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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  • C'DaleRider - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    With all the complaints about the display in the article.....what'd you expect from Acer? An Apple quality display? Seriously? From the bottom-of-the-barrel PC maker? LOL!
  • jabber - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Isn't Acer the firm that is telling Microsoft it shouldn't try to get into making tablets and laptops?

    Well Acer, I don't think they could do any worse could they?
  • Dug - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    For the price, yes.
  • ThreeDee912 - Thursday, July 12, 2012 - link

    Eh, a high-end 13" MacBook Air is $100 more, and although you get a slightly slower CPU, you get a significantly better 1440x900 panel, more battery life, backlit keyboard, built-in SD card reader, and faster 1600MHz DDR3 RAM.

    And yeah, looks like the review forgot to mention the keyboard isn't backlit, but other sites seem to mention it.

    Or for $200 less you can get a low-end 13" Air and still get all that, but with less SSD space.

    Only thing you don't get is a built-in HDMI port as Apple's pushing the Mini-DisplayPort/Thunderbolt combo.
  • nickod - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Would be good if the laptop tests explicitly said if HDMI and display port displays could be used together.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    They can.
  • Penti - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    I guess the Thunderbolt supports DisplayPort which at least mean it can output higher resolutions then the HDMI's single-link sub 3GHz 1920x1200. It's a big plus if it actually can drive your 27 or 30-inch monitor, if you have one of those and also won't stop you from getting one. I think it's sad to see just HDMI or VGA on laptops today, Displayport is essential. At least for any serious use. Everybody do not like to be sitting there stuck with 1920x1080 TN-screens.
  • seapeople - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - link

    Why did PC makers "decide" that 4-5 hours of battery life is good enough? They keep pumping tech into laptops, making them thinner and thinner and lighter and lighter... and simultaneously dropping the battery size, taking away one of the potential benefits of such a system. It's not like old boxy 15" laptops got 4-5 hours of battery life because they decided that's the perfect amount of battery life to target, they got 4-5 hours of battery life because that's all they could get using full size components and not have the laptop be as thick as a phone book.

    Now, we have thin, low power components, and the opportunity to make something like a 20mm thick laptop with 12+ hour battery life, which is still pretty thin, but instead we get a tapered 15mm SUPER THIN laptop that doesn't improve on battery life.

    I mean, isn't the entire concept of an ultraportable that you can take it places easily, which would thus make battery life of paramount importance? But no, it's as if PC makers are taking random stabs in the dark to get market share, saying "Look at us, we made a laptop thinner than Apple!" rather than actually putting out laptops that are well built and, most importantly, make sense for the market they're targeting.
  • mrdude - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    Because Ultrabooks aren't about practicality or performance or even weight but about looks. They're made and marketed as an "Ooooh, look at me!" type of gadget instead of something that makes sense.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    The thing is, Ultrabooks make sense for a certain market; they're just not for everyone (or, dare I say it, even most people). If you travel a lot and/or are constantly wandering around your work place and you need to take your computer with you, a 3 pound Ultrabook (formerly ultraportable) is very convenient. Assuming you have it set to go into sleep mode when you close the lid, you typically only need around 6 hours of continuous battery life to last all day at the office, not to mention making it through any continental flights.

    Now if you're on international flights or you want to be able to have your laptop on and doing work for 8-10 hours straight, obviously you need more battery capacity. There are laptops that target that market as well, typically by offering sheet batteries or extended batteries. But while it's possible to build a 3-4 pound laptop that can last 12+ hours on a single charge, such laptops aren't for everyone -- just like the typical Ultrabook. FWIW, I know personally I rarely have need of more than six hours of continuous use battery life.

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