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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  • magreen - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    agree 100%.

    anyone for going back to the Atari 2600's 160x192 5:6 resolution for the next premium laptop?
  • seapeople - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    The next step for Asus is to cut out the USB 3.0 and include USB 1.1 instead and subsequently cut the laptop price from $1400 to $1397.
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    You mean Acer I hope...
  • frakkel - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Completely agree that the screen is an important factor. But as far as I have understood Anandtech first calibrate the screens before comparing to each other. How many ordinary people does this?

    To have a 200 dollar screen that is not calibrated is in my opinion the same deal braker as havíng a 50 dollar screen which is also not calibrated.

    As long as you have to do the calibration by your self it simple does nok make that much of a difference if the manucture put in a 200 or a 50 dollar screen. The color accuracy of a non calibrated 200 dollar screen is still terrible. And since most people dont do the calibration I understand why Acer put in thís mediocre screen.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Color accuracy is the worst of their problems... ASUS' UX31 is cheaper and has a higher res 1080p display that gives you a larger work space. Not only that, its an IPS display with superb viewing angles that dont wash the display out when viewed off center, and like when the guy in the plane seat in front of you decides to recline all the way and your own seat is busted.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    The least of their problems rather...
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Not to mention the contrast. Your brain will basically interpolate so that even if the color accuracy is off, it's "okay" for most people (look at all the tablets that are >10 dE and have no way to calibrate, and some are 50+ dE). For laptops, I think the relative cheapness of the display is easy to determine by looking at where it falls in the following list. (Note that matte vs. glossy is essentially a separate issue; you can have bad matte screens just as easily as bad glossy screens, though I continue to prefer matte over glossy.)

    Low contrast, low resolution (DPI)
    Low contrast, higher resolution (DPI)
    High contrast, lower DPI
    High contrast, higher DPI
    High contrast, higher DPI, better color gamut
    High contrast, higher DPI, better color gamut, non-TN

    Generally speaking, there really aren't any non-TN displays with good characteristics that are still low-resolution, which is good as the last thing we need is 1366x768 IPS displays shoved into 13.3" and larger laptops.
  • Steveymoo - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    I mean, seriously? They're so damned expensive for what they are!!

    They're under-performing, 99% of them have terrible screens, and the only practical use I can think of for them, is general office productivity, and internet browsing... Sure they do that pretty well, but why would a company pay over the odds for what is essentially a collection of cheap components, in an expensive (albeit slim,) package.
  • mrdude - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    It seems that every time I read an ultrabook review I see the same things being uttered: crappy display, not-so-great battery life, too expensive and way way too hot. The form factor is far too thin given the heat output of the processors at 17W TDP and that's not going to change as Haswell will have the same TDP. The components themselves cost more due to the nature of the design and the margins for ultrabook makers is actually below 7%! No wonder the displays are so damn crappy. Even given that super inflated price tag, Acer is almost certainly penny-pinching to barely break even.

    Why in the world would I want one? Why in the world is Intel pushing these? You can grab a Toshiba Portege with an equally crappy display and have none of the heat issues, better battery life, swappable components, much better performance and all this at the same weight as an ultrabook. The TimelineU M5 seems like a much better format considering the size but even for that thick a laptop (compared to this), Acer had to use a ULV i5 rather than a regular 35W chip and even that laptop suffers from heat and throttling issues (an important point that gets overlooked in every Anandtech review... Can you guys please start checking for throttling during gaming and heavy CPU/GPU work?)

    Something needs to change. Either Intel needs to loosen the requirements or tighten them even further. As I see ultrabooks today, they're stuck in some sort of halfway super-portable laptop that just doesn't make sense given the drawbacks and the just-as-portable-but-not-crappy alternatives.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    So you skipped both Zenbook articles?

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