Acer haven’t been too creative with their ultrabooks in the last years. While other manufacturers have been pushing out several new models each year, they mostly stuck with a single one: the Aspire S7. The beginning of 2015 brings a “new” iteration of the same device, the Acer Aspire S7-393, which we’re going to review here. But in all fairness, this is merely last year’s Aspire S7-392 with Broadwell hardware inside and an upgraded Wi-Fi module.
There’s nothing wrong with sticking to a single model and doing it right, as proven by some other manufacturers as well, like Apple or Samsung, and the truth is the Aspire S7-392s were among the best 13 inch ultrabooks money could buy in 2013 and 2014. They were sleek, well built and fast, they didn’t run out of juice too fast and didn’t have any major shortcomings. But there were still certain aspects Acer could have improved on a new model and they didn’t with the S7-393.
As a result, the only major novelty here is the hardware platform. We have the top configuration for our test with an Intel Core i7-5500U processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB Raid 0 SSD and the QHD touchscreen. And as I’ve showed you in my previous analysis of the Broadwell U i7 processors, that should translate in a slight speed bump and longer battery life.
However, it’s important to know that we’re reviewing a media-sample here that came directly from Acer, as the retail versions are just starting to pop-out here and there, in a few corners of the world. That’s why this unit’s performances are somewhat hindered by unbaked drivers and the final versions should perform better. But more about that below in the article, so stick with me if you’re interested in the 2015th edition of the Aspire S7, you’re going to find out plenty of things about it.
The Acer Aspire S7-393 video review
The specs sheet
|Acer Aspire S7-393
|Screen||13.3 inch, 2560 x 1440 px resolution, IPS, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Core i7-5500U CPU|
|Video||integrated Intel 5500 HD|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3 (non-upgradeable)|
|Storage||256 GB RAID 0 SSD (mSATA 50 mm)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||2xUSB 3.0, SD card reader, HDMI Acer Converter Port|
|Battery||4 Cell 6280 mAh 47 Wh|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||322 mm or 12.7 in (L) x 222 mm or 8.8 in (W) x 13 mm or 0.51 in (H)|
|Weight||about 1.31 kg (2.9 pounds)|
|Extras||two stage white backlit keyboard, adapter included with VGA, USB 2.0 and Fast-Ethernet, faux-leather sleeve included|
Design and exterior
On the outside the S7-393 is identical to its predecessor. A mix of glass, metal and matte plastic is used for the entire case and the laptop still comes in a white and silver color scheme, which makes it rather special, as there are only few other white ultraportables out there. It also makes it a bit too flashy for my personal liking, especially with that backlit Acer logo on the hood that glows in the dark, but hey, de gustibus.
Aluminum is used for the frame and chassis, as well as the entire interior and the screen’s hinges. The hood is covered in a layer of Gorilla Glass, doubled by another one on the other side, on-top of the display. The bottom and the laptop’s back are made from plastic though: white for the belly and silver for the rear, around the cooling vents. All these mixed together lead to a beautiful and excellently crafted machine that feels quite sturdy in daily use. However, this is not built like a brick and especially the lid-cover should be treated carefully, as the glass bends fairly easily and puts pressure on the panel, which can cause problems in time. So keep that in mind.
The laptop’s very sleek silhouette gets some of the blame for that, but it’s probably worth it, as the S7 receives many praises for its slimness (just 0.5 inch thick). In fact, it’s slimmer than most other 13 inchers out there. But it’s not very compact though, it has a pretty large footprint, as showcased by the bezels around the display, especially when you put it next to the recently released Dell XPS 13 2015. And it’s not incredibly light either, tipping the scales at around 2.9 lbs. So the truth is, while the S7 remains a beautiful piece of machinery, it’s less impressive today than it was when this design was first unveiled several years ago, compared to what else has been launched in the meantime.
However, my single and biggest gripe with the S7’s design are its very sharp edges. The rear, near the vents, is the only finger friendly area around this laptop and the only place where you can grab it without any fear. Anywhere else and those metal edges will bite. Even opening the lid can be a bit of an adventure if you get in contact with the inner metallic edge that goes around the display. Some of you might say that I’m making a big deal out of a minor aspect, but I’m just used to more friendly designs and never appreciated this particular aspect of the S7.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the practical aspects. The laptop sits well on the desk, despite resting on some of the tiniest rubber feet I’ve ever seen. One can even lift the screen with a single hand to about 90 degrees, cause beyond that the hinge stiffens and you’ll need both hands to push the screen further back. And BTW, the screen goes flat to more than 180 degrees, but it does not convert. Still, this particular aspect makes the S7 versatile if you use your laptop while lying in bad or on the sofa, leaned on your legs, like I do.
