Acer surprised many with its original Aspire S7, which we first saw in late 2012. At a half an inch thick and just under 3 pounds, it was impressively svelte, even compared to other 13-inch Ultrabooks. And its glossy-white lid, aluminum frame, and soft green keyboard backlight set it apart aesthetically, as well. But short battery life and an abundance of fan noise kept it on the cusp of greatness.
With the launch of Intel’s new 4th-Generation Core (Haswell) CPUs, Acer is revisiting the device in the form of the S7-392, bestowing not only a new processor, but also a bigger battery and twice the RAM.
Does an injection of new and improved internals, as well as a slightly tweaked keyboard help this Aspire achieve ultraportable excellence? We check out the finer points of this $1,450 system, and discover a few things that could still do with some improvement.
Still a looker, but not exactly perfect
The S7-392 looks every bit as good as its predecessor, from the glossy white, glass-covered lid to the anodized aluminum frame and wrist area, which is much more rigid than the carbon fiber chassis of Sony’s Vaio Pro 13.
The aluminum and glass used here, though, mean the Aspire S7-392 is about a half pound heavier (2.87 pounds) than the competing Sony system. The Vaio, though, is thicker (0.68 inches) than the S7-392’s 0.51 inches. As much as we like a light laptop, most will likely prefer the S7’s rigidity over the Vaio’s somewhat flimsy-feeling frame.
While the S7-392 mostly looks and feels like a premium laptop, it still has a few unsightly blemishes. For starters, the gap between the system’s 1080p touchscreen and the aluminum frame of the lid is still noticeable. And worse, on our review unit, the gap is uneven on the top edge, above the 720p Webcam. The screen fits snugly against the left corner and widens along the right edge of the screen.
Also, Acer stuck with the exposed silver screws on the white belly of the laptop, which still strikes us as odd for a system that places so much emphasis on style.
Why the proprietary port?
For the most part, Acer has improved the port layout on the new S7. There’s now one USB 3.0 port on each side of the laptop.
…no one likes investing in accessories that only work for one brand of laptop, especially when said laptop starts at $1,450.
Acer moved the small power button back by the power jack where it isn’t as easy to accidentally press. And there’s a full-sized HDMI port this time around.
But what looks like a ThunderBolt or Mini DisplayPort jack on the right edge of the Aspire S7-392 is actually a proprietary “Acer Converter Port” that’s meant to work with specific Acer-branded accessories.
We have a couple of issues with this. First, no one likes investing in accessories that only work for one brand of laptop, especially when said laptop starts at $1,450. Secondly, despite the fact that the Converter Port has been around since the launch of the Acer’s acrobatically screened R7, none of those proprietary adapters seem to be for sale yet. Thanks for the frustration, Acer. [Editor's Note, August 28, 2013: Our Acer contact informed us that the Mini CP to VGA adapter is now available.]
One of the biggest downsides of Acer’s original Aspire S7 was its keyboard. Sure, its pastel-green backlight was pleasing enough, but the keys themselves had very little travel and were frustratingly smooth and flat.
With the updated Aspire S7-392, Acer says they’ve increased key travel from 1mm to 1.3mm. That may not sound like much, but it definitely makes a difference. The keys are still smooth and flat, but they no longer feel egregiously shallow and devoid of appreciable feedback.
Still, we wouldn’t call the keyboard great. Key travel is still a bit shallower than we’d like, keys like Escape and Caps Lock are oddly vertically squished, and the left and right arrow keys are mushed with the Page Up/Down keys, making them difficult to hit without looking. We prefer the keyboard on Sony’s Vaio Pro 13 in every way, except maybe the backlight – we really like the soft green hue of Acer’s Aspire over Sony’s sterile white.
The new S7 still comes standard with a touchscreen, but the touchpad here works well for many Windows 8 gestures, as it’s nearly flush with the wrist area. Just like the original S7, though, there are no dedicated buttons, and it could do with a different texture than the wrist wrest, so your thumbs can more easily find their way around.
A good, though glossy, screen
The 1080p touchscreen that ships with all U.S. models of the updated S7 looks good. But as we saw in the previous model, the glass over the touchscreen is exceedingly glossy, making glare and reflections an issue when working in a room lit by sunlight or harsh overhead lighting.
This issue is made worse by the fact that Acer seems to have skimped a bit on the backlight, compared to the previous model. In our testing, the S7-392’s screen maxed out at just 114.9 nits, which is low, especially for a premium laptop, and just about half the maximum brightness we saw with the original S7.
Still, in anecdotal use, the screen generally seems plenty bright, unless you’re in direct sunlight. Screen uniformity and contrast is good, and the panel was able to render 72 percent of the sRGB scale, which is solid, if not stellar.
