Acer’s high-end ultrabook finds tough competition.
In the past we have reviewed the Acer Timeline Ultra M5, which packs a lot of hardware for a chassis that’s slim, but it’s not slim enough to be a proper Ultrabook. In this field where the MacBook Air reigns supreme, Acer was actually one of the first Ultrabook manufacturers out of the gate last year, with their S3. While it was an ambitious machine, the S3 had some issues. Let’s see if Acer strikes lucky the second time with their high-end Aspire S5 ultrabook.
The most obvious thing about the Acer Aspire S5 is its truly slim magnesium alloy body. The 13-inch Ultrabook measures an impressively thin 11mm in profile and weight of just 1.2kgs.
The dark grey lid on top has a brushed metal finish, and when closed, the Aspire S5 looks remarkably minimalistic in style. Indeed there’s only a power button and a slim SD card reader on the left, while the right side has a 3.5mm audio jack. There’s nothing on the front as the Aspire S5’s profile slopes downward.
Look behind and you’ll see some interesting stuff. First off is the magnetic power adapter that looks suspiciously similar to the MagSafe 2 latest MacBooks use. You’ll then notice the air vent, and markings for the USB 3.0, HDMI and Thunderbolt ports, but not the ports themselves. This brings me to MagicFlip.
MagicFlip is basically a panel that extends out from the rear of the Aspire S5 to reveal the expansion ports, bringing the total profile size of the Aspire S5 to 15mm. When in operation, MagicFlip actually raises the rear end of the Aspire S5, so that the keyboard is oriented in a further downward angle. The MagicFlip panel is activated by a touch-sensitive button on right side of the keyboard, but more on that later.
In my opinion while MagicFlip does slim down the Aspire S5, it feels like an unnecessary copout, where the hollow space in the back could have been used with the ports, without a total height of 15mm. It certainly wouldn’t have been 11mm thin, but the whole design would have been easier, as you wouldn’t have to push a button first to unhide USB ports.
Keyboard & Screen
Open the lid and you’ll be greeted by a generously sized keyboard in a chiclet style layout. The hard white stamping on the keys immediately tells that the keyboard isn’t backlit, which is very surprising at this price point.
The mouse pad is one piece of glass, while the rest of the body is finished in the same dark grey color as the outside. The screen has a glossy green hue to it when turned off. Push the start button and you’ll have a nicely contrasted screen and decent colors, but severely limited vertical viewing angles. You really have to angle the screen facing you squarely; otherwise you’ll start seeing negative colors near the top or bottom edge.
Another thing that disappoints for this price range is the 1366 x 768 resolution screen, which is just about average for a 13.3-inch screen. The MacBook Air comes in a much sharper 1440 x 900 resolution in the same screen size.
Like most high-end ultrabooks, the Acer Aspire S5 packs quite a punch in its slim chassis. First off we have the Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5-3317U 2 cores/ 4 threads CPU running at 1.7GHz (Turbo Boosting up to 2.6GHz). The 4GB if DDR3-1600MHz RAM is complemented by an fast 120GB SSD. Couple this with the Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 ports, and you have an extremely versatile, yet capable machine that has no bottlenecks for daily office usage or even doing heavier tasks.
There’s no doubt that the Acer Aspire S5 is loaded to the teeth with what can pushed in such a miniscule body, so let’s see how it performs compared to its peers.
For testing the Acer Aspire S5, the below ultrabooks were used for comparison.
The Samsung Series 9 is the closest competitor to the Aspire S5, but we have included the ZenBook Prime to give an idea of what a higher-end ultrabook can do.
Heat & Noise
The Aspire S5 is generally a very cool and quiet machine. However, when playing Diablo 3 on it, the fan did kick into high gear and the bottom part, essentially the entire MagicFlip panel got pretty warm, but not too warm.
When running 3DMark and other CPU heavy benchmarks, the Aspire S5 reached a maximum temperature of 74°C and the entire MagicFlip panel was unbearably hot to touch!
The good news is that because the air vent is pointed backwards, you don’t get to hear it much behind the screen. If there is any sort of audio, even at low levels, the fan is barely audible.
The Acer Spire S5 is a pretty decent ultrabook, with a great chassis design and overall snappy performance. While the benefits of the MagicFlip panel are moot, there’s no denying that the 11mm profile of the Aspire S5 is impressively thin. Of course, what hurts the Aspire S5 is the simple fact that for its high price point, the competition offers much more. The slightly more expensive Samsung Series 9 ultrabook has much higher resolution screen and better battery life. Same goes for the entry level MacBook Air which has slightly better overall specs compared to the Aspire S5, but costs less.
At the end of the day you have to be a very loyal Acer consumer to get the Aspire S5, because for little more or little less, you can get better hardware.