Once you’ll lift the screen, you’ll notice the laptop’s interior, cut from a single piece of metal. Its clean look is spoiled by those two stickers on the left, but you can easily peel them off if you want to. The S7 offers plenty of space for the keyboard and trackpad, plus a fairly-roomy palm-rest area, although that space above the keyboard seems somewhat wasted (more about that a bit later).
Moving on, there’s a fair selection of ports on the Aspire S7, with two USB 3.0s, a card-reader, full-size HDMI and a special connector that looks like mini-DP/Thunderbolt, but it’s actually something called an Acer Converter Port. It’s meant to take the adapter included in the pack, which offers VGA output, an extra USB 2.0 and a Fast-Ethernet port. In fact, this connector is physically identical to a mini-DisplayPort, thus certain monitors can be powered with a miniDP to HDMI adapter, if you’re looking to link two external monitors to the S7. Thunderbolt compatible accessories won’t work though.
Acer offers the S7 with at least two different screen options and our model comes with the 2560 x 1440 px IPS touchscreen version, which is one of the better displays you’ll find on a 13 inch ultrabook these days. In fact, it’s the same screen that was available on the Aspire S7-392 models.
The viewing angles are solid, there’s no backlight bleeding around the corners, touch works flawlessly and the panel is fairly bright and sharp. My colorimeter didn’t measure the same brightness levels as other publications published in their reviews of the S7-392 though or the same deep blacks. It also measured slightly skewed colors out of the box, with a visible cold/blueish tint, but those can be fixed with a calibration run, so you’ll be able to tackle color-accurate work with this laptop, but you’ll need to calibrate it first.
Anyway, check out the numbers below for yourself (measured with a Spyder4Elite):
- Panel HardwareID: Sharp SPH13FF LQ133T1Jw02;
- Coverage: 100% sRGB, 73% NTSC, 78% Adobe RGB;
- measured gamma: 2.1 ;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 254 cd/m2;
- contrast at max brightness: 400:1;
- white point: 7100 K;
- black on max brightness: 0.63 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 4.47 uncalibrated, 0.80 calibrated.
Once again I have to mention the stiff and well-made metallic hinges and the fact that the screen leans back beyond 180 degrees, which for some can be a major selling point.
Keyboard and trackpad
I’ve never been a fan of the S7’s keyboard and since it hasn’t changed from the previous versions, I’m still not. The issue here is the layout Acer chose for this keyboard. Despite having enough room for a complete set of keys, they left the 6th row of Function keys out and instead combined the numbers and Function keys together. For me this extremely annoying, but I admit I’m more sensitive than most other when it comes to a keyboard, since I spend many hours typing/programming each day and I actually use those Function keys often.
That aside, there are also some other weird key placements, like the ~ placed just near the CapsLock key or the Del placed on the bottom row near the Right Alt. And BTW, there’s no right CTRL key.
However, I do think the average user can get used to these changes and once we look past the layout, the typing experience isn’t bad. The keys are large and proper spaced, they are responsive and register clicks even if you don’t press them in their middle and on top of all these, their stroke is decent for a device as slim as this one. In fact, the travel distance is superior to what you’re offered by competitors like the Dell XPS 13 or the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus and as a result I was able to type fairly fast and mostly accurate during the time I used this laptop. But the layout is so darn annoying, especially to someone like me who’s used to the full set of keys on the Lenovo ThinkPad X220.
There’s another thing I found annoying. The writing on the keys is a sort of gray, while the keys are silver. Because of that, once you turn ON the illumination, the writing blends in with the key around, which makes it difficult to spot what’s on each key from a standard angle. And that’s annoying even for an experienced typist that doesn’t look at the keyboard much, again, because some keys are not where they’re supposed to be, due to the changed layout. In fact, with the illumination activated, it’s a lot easier to spot a key’s secondary Function, since those are painted in a darker blue, than their main Functions.
The trackpad is fine overall. It’s centered to the space bar and not to the entire laptop, which some of you might not appreciate, and it’s fairly large. This 2015 model uses a Synaptics touchpad with a smooth surface that offers enough grip and a pleasant tactile experience.
This surface is responsive and accurate most of the time. In order to perform physical clicks you need to press it in its lower right and end corners. Taps work well too and so do some gestures. However, those can get finicky from time to time and while things like two finger scrolling and zooming are supported, I couldn’t get two finger Back and Forward gestures to work.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Like I mentioned in the beginning, the Aspire S7-393 is only a novelty on the inside and unfortunately that’s the part I couldn’t properly test on this early pre-production model.
