In and Around the Acer Aspire S5

While the trap door for the port cluster is closed (more on this in a bit), the Aspire S5 largely escapes the wedge shape that seems to define ultrabooks as a whole. Acer uses a lot of rounded corners to thin out the profile of the A5, making a dense and thin notebook seem only denser and thinner still.

It's important to keep in mind that what Acer has done here is essentially produce an ultrabook that is both lighter and thinner than a 13-inch MacBook Air. This is really about as portable as a 13.3" notebook is going to get.

It's difficult not to be excited about the lack of glossy plastic used in modern notebooks when you've spent years reviewing eyesores, but I admit even I was initially impressed by the styling of the S5. I've been one of Acer's harshest critics for some time, but to look at the Aspire S5 you'd almost be surprised to see that logo on the lid and bezel. Acer uses a finish that appears to be black brushed aluminum over virtually the entire shell of the S5.

Unfortunately that initial look of quality doesn't quite translate to feel. While the system as a whole is fairly sturdy (the screen itself doesn't flex anywhere near as much as, say, Toshiba's Portege Z series), the plastic used for the shell feels chintzy. When I try to flex the notebook, part of the plastic on the left palmrest actually makes a popping sound. Over time, the plastic also can accumulate fingerprints.

Where Acer did very right was with the keyboard, though. The one thing I used to harp on them relentlessly for is now the strongest asset of their ultrabook. For such a thin notebook there's a healthy amount of travel and depth to the keys, and while they feel a little on the small side and aren't as clicky as I'm used to, they're definitely an improvement on the competition. If you're not a fan of ultrabook keyboards, Acer's S5 probably isn't going to sway you too much, but it's definitely a welcome improvement.

Despite my general ambivalence towards clickpads, Acer produced a usable one here. The surface is distinct from the rest of the shell and very comfortable to slide your fingertip across, and taps register easily enough. It still has some issues with left or right clicking, though, just as clickpads often do (e.g. mouse movements when I'm intending to click).


Trap door closes, trap door opens!

Speaking of convenience, there's one very big feature of the Aspire S5 and it's something that Anand and I discussed and came to a bit of a split decision on: the motorized trap door. Next to the keyboard is a button that opens and closes a motorized trap door in the bottom of the S5 that hides the USB 3.0, HDMI, and Thunderbolt ports as well as adjusting the size of the ventilation in the back of the S5 to improve cooling performance. My first instinct was that something motorized like this pretty much just screams "one more thing to break down," and I would very much have rather seen the budget and engineering effort put towards solving more serious problems (like the poor display). Anand found it to be an interesting gamble and at least an innovative approach towards slimming things down while still keeping a decent amount of connectivity. Either way, it's definitely unique to Acer.

Note that when the system is running particularly toasty, the door will pop open on its own. Where I'm really inclined to give Acer the benefit of the doubt, though, is the fact that someone over there realized something that seems to have escaped most ultrabook engineers on the first go-round: a notebook as thin and as light as ultrabooks are supposed to be is practically destined to be used on someone's lap, so why put any ventilation on the bottom? The Aspire S5 has no bottom-mounted vents, just the one in the back. That's a major coup for usability.

Introducing the Acer Aspire S5 System Performance
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  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Perspective counts for much with this product. I think AT did well on the nuanced article and conclusion.
    Speed, thermals, noise, storage, keyboard, weight, battery capacity are all very well done with this notebook, above average for others of it's kind. Why should they call it overpriced piece of junk if there are people out there looking for these criteria in an ultrabook and not the display.
    You and I may not be such people, they they do exist and thus these products warrant a thorough investigation of their good and bad traits. And reading this review, the bad traits are made as clear as the good.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Seriously...

