Apple’s svelte MacBook Air has become the starter’s gun launching
an Olympic class sprint by portable computer makers dashing to capture medalists spots in the ultrabook notebook category.
The first Ultrabook I’ve tested is a fabulous portable. It’s low carry weight and extreme usability earned it a place in the backpack I take with me into town, or on weekend and day trips. It’s an Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook and I have nearly the same reaction to this sub- three pound machine
as I did to my lifetime favorite notebook HP’s original OmniBook family.
The Acer Aspire S3 was one of the first ultrabooks to ship and the unit supplied to me for this review(an Aspire S3 951-6646) included an Intel i5 processor ( capable of zipping along at up to
2.3GHZ), 4GB of SDRAM system memory, a 320 GB SATA hard disk drive with 20 GB of on board SSD memory, a 13.3 inch high definition (1366 by 788 pixels) LCD screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 video logic, two USB ports, an HDMI jack that also supports HDCP, a card reader, plus audio jacks. The Aspire S3 is a tough little machine. It measures 1.59 by 8.52by .51 inches (at
its thinnest point).
The price of the Windows 7-based review system is approximately $900, substantially less than Apple’s MacBook Air. It is also as much as $400 less (or almost 70 percent) than ultrabooks from other
manufacturers whose products are traditionally affiliated with corporate users.
The price of the Acer Aspire S3 gets it a huge check mark in the matrix I use
to recommend any notebook.
Acer’s entry level S# 951-6646 ultrabook portable exceeded virtually all of my expectations. At 2.9 pounds, it’s an unobtrusive addition to my backpack and notebook carrying case (actually a book bag) and its exceedingly rugged, there is no wiggle room in the hinge between the system and
burnished aluminum screen cases and I like how securely the screen snugs the
system case when this portable is closed. Sturdy construction is paramount in any ultrabook and the Aspire S3 sets a very high bar.
When I first realized mainstream portable makers would chase Apple’s MacBook Air with a new form factor I was afraid I’d end up seeing third generation netbooks with cramped keyboards and substandard cursor controllers.I’ve been very surprised y most of the ultrabooks now on retailers’ shelves. Intel’s reference design is spot on and most portable makers haven’t scrimped on
The Acer Aspire S3’ s key board, specifically, made me feel right at home—which in my 20-plus
years of reviewing thin and light or ultra-compact portables is almost unheard
of. In the eight weeks I’ve been banging on this machine’s keyboard, I haven’t inadvertently sent the cursor to the hinterlands once— quite unusual since I have a 9.75-inch pinky finger tip to
thumb tip hand span and wear a size 16 ring. Its integrated track pad uses a
single switch for left and right hand mouse clicks, a design feature I find intuitive.
The Acer Aspire S3’s performance was above average forcomputationally intensive Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheet benchmarks. This notebook’s 13.3-inch LED screen produces bright saturated displays.I also like the thermodynamics of this system—the fan kicks on only when it’s needed and I never once suspected the system case was
The one downside to the Acer Aspire S3 is its battery life.The absolute longest I’ve ever been able to run it without recharging is 4.8 ours, which for many users—particularly students dashing from class to classor business professionals who go from meetings back to a cubicle; this should
be enough. One Feature that cunter balances the S3’s limited five-hour battery life is its rapid wake
from sleep mode. The longest I’ve waited for the system to come out of its
closed lid alumber has been three seconds Color me impressed.The unit supplied to me by Acer takes less than one minute to boot up. both detures are greatly helped in
this system by the S3’s use of hybrid hard disk drive that incorporates SSD
I don’t have high expectations when it comes to ultrabooks and udio. This is a small notebook but it does have good voice, although purists might say its too "tinny.” Playing a concert version of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” in my local library using earbuds didn’t disturb fellow cubicle prairie dogs,
but the experience was good enough to make me smile.
In summary, I highly recommend Acer’s Aspire S3 ultrabook.It’s a rugged, practical portable with enough computing horsepower and performance to accomplish business tasks and its form factor and light weight make it a great travel companion.
Let’s see, $900 for a compact sturdy notebook that has enough local storage to handle most computing tasks, or $1,299 for an Apple
Macbook Air, which limits me to SSD storage. It’s an easy choice and I think
Acer has a home run in its Aspire S3 951-6646.—Jim Forbes on 1/20/2012,