With a sharp new price to match its looks, the $999 Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook could be Australia's best-value 'thin and light' notebook for business travellers and frequent flyers seeking a Windows laptop that won't make their shoulder ache.
The Aspire S3 is a mere 17mm at its thickest point and weighs less than 1.35kg. Inside, it packs the second-generation Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 chips with speed that will make full size notebooks feel endangered.
But unlike most Windows notebooks, the Aspire S3 can resume from sleep almost instantly (Australian Business Traveller clocked this at just under two seconds).
Unfortunately, if you shut down the computer it will still take a few minutes to boot from a cold start; one of the inherent problems with Windows 7. A MacBook Air, in comparison, will boot from a cold start in a cool 15 seconds.
The Aspire S3 can also reconnect to previously used Wi-Fi hotspots and be ready to surf in just under three seconds, eliminating another annoying delay involved with using a laptop.
Nigel Gore, Acer Australia's head of product, told Australian Business Traveller that the Aspire S3 aims to bring the attractive qualities of tablets like the iPad to a notebook PC -- the ability to switch it on and start working in a couple of seconds, with full internet access, rather than waiting much longer with traditional Windows laptops.
The battery life is also very good for such a slim machine -- Acer says the slim lithium polymer pack will provide seven hours of continual use -- though this is only on the models with a solid state hard drive. Acer says the figure is lower for models with a traditional spinning mechanical hard drive, and doesn't quote a specific battery life figure for them.
In a "deep sleep" mode, the laptop battery will last for an amazing 50 days (though it takes six seconds to resume from deep sleep, rather than the 1.7 seconds of the standard sleep mode.)
What you get
There are five versions of the Acer Aspire S3 -- all packing a 13.3" LED display with good viewing angles and brightness.
The $999 and $1,199 models (fitted with Intel Core i3 and Core i5 processors, respectively) use a conventional 320GB hard disk drive, because Acer believes that in the more affordable models, people would prefer higher capacity rather than the speed of a flash-memory based SSD (solid state drive) in a small size.
However, both also include a 20GB SSD module to boost performance, especially when it comes to those fast wake-up times.
$1,299 sees the hard drive capacity bumped up to 500GB.
For $1,699 you get the same Intel Core i5 powerplant but a 256GB solid state drive. This which provides dramatically faster system speed than the conventional hard drive models, along with a reasonable capacity for the TV, movie and photo libraries most people now have.
The top-shelf $1,999 S3 upgrades the processor to a meaty Intel Core i7 designed for heavy-duty work.
Acer Aspire S3 tour
The chassis is made of a lightly brushed magnesium-aluminium alloy, eschewing the weaker and bulkier plastic casing of yesterday's notebooks.
It's impossible to miss the similarity in styling to the MacBook Air -- the chiclet style keyboard is set into the same sculpted recess as in the Air.
Beneath it, a large, buttonless trackpad dominates the palm-rest.
In terms of connectivity, the Aspire S3's slim profile means a relatively low connector count. On the left edge, there's a solitary 3.5mm headphone port...
And on the right, an SD card reader ...
Every other port lives at the rear of the S3: two USB 2.0 jacks, AC power input and a full-size HDMI connector. (If you need to connect to office projectors that only have a VGA input you'll want to get an HDMI-VGA converter and add this dongle to your travel kit).
The audio quality is surprisingly good considering there's no visible speaker grille. In a brief hands-on Australian Business traveller had at the launch of the Aspire S3, we were impressed by the loudness of the speakers and the solid stereo effect.
Acer says this is due to the Dolby Home Theatre v4 system in the notebook, which has been professionally tuned to take into account how the notebook's innards affect sound output.
The clever sound software in the Aspire S3 compensates for this and drives the speakers so that to the user's ear, the sound is clear and unmuffled.
As you'd expect, there's high speed 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth 4.0. A high-resolution 1.3 megapixel webcam allows video chat at a decent quality, unlike the MacBook Air's 0.3 megapixel webcam, which tends to result in pretty blurry video chat.
All models of the Aspire S3 have 4GB memory to provide solid Windows 7 performance on day-to-day tasks.