What first strikes me about the Acer Aspire S3 is that it is a very thin and light laptop. I've not compared it measure for measure with a Apple MacBook Air but I'd guess it's very close to it. Turn the S3 over and it looks a bit too much like the first generation Air, but open in up and start using it and there's no doubt this is a Windows ?PC. Basically, this is a PC that you can easily carry around with you almost anywhere and it's not going to be a bother.
The Acer Aspire S3 we had for testing was the higher-end model with Intel Core i7 2637M 1.7GHz processor, 4GB RAM, and 120GB Intel SSD. The graphics are Intel's Sandy Bridge processor graphics, HD 3000, and the computer runs Windows 7 Home Premium. All this achieved a WorldBench score of 102, which is not very impressive, but in actual use everything was quick and snappy. I didn't do anything heavy like process video with the S3, and it's not really the sort of computer you would do much of that with anyway. Keep in mind though that this was the S3 with Core i7 processor. The Acer Aspire S3 lineup starts with a Core i3 processor.
One thing that particularly impressed with the Acer Aspire S3 was wakeup and reboot times. When the system is running and you close the display and want to get back into windows, it takes just over a second for the Windows login screen to appear. Even a reboot is very quick and not something you have to loathe anymore.
The outside of the very glossy 13.3-inch display (1366×768 pixels) is brushed aluminum but the main part of the Acer Aspire S3 is made out of something else, magnesium alloy I suspect. Although the two materials are very close to each other in appearance and touch, I would have preferred Acer to stick to one of them throughout, it would give the S3 a classier appearance as well as feel, I think.
Acer has decided to put Dolby Home Theater on the Acer Aspire S3 with two speakers on the bottom, one on the left and one on the right. Although the sound is not bad for this type of computer I'd say it's nothing to boast about. If you really care about great sound from the S3 you will get external speakers or headphones anyway. Also on the outside we find two USB ports on the rear next to HDMI port, AC adapter port and the exhaust from the processor fan. On the left side there's a 3.5mm audio jack and on the right side you find a SD card slot.
In terms of battery life the Acer Aspire S3 shut itself down after almost exactly five hours of Wi-Fi work on battery saving mode. I was on the web, writing, chat, Twitter, etc. doing my normal work without anything taxing the system and I got a warning about battery running out after about four and a half hours. Then at just about five hours, Windows shut itself down. That's not bad considering the specifications and size but if Acer could tweak that to get another hour out of the S3, that would be really good. As it stands, the S3 is at least a credible option for a full day's worth of work for many of us.
My main complaint about the Acer Aspire S3 is the keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard feels "swampy" (what an expression!), with little to no click to it, which I don't like, and the way the arrow keys and page up and down are organized is just a recipe for hitting the wrong key. Same goes for the return key, which is partnered up with "\" and I can't tell you know many times I typed "\" instead of return. The trackpad I kept hitting by mistake and it clicked, scrolled and did all sorts of things even after I had turned off almost all the gesture options; to me it seems there was clearly something wrong there. I was told by an Acer representative that these were both pre-production, and that at least the trackpad will be improved before shipping and I hope that's true.
See also: Group test: what's the best laptop?