With the test version of Windows 8 installed here, we didn’t have any reliable means of producing benchmark results so we’ll keep this section brief and subjective. We’ll be looking at how the Ultrabook performs as a traditional Ultrabook, see how the addition of a touch-screen and Windows 8 changes things, and finally – as this is XSReviews, after all – we’ll be examining the S7′s gaming performance.
As its internals suggest, the Acer Aspire S7 in its highest configuration is a strong contender indeed. With a core i7 behind the helm, dual SSDs in RAID 0 and a good complement of RAM, you’ll be able to run all but the most intensive tasks on the laptop – although for an ultra-mobile video rendering platform, you could certainly do a lot worse.
In normal day to day use, juggling media players, office programs, a web browser with plenty of tabs open and photo editing, the laptop simply did not slow down – apps always loaded quickly, multi-tasking was a breeze and the UI was as responsive as anything. Compared to my Windows 8 gaming desktop, it was entirely comparable.
All in all, it’s an impressive feat; it’s about the third of the thickness of my four year old ultra-portable and is much more than three times as powerful. That weight – or lack thereof – is an important selling point in the Ultrabook platform and the Aspire S7 delivers as you’d expect. Indeed, on many occasions the laptop was so light that I suspected it had been stolen from my backpack – but of course, there it was every time.
However, the Aspire S7 doesn’t entirely fulfill the Ultrabook ideals put forward by Intel and others. There are three components to an Ultrabook, in my eyes: A slim and light design, excellent performance and acceptable battery life. Sadly, the Acer Aspire S7 only really fulfills two of those requirements – its svelte design is stellar and its hardware performance is top notch, but the battery life just isn’t there.
It isn’t exceptionally bad, by any means – I typically got about four and a half hours of moderate (read: non-gaming) use out of it before it succumbed to battery exhaustion, but that’s about two hours below what has become standard for Ultrabooks, and almost half that of the most capacious models.
In a way, that’s no surprise – you don’t put a 1080p panel, core i7 processor and two SSDs in the thinnest Ultrabook ever and expect magnificent battery life, but it is a shortcoming you should be aware of. If you’re looking for a machine that will last all day, this isn’t it – you’ll need to bring the charger. Acer have also apparently spoken to other publications about an attachable battery that’ll double the battery life, so that might be worth looking into if you must have all-day battery life from your laptop of choice. Of course, that’ll add even more onto an already steep price.
As with pretty much every other Windows 8 device in the market, the Aspire S7’s screen is touch-enabled. This of course is down to its operating system; Windows 8 was designed to be touch-friendly wherever possible, with multi-touch gestures and easy-to-hit tiles on the start screen. By and in large, it works extremely well – although I did notice some issues with missed gestures (most often the charms menu not appearing when I swiped in from the right) these disappeared when I later tried the retail version of Windows 8 on the laptop.
So performance was good, but did it add anything to the experience? Well, somewhat. I’m still very much used to keyboard and mouse input and for most of the time that’s exactly what I used. But for the new Metro apps, there’s definitely a cause to use touch input sometimes; it seems nicer to swipe across a screen to read the news than to use the much smaller are of the touchpad. I think we’ll see more apps in the future that really make that touch-screen necessary, but for now it’s a nice-to-have that subtracts nothing from the experience and can occasionally comes in very handy. In the hands of someone more accustomed to the touch interfaces on mobile devices, it’s a great boon.
Of course, the first thing I do after installing the absolute essentials (Chrome, Dropbox, Skype) on a new machine is try out a few games.
I did this with the Acer Iconia W800 tablet that we reviewed earlier, and I got fairly decent performance – generally I could choose between high detail settings and the full HD resolution, and often neither. The Acer Aspire S7 is generally the same, but the addition of the keyboard and touchpad makes gaming a much more convenient prospect – with the tablet I’d have to pull out a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse at some stage anyway, so having them integrated is pretty handy, natch.
While FTL: Faster Than Light, Civilisation V and StarCraft II all worked as nicely as I expected – which is to say, they were at playable framerates at lowish settings – I tried something rather more daring. The game was XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a turn based strategy title set in an alien invasion. The game had come out about the same time as I started this review, so I didn’t expect much from the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics.
Despite the modernity of the game and the fact that the machine was well below the minimum graphics card specifications, it ran like a charm on the S7, pumping out extremely solid frame-rates at low settings. While the smaller screen meant that I preferred to play on my desktop, it proved an excellent diversion when I was travelling and I completed a good chunk of the game in this way. Intel have definitely been working hard on their integrated graphics solutions and the third generation Intel chipset proved extremely capable here.
Later on, I tried everyone’s favourite shooter juggernaut: Call of Duty: Black Ops II. At 1366 x 768 I found the game extremely playable, with FPS remaining within the 30 to 60 region for all but the largest multiplayer matches. Singleplayer was a similar story, staying playable throughout although as you’d expect the graphics didn’t look quite as lovely as they did on my gaming PC.
One potential downside to running games on the S7 is the affect it has on the laptop’s characteristics. Where you start out with a silent, cool running and moderately long-lasting laptop, playing anything GPU intensive quickly turns the laptop into an obnoxiously loud and relatively hot machine, and it absolutely rinses the battery life too. While I was playing on pre-production hardware, definitely look into this further if you’re looking to do some gaming on the S7 and thermal / aural characteristics are important to you.
Whille you wouldn’t pick the S7 if you were going for gaming performance alone, it still proves an adequate substitute if you want to play on the go. Don’t expect to be playing Battlefield 3 on this thing, but it’s more than up to the task of running older and less demanding titles. Turn-based or pause-heavy titles like FTL: Faster Than Light and XCOM seem ideal, as slowdowns will have a minimal effect on gameplay.
While I was impressed with Acer’s Iconia W800 tablet, the Aspire S7 blew me away. I don’t normally mind returning review units, but I’ve grown very attached to the S7 over the few weeks that I’ve had it – it’s served me well and exceeded my expectations for a Windows 8 Ultrabook, even if battery life remains a concern. In the end, it’s hard to fault it – its biggest problems are its battery life, its keyboard and its cost, and all of these seem reasonable tradeoffs when you consider the extremely slim design. If you’re looking for a premium grade Ultrabook that will impress and delight, then the Acer Aspire S7 is an excellent choice.
- Thin and beautiful
- Excellent all-around performance
- Ideal for Windows 8
- Poor battery life
- Combined keys aren’t intuitive