We are also a bit disappointed to see that the WQHD (2,560 x 1,440) panel, which Acer mentioned would be available in some markets when it debuted the updated S7 at Computex 2013 isn’t available as an option yet in the U.S. And Acer wouldn’t say for sure if a model of the S7 would ever be available with the higher-resolution panel or not.
But if Acer does choose to offer the S7 with the extra pixel count, we suspect it will debut around the official release of Windows 8.1 (expected to launch October 17, 2013). Microsoft promises improved OS support for ultra-HD displays with Windows 8.1, and Acer’s S7 – equipped with a screen packing the same resolution as Apple’s 27-inch iMac – would certainly be a good showpiece for Microsoft’s updated OS.
If Acer does add a WQHD option, we also hope the company can cut down a bit on the glossy nature of the glass over the LCD, and crank up the brightness, as well.
Quieter cooling, but warmer on the underside
One of the other issues we had with the original S7 was that, while it remained remarkably cool for a laptop so thin, its fan ran most of the time, and was one of the loudest spinners we’ve ever tested.
It seems Acer realized this was a problem, as it swapped in a new fan with fewer blades that’s supposed to be quieter – and it certainly is. The sound output under heavy load dropped from above 50 decibels to below 43.
But the tradeoff is that the temperatures on the underside of the laptop have increased a fair bit. The original S7 idled at 87 degrees Fahrenheit and maxed out at 101.5 degrees under full load in our tests. The updated model turned in an idle temperature of 97.8 degrees. And when maxing out the graphics while running Furmark, we got a top temp of 118.3 degrees on the bottom rear of the laptop near the main exhaust.
The latter number is the highest we’ve seen since Lenovo’s Twist, though it is worth noting that you have to really push the graphics to get the temps this high. And when maxing out the CPU, temps stayed a bit lower, topping out at 111.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
So while the S7 is a whole lot quieter now, it also runs hot, particularly when pushing the graphics chip. With its integrated Intel graphics, we wouldn’t recommend the S7 as a serious gaming machine anyway. But if you do plan on playing moderately demanding games on your new machine, you’ll probably want to look to something other than the new S7, unless you don’t mind using a laptop cooler.
More time away from the plug
With its brand-new 4th-Generation Core Intel Core i5-4200 CPU clocked at 1.6GHz, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB solid-state drive, the Aspire S7-392 is well equipped to handle most common computing tasks, aside from gaming at high resolutions and high in-game settings. But those looking for more storage space and CPU muscle can step up to a $1,650 model with 256GB of solid-state storage and a Core i7-4500U processor.
Considering this system’s half-inch thickness, the new S7’s battery life is pretty impressive.
The new CPUs, combined with an internal battery that Acer says is 33 percent larger than that found in the original S7, makes a big difference when it comes to battery life. The previous model lasted just 1 hour and 34 minutes in our demanding Battery Eater test. Our review unit of the S7-392 managed to keep going for 2 hours and 3 minutes on the same test – an increase of about 30 percent. Still, Sony’s Vaio Pro 13 managed to hang on for 2 hours and 29 minutes on this test, making it a better choice if battery life is of the utmost importance. Sony also sells an external slice battery, which nearly doubles the battery life. For most users, though the updated Aspire S7’s battery should be sufficient. In our less-demanding Reader’s Test, the S7 managed to run for a quite reasonable 11 hours and 12 minutes. Considering this system’s half-inch thickness, the new S7’s battery life is pretty impressive.
For the most part, Acer’s updated S7 is a triumph of improved design and internals. Battery life is a lot better (although screen brightness is sacrificed), the keyboard’s travel no longer feels as shallow as a reflecting pool, and fan noise is no longer all that noticeable.
But, while a new fan design helps keep the noise down, Acer has mostly played a game of whack-a-mole when it comes to heat and fan noise. The previous model of the S7 was loud but remarkably cool under load. The update swaps fan noise for a big bump in temperatures – particularly when leaning heavily on the machine’s integrated graphics.
So if gaming is important to you, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere. Razer’s updated Blade, for instance, with its dedicated graphics chip, is a much better performer when it comes to gaming, although it does come with a lower-quality and lower-resolution screen.
It’s still not perfect, but with a bigger battery, a better keyboard, and a new Haswell CPU, Acer’s updated S7 manages to be ultra-thin without many major sacrifices.
- Still thin, light, and attractive
- Battery life is much improved
- Better keyboard
- Runs quieter than previous model
- Gets very warm under load
- Minor aesthetic issues mar the overall design
- Keyboard still isn’t great
- Screen not as bright as previous model