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
POST A COMMENT

82 Comments

View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    Progress for Acer. Build quality compared to older Aspire laptops is certainly improved, and the keyboard is substantially better. Acer is heading in the right direction, but they definitely have areas of concern we still want addressed -- particularly in a high-end device like the S5. It will be interesting to see the S7 when that comes out, though. Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    What is so "premium" about max. 4gb RAM and a 768P TN display? Reply
  • Focher - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    Exactly why would I get this over a MacBook Air? Yeah, that's what I thought. Next. Reply
  • ciabatta - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    You compare the Aspire S5 somewhat favorably to the Zenbook Prime in a few points, including the conclusion. I just looked back at your review of the UX21A and found you guys gushing about it being the perfect ultrabook. I would not have expected you to conclude with "well, this may be the best ultrabook to buy, maybe," and instead something along the lines of "don't buy this, the Zenbook Prime is superior." Am I missing something? Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    Why would they recommend a product over another based on that argument? All things has it's upsides and downsides. They seldom say don't buy this and instead try to let you form an opinion of your own. Obviously a panel is important, but as far as I know they haven't reviewed the Prime UX31A or UX32VD yet at Anandtech, 1920x1080 IPS fits better at 13.3-inch then it does 11.6-inch. Because Windows DPI-scaling isn't that much useful. You would probably want both DPI-scaling and some zooming in the browser if you don't like everything to be really small. Neither will anything ever be perfect. The Acer S5 hardware and chassi looks fairly decent if you can live with the display and 4GB ram. Although pricey and not really worth it for the Thunderbolt. Reply
  • Rockmandash12 - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    1,400 laptop, and a 5 year old laptop has a sharper display. That's sad, and horrible. What is acer thinking with all these crap displays? This is the reason why acer will always be known as a cheap computer company. Reply
  • flgrx - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    A few AMD trinity notebooks./sleekbook reviews pls. I feel Intel notebooks are doing fine and see no real advantages from ultrabooks per se. AMD sleekbooks are slightly cheaper and we also see Intel Ultabooks have compromised on quality in some areas like screen.

    Why not review a top, a mid, a low end AMD trinity notebook/ultrathin/sleekbook and let us readers see how they fare against the Intel ones, in the added context of price?
    Reply
  • hakime - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    It's always amusing to see the people at Anandtech not reporting correctly the facts when it comes to PC-Mac comparisons. I guess this is due to the biased nature towards PCs of this site.

    So you claim this

    "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."

    The problem with this claim is that it's flat wrong in one part of it and not well balanced in the second part. From your own table, the Acer Aspire S5 is 11.2mm to 15mm thick. Ok, but if I look at the numbers for the MacBook Air, I see that it's 3 to 17 mm thick. So anyone reasonable enough would conclude that the thickest part of the Aspire is slightly thinner than the thickest part of the MacBook air but on the other hand, the thinnest part of the MacBook Air is significantly thinner than the the thinnest part of the Aspire. Which means that just claiming the Aspire is thinner than the MacBook air is just not honest.

    Now when it comes to the weight, indeed the Aspire weights 1.2 kg and the MacBook Air weights 1.35 kg. That means that the Aspire is 150 g lighter than the Air. 150 g is not much given that the Air is immensely better built with better material than the cheap plastic based Aspire. 150 g more is a very small price to pay for a way better build quality. Don't you think so? Don't you think that comparing two computers should be done fairly instead of just throwing out some baseless statements?

    Also about this one

    "dual USB 3.0 ports instead of USB 2.0 (courtesy of the newer HM77 chipset), and most impressively, Intel's Thunderbolt."

    Well, Thunderbolt is not only an Intel thing since it was co-developed with Apple. Thunderbolt uses the mini display port connection technology developed by Apple. Facts Anandtech, facts....
    Reply
  • Panlion - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    I don't understand why so many people are complaining about ultrabooks. Since ASUS UX31E came out, we've been deploying them in our company instead of Lenovo T420. They are cheaper, lighter, better screen, better battery life and a joy for everyone that we've deploy to. Now with the UX31A, we've gotten even better response from our users with the improved IPS screen and keyboard. Honestly, for most users 4GB of memory is more than enough and the 6-8 hr of battery life of Zenbook is way better than what we got from the Thinkpads. I for one, loved ASUS ultrabook and I can say that all my users who have use these laptop loves it. Reply
  • Zodryn - Saturday, July 14, 2012 - link

    So somehow .58" is thinner than the new Series 9? The 13" Series 9 is only .51"...What is Acer on about?

    And btw, when is the 11" Zenbook Prime coming out?? Also unrelated: I have a 13" Prime, but can only choose 13W in the configurable TDP options. Anyone know why that is? Anand had pics of 13W and 16W options for the ux21a, but I can't get 16W on my ux31a...
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now