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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  • kamm2 - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    If it is on your lap or a soft surface, how many times will the door be up against something preventing it from fully moving before it breaks? Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I'll happily drop the Thunderbolt/HDMI/USB3 ports, even Bluetooth, if you can use the saving to spend on a better screen. A couple of USB ports and a headphone port and I'm happy.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • SteveLord - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I do not get why people whine about screens so much (minus cases where the device itself is overpriced for it., like this one.)

    Ultrabooks are not limited to consumers. And your average user wouldn't notice or know the difference between a 768p and 1080p screen anyway.

    But like I said, they should at least be much cheaper.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    The big issue for me is that on an Ultrabook, you're more likely to travel with it. I know from experience that using laptops on a cramped airplane seat when the person in front of you reclines results in an oblique angle that makes the TN displays look horribly washed out. IPS would fix that, and I'd be fine with a 1280x800, 1440x900, etc. display in a 13.3" Ultrabook if it had wide viewing angles. It's the combination of a crappy resolution with crappy TN panels and low contrast, all exacerbated by a glossy screen that acts like a mirror--that's what people are whining about. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I would change the SSD RAID and just get one 256GB SSD. The screen needs to be better. I don't care about Thunderbolt (either desktop or notebook) unless it can be used for external graphics cards with the notebook. Intel WiFi with 450mbps support would be be good. And last but not least, make it a bit bigger and/or heavier and give me a bigger battery. I can't say that I care about lugging about 1.2kg or 1.5kg, but an extra hour or two of uptime would be noticed. Reply
  • vision33r - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    All these PC makers are only trying to maximize their profits by shortchanging key components.

    The screen is 60% of the value of a laptop, specs are 30%.

    There are people buying old Thinkpads with the 16:10 IPS displays that are made 5-6 years ago. Sure they have old Core Duo but specs aren't everything and plenty fast for today's needs besides gaming.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I have an old Dell Inspiron 17" at work from 2007 with a 16:10 screen 1920 x 1200, with a Core 2 Duo (Merom T7200) that is plenty fast enough, especially with an SSD. I'm a programmer, and also am constantly running virtual machines, and I can't really say that a Core 2 Duo has been much of a hindrance.

    I finally ordered a Dell Inspiron 17R Special edition through, with 1080p screen, 8GB RAM, Core i7 IvyBridge, Nvidia GeForce GT 650M 2G, etc.. for $1099. I look forward to it, but will miss my old 16:10 screen - especially those 120 vertical pixels!.
    Reply
  • jackoatmon - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    You would have to be braindead to buy this thing. Just the RAM is a total deal breaker. 4 gigs of RAM si OK, but not for $1400. Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Stop with that 2 x SSDs, I don't want two bad SSDs in software raid-0. Stop it and use the space for removable SO-DIMM DDR instead. With this price they should have a 1600x900 screen at least, or an IPS panel instead but they can't afford it because they have a second SSD. Reply
  • niva - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    We all wish it had a better display. I'm particularly nuts about displays and will not buy anything less than 1080 right now, but I also prefer the older style 1920x1200 displays which are being phased out of production now big time.

    That being said, with an integrated Intel 4000 HD graphics card in this thing, can it even hope to push older games at 768 resolution? If you plan on gaming with this thing you're probably better with the lower native resolution.

    I for one don't game on laptops, but I know people these days are pretty much not even building/buying desktops, yet insist on playing on their laptops.

    Just giving some thoughts as to why they may have went with this (other than cost savings of course.)
    Reply

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