I mean, I’ve took it through my usual set of benchmarks and activities, but the numbers aren’t as good as they should be, due to outdated and immature drivers. The only graphics driver that actually worked on this test unit dates from September 2014 and there’s nothing newer on Acer’s website, plus the generic Intel drivers don’t work. So take the numbers in this section with reserve and better check out this article if you’re interested in what the Broadwell i7-5500U processor can actually deliver in benchmarks.
In everyday use the S7-393 proved lightning fast. The 8 GB of RAM and the RAID 0 SSD (above average read performance, average write speeds) sure help and the laptop boots from cold in under 10 seconds, resumes from sleep almost instantaneously and handles smoothly daily tasks like browsing, watching all sorts of movie content, editing photos and texts and even playing some games. I haven’t run that many titles on this unit because the unbaked drivers would have resulted in poorer results than you should actually expect with the retail units, but I did run some benchmarks.
- 3DMark 11: P1151;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 51860, Cloud Gate –5002, Sky Driver – 2609, Fire Strike – 724;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2432;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 25.32 fps, CPU 2.90 pts, CPU Single Core 1.31 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 29.15 fps, CPU 266 cb, CPU Single Core 121 cb;
- X264 Benchmark 4.0: Pass 1 – 87.79 fps, Pass 2 – 16.13 fps.
The numbers are very close to what I got on an i5-5200U / 4GB configuration with a slower SSD, hence clearly flawed by those drivers, and you should expect them to be 15-20% better on the final products.
I do have to mention one thing that will probably have an impact on performance out of the box: bloatware. There’s plenty of it installed on this Acer laptop and I recommend getting rid of it. I did that and while at starters Windows 8.1 shows around 90 active processes running with the computer idle, once cleaned, their number drops to under 60. And yes, these aren’t intensive processes, but they are still things that run in the background and affect both the speed and the battery life.
That aside, the Acer Aspire S7 will probably be available in a bunch of different configurations and some of you might want to know how it handles upgrades. Well, the back is extremely easy to take apart, you’ll just need a Torx screw for that and once in, you can have a peak at the internals.
There are two cooling fans on this device and the heat-pipes are actually on top of the motherboard, which offers a justification for that large unused space on the interior’s top part, above the keyboard. You’ll also notice that the RAM is soldered and cannot be upgraded, but the storage can, as well as the battery can be replaced later down the road if needed. There’s also the ability to change and upgrade the Wi-Fi module, but for that you’ll need to first unscrew and lift the entire motherboard, as the chip is hidden behind it, and that can be a bit more complicated if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.
Anyway, about that SSD. Acer uses a 50 mm mSATA SSD (in this case with two 128 GB segments grouped in RAID 0 on the same PCB), which is an older standard, as most other manufacturers these days went with M.2 NGFF or PCI-E solutions. However, the mSATA sticks are actually cheaper than the M.2s, are available in up to 1 Tb capacities, plus match them in speed, but are slower than the PCI-E models. And the mSATA RAID 0 version on the tested config is faster than a standard M.2 NGFF module.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
Noise and heat are not going to be a problem with everyday use, as long as you make sure not to cover the intake and exhaust grills on the laptop’s belly and back. The aluminum interior does get warm when browsing or watching movies, but it’s far from being hot, while the two fans remain mostly inactive or run at almost inaudible levels.
Once you push the laptop a bit more, like start a 4K movie or have 20+ tabs open in the browser or run a game, the fans will start ramping up and the temperatures will raise. I haven’t stressed this laptop, but I did run a game for several hours in order to see how it performs under load and how hot it gets. The pictures below will tell you more about both the outer case and the inner components’ temperatures in several different conditions.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube video in IE for 30 minutes;
*Gaming – Need For Speed: Most Wanted on High for 30 minutes
It’s worth noting that once the laptop heats up and the fan kicks in, it will require a few minutes for it to cool and the fans to go quiet again. But the whole process is way faster than on the Dell XPS 13. With casual use, if the fans will need to start from time to time, they’ll also turn off quickly once the more demanding activities finish up.
Connectivity wise, the Acer Aspire S7-393 offers Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi AC and Fast-Ethernet with the adapter included in the pack. The faster wireless module in another novelty here, as the older S7-392s relied on Wi-Fi N modules only. Acer went with an Intel Dual-Band Wireles AC 7265 solution and this provides proper speeds and strong signal strength. However, while I still get 5 bars of signal at 30 feet from the router with 2 walls in between, the speed does drop to about half when compared to what’s recorded near the router, so if you have dodgy Wi-Fi signal in your house, the Acer Aspire S7-393 might struggle a bit in certain situations.
