The Dell and MacBook come with options for higher resolution screens. However, only the Dell and Aspire S7 come with options for a touchscreen display whereas Apple uses a non-touch display for all of its notebooks. Stated battery life on all three units is about the same.
Here are the complete results from this year's model:
Cinebench: CPU: 193points; GPU: 24 fps
PCMark 8 Home: 2,703
PCMark 8 Home battery life: 3 hours and 38 minutes (with screen set to 50% brightness)
3DMark: Fire Strike: 693; Sky Diver: 2,585; Cloud Gate: 4,955
Despite the jump to Broadwell and a lower resolution display than last year's model, benchmarked performance on the 2015 Aspire S7 is slightly worse. Whereas last year's model scored 231 points using Cinebench's processor benchmark with a weaker dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, this year's i7 model only posted a score of 193 using the same test.
For comparison, Cinebench noted that systems with a dual-core Intel Core i7 processor with a slightly faster 2.6 GHz clock speed posted a processor score of 279, significantly ahead of the results achieved by the Aspire S7.
Compared to this year's Dell XPS 13, the Cinebench results from the Aspire S7 are also lower, despite the XPS 13 coming with a weaker Intel Core i5 processor and a higher resolution QHD screen. A higher resolution display is more taxing on the processor and GPU given the increase in pixel count. The XPS 13 scored 258 points on the processor benchmark and achieved 29 fps on the graphics test.
However, the Aspire S7 performed better than the XPS 13 on the PCMark test, and results for the 3DMark benchmarks were similar for the two systems. The XPS 13 scored 2,104 points on the PCMark 8 test. These results make sense given that the Aspire S7 has a better processor than the XPS even though both models share the same integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500 GPU.
One possible explanation for the discrepancy in the Aspire S7's posted benchmark scores given its solid hardware specifications is the amount of pre-installed software. Our review unit ships with a number of game titles like Zuma's Revenge, Polar Bear's First Frame, Bejeweled 2 Deluxe and more. Additionally, there were a number of video editing utilities, photo software, Acer Theft Shield, Drop Box, video players and photo gallery software, McAfee suite, PDF reader and Acer tools preloaded.
Once the bloatware was uninstalled, the Aspire S7 was able to achieve 231 points on Cinebench's CPU test, a significant bump from its score of 193 points out of the box.
Even under heavy load when the fan is on, the Aspire S7 manages to stay cool except in the area around the hinge. I found that this isn't a big deal unless I am using the Aspire on my lap. In this case, the heat from the Aspire S7 transferred to my knees and made the computing experience uncomfortably hot.
For normal web surfing, watching a few short video clips, chatting on instant messaging clients, opening Microsoft Excel files and working inside Google Docs while connected to Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set at 50%, I got more than seven hours of battery life. The Aspire S7 could last almost a full work day, but real world battery performance is short of Acer's 10-hour rating.
If you have a passion for white electronics, the Aspire S7's looks alone may seal the deal, but the laptop is more than just a pretty face. Acer packs in Intel's Broadwell Core i7 processor, a battery that lasts close to a full work day, and plenty of storage and RAM into a sleek body.
What we liked
The gorgeous design and white aesthetics makes for a stunning laptop. Acer not only filled the void created when Apple discontinued its white-hued plastic MacBook, but the Aspire excels in the looks department with premium glass and metal materials.
If you take time to remove the bloatware that comes preinstalled on the Aspire S7, you'll be rewarded with fast and powerful performance thanks to Intel's Core i7 processor. Design professionals who may be drawn to the Aspire's aesthetics may want to stay away if their workflow requires a dedicated GPU to do heavy lifting, but the Intel HD Graphics 5500 is more than capable for general computing tasks and casual gaming.
If you're looking for an entertainment laptop, the Aspire S7 has a gorgeous screen, albeit one that's capped at 1080p, and impressive stereo speakers.
What we disliked
The biggest problem with the Aspire S7 is that Acer saddled the laptop with too many software titles, which slows the system down. Once the pre-installed bloatware is removed, performance increased in our benchmark tests.
Adding a 360-degree hinge to the slim and attractive design of the Aspire S7 would make it an attractive convertible notebook that would make the system more competitive with premium convertibles, like the HP Spectre x360 and Lenovo LaVie Z 360. The 180-degree hinge on the Aspire S7 is still good for productivity and enhances peer-to-peer collaboration, but if you want to travel with a tablet, you'll have to add the cost and weight of a separate slate to your travel bag.
The Aspire S7 is an attractive and powerful laptop, but not one without compromises. If you're willing to invest a little time to remove Acer's bloatware and can live with a keyboard with key travel that's a bit more shallow, then the Aspire S7 rewards you with a very capable computing experience that will also look good on your desk.