    You can get a refurbished MacBook Air for $929 with a much better 1440 x 900 display with full warrenty. It will be slower, but still probably fast enough with the same size SSD. Hell, you can buy a brand-new MacAir for cheaper. I don't know what Acer is thinking...it's got a great processor, but the price is still too high.
    Reply
  • santeana - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Exactly. $1400 and it's about as upgradable as a friggin tablet. FAIL. Besides, aren't ultrabooks supposed to be below $1000 as part of their criteria for being an ultrabook? How are they supposed to achieve that if intel keeps charging so much for their cpu's? lol Reply
  • Jaybus - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    Nothing in this format is very upgradeable, and that includes the new MB Pro. There just isn't any space left inside to put anything. And that is exactly why they have Thunderbolt interfaces. Reply
  • xype - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    …is that you get annoyed about it every time you use a laptop if it sucks. If there’s 2 instead of 3 USB ports, or USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0 or an optical drive missing or even less RAM or HDD or lower-end CPU that’s all stuff that might bother you now and then at worst, more often than not actually never.

    But a bad display is what you look at all the time. That the manufacturers cut corners on that of all things is a complete mystery to me. It’s one of the things that can literally sell a laptop sitting poppep up on the shelves next to the competition, but nooo, put in a shitty display and then wonder why people hate your laptop.
    Reply
  • randinspace - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    It feels like a lot of reviews on Anandtech are summed up with "this is almost a great product." I'm not disagreeing with that sentiment, particularly with regards to Ultrabooks, but as a consumer it's frustrating that there are so few companies out there who are either pushing the envelope or doing so successfully.

    I mean, I would love to give Acer credit for having the "foresight" to include Thunderbolt since it could theoretically mitigate a lot of the weaknesses inherent to the notebook platform in general and Ultrabooks in particular, but in reality (it's probably the result of an extremely shortsighted deal they cut with Intel) there simply aren't any TB products out there yet which are compelling to me. More to the point the end result (an expensive notebook with dubious performance hooked up to an even more ridiculously expensive and dubiously effective external GPU + display solution) wouldn't make any more sense than other, slightly more traditional Acer laptops (like a better configured Aspire V3). *sigh

    All that said I think the greatest potential for thunderbolt lies not in the consumer or even "enthusiast" space (mostly because enthusiasts have other recourse), but in highly specific and quite frankly impractical enterprise applications. Then again the days of "damn the costs we just need to get it done like THIS" probably ended 10 years ago...

    BTW, nice review Dustin. Sorry I didn't really have anything on topic to say about it XD
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I don't think the problem with Thunderbolt has to do with Intel. There's still technical hurdles to be something more widespread.

    Costs are still prohibitive, because it requires using chips with not an insignificant die size(30 to 50mm2+ depending on versions).

    10Gbit/s is high for other I/Os, but still very low compared to PCI Express. You need 8 times the bandwidth to be of minimal loss: http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Intel/Ivy_Bridg...

    In regards to Ultrabooks being almost there: I think they are getting there, but it would take some more time. Focus on PC manufacturers have been about lowering costs for most of the last decade.

    Acer specific: It's quite obvious that they have 3 classes of the Ultrabook Aspire S series. The S3 is the low end, S5 the mid, and upcoming S7 the high end. It's easy to see the S5 is a big improvement over the S3, and the S7 is another step up from the S5.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Yeah, it *looks* (no promises until we see it!) like the S7 will use a touch-enabled IPS display. I'll keep my fingers crossed on that. As for the S3, as far as I can tell it's the same chassis as the original Aspire S3 Sandy Bridge Ultrabook, only now there's a model with the i7-3517U processor. Note that as far as I can tell, even with the Ivy Bridge CPU and HM77 chipset, there's still no USB 3.0 support. Ouch. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I question Acer's decision on the Aspire S5. Like the MagicFlip port and the dual SSD setup. My biggest issue is the dual SSD setup.

    A single, high performance SSD would have been cheaper, with no negatives a RAID 0 setup brings.

    RAID 0 negatives
    -Two drives = more space
    -Two controllers = higher cost and more power used
    -Increased boot time for device recognition

    It looks like the S7 has every reason to be popular against competition, not sure about the S5.
    Reply
  • Pappnaas - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Honestly, if paying 1300 $ for a Laptop I won't put up with a 30$ display.

    As long as the display stays at 768p there's nothing premium about any Laptop bigger than 11.6".
    Reply

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