Two speakers are placed on this laptop, on the bottom sides, and while the audio quality is half-decent for a laptop in this class, the volume is rather poor, as it peaks to only about 77 dB in my tests. The system will be able to fill in a regular room, but will not keep up in a noisy environment. Acer’s Dolby Digital Plus software can help you tweak the audio and create different sound profiles, but can’t change much.
Last but not least there’s the webcam. It’s placed on top of the screen, with a 720p sensor, and provides blurry and washed-out images. Two microphones sit on the front lip, so if you need this for occasional Skype calls it will do, but don’t expect much. In fact, expect very little.
Acer put a 4 Cell 47 Wh battery on this laptop which is a bit small these days for its large footprint. Still, it delivers good enough results, and keep in mind these numbers will probably improve with more mature drivers.
The screen is manually set to 50% brightness, which in this case equals ~120 nits, and the Auto brightness functions are disabled.
- 3.8 W (~12 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, keyboard illumination OFF, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 6.5W (~7 h 15 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination LVL1, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7 W (~6 h 45 minutes of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination OFF, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8 W (~6 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination OFF, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 9 W (~5 h 20 min of use) – heavy browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination LVL1, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
I’m not going to comment on these numbers because I can’t tell for sure if that’s exactly what we should expect from the final models. On a first look they seem just about right though, the S7 tested here is a bit more power-hungry than the XPS 13 reviewed a few days ago, but it packs a faster processor and a higher resolution touchscreen. And while 6-7 hours of daily use might not sound incredible these days, it’s definitely not bad either.
Browsing and watching videos in Firefox and especially in Chrome requires more energy than on IE and lowering the screen’s resolution has of course NO impact on the numbers above.
The laptop is paired with the same charger as the 392 model, which consists of the 45 Wh power brick with a 6 feet cable, plus an extra cable if you need it. Charging the laptop from 10% to 100% takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. At the same time they haven’t changed the annoying charging tip, which still wobbles in place and feels poorly built for a device in this price range, as you can see from the video review.
Price and availability
The Acer Aspire S7-393 has recently popped out in some stores around the world.
Acer’s US store lists a Aspire S7-393-7451 model that includes an Intel Core i7-5500U CPU, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, Wi-Fi AC and a FHD touchscreen, for $1299, which is a fair price when compared to its direct Broadwell U competitors. The same kind of money would only get you an i5-5200U /8 GB / 256 GB SSD version of the Dell XPS 13 and an i5-5200U / 4 GB / 128 GB version of the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 2015, albeit with a higher resolution display. The i7 configurations on this latter two will set you back some other several hundreds dollars. So the Aspire is competitively priced.
Acer will offer the configuration tested here as well, with the QHD screen, but based on our previous experience with the S7-392, it will not be available in the US, but only in Europe and some other regions. The retail price for this model is set at around 1500 euros over here.
As I mentioned from the beginning, the Acer Aspire S7-393 is basically the same laptop as its predecessor, the S7-392, but with a hardware bump to Broadwell. Except for that and the Wi-Fi AC chip now bundled, nothing else has changed.
The new platform will translate in a slight performance boost, most of the time unnoticeable in daily activities, and maybe 30 to 60 minutes longer run times in certain cases. I wasn’t able to properly test those in this article, due to the early and immature drivers, but that’s what I’d expect based on my experience with the Broadwell U line. Thus, when it comes to choosing between an Aspire S7-392 2014 and the 2015 model, it’s really going to be a matter of how much cheaper you can find the 392 versions. I’d say get the 392s if you can save $100 or more.
That aside, Acer’s decision not to change their flagship ultrabook leaves me with mixed feelings. The “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” approach has worked for them in the last two years, but the competition hasn’t been slackening in the meantime. Dell, Lenovo and Samsung already have some very interesting Broadwell U models in store and I’d reckon other manufacturers will offer their options as well soon enough.
Even so, if you want a premium 13 inch ultrabook with a touchscreen, high end specs and a white body, the Aspire S7-393 should be high on your list. It’s not without minor flaws, but there’s nothing utterly wrong with it either and it sells for $200-$300 less than a similarly configured competitor. On the other hand, if you’re not willing to spend $1300+ on your machine, this Acer is not for you, as the Aspire S7-393 will not be available in any lower-end configurations from what I know. But there are other more affordable Broadwell powered 13 inch ultraportables out there.
At the end of the day, the Aspire S7-393 remains one of the most interesting ultrabooks on the market. But it no longer shines among its piers as its predecessors did in their days. It has aged…
With that in mind we’re going to draw the line here. Hope you enjoyed this and please get in touch in the comments section if there’s anything to add to this review or if you have any questions, I’m around to reply and help.