The Acer Aspire S3-951 is the first of a new wave of Apple MacBook Air clones that have been announced by Windows PC manufacturers.
The new product category has been dubbed ultrabook by Intel, keen to keep its processor order-books filled as consumers abandon the netbook which previously propped up sales of its underpowered Intel Atom processor.
Intel is not only creating a slush fund to help incentivise this push into Apple’s ultraportable territory, it’s even handed out a blueprint notebook design for the likes of Acer, Asus and Toshiba to follow.
Acer was quick to market with its Acer Aspire S3-951, a copy of the 13in version of the Apple MacBook Air. But in order to compete with the original, Acer needs to innovate with useful technology not found in Apple’s lightweight notebook; or match the quality and sell for a much lower price. Let’s see where it’s succeeded.
First impression of the Acer Aspire S3-951 with its lid closed is positive. But what appears to be an all-metal construction is soon revealed on handling to be a plastic laptop with a thin skin of brushed metal just covering the lid. The rest of the S3-951 is assembled from plastic that’s been painted a silver-grey colour to mimic the Air’s high-grade all-metal construction.
Like the Air, the closed Acer Aspire S3-951 tapers from the rear to the front, only is fatter at both edges. At its maximum at the rear, the S3-951 is 18mm against the Air’s 17mm.
In weight, Acer has patently been paring down the grams in order to beat Apple’s example, settling for 3g lighter at 1338g on the sample we reviewed.
The keyboard is like Apple’s now-familiar Scrabble tile type, but without the same precision feel. There’s a little more sponginess on these grey keys. Also troubling was the way the double-height Return was actually a single-height key. We often found ourselves hitting the ‘\’ key above, which has been shaped to look like part of the Return key.
The trackpad follows Apple’s idea of buttonless operation. Unlike the MacBook Air, multi-touch support is rather hit or miss here. Mostly the latter – you can try two-finger vertical scrolling, and pinch-to-zoom sometimes works in some apps. There’s even a four-finger swipe ro hide an open Windows program. But sideways scrolling, three-finger gestures and four-finger-and-a-thumb gestures are all absent.
All ports are behind the back, under the screen hinge: power inlet, HDMI, two USB 2.0, plus a cooling vent. There’s an SD card slot on the right, and headphone jack on the left.
The Acer Aspire S3-951 screen has the same headline size of 13.3in, but is smaller in area due to its wider 16:9 aspect ratio, where the MacBook Air has a 16:10 screen that’s arguably better suited to a PC.
More important is the screen quality, which is sadly lacking on the Acer Aspire S3-951. It’s too shiny for comfortable viewing, has a relatively low resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, and has serious visibility issues when viewed off-axis.
One area where Windows PCs have traditionally stumbled may have been resolved – standby mode. Instant-on worked well in our tests. In fact, this is the first Windows laptop we’ve encountered that could be consistently put to sleep by closing the lid, and which would wake again and be ready for business when opened.
The Acer Aspire S3-951 includes a pair of very small speakers that vent through the bottom and the keyboard. Don’t be misled by the Professionally Tuned script on the bodywork – these speakers sound dreadfully tinny despite the efforts of Dolby and its ineffectual Home Theater v4 software.
The sample of Acer Aspire S3-951-2634G24iss we tested with Intel Core i7 running at 1.7GHz, along with its 240GB SSD from ADATA and 4GB of memeory, let the Acer Aspire S3-951 run very fast.
It recorded 134 points in WorldBench 6, where the 13in MacBook Air scored 122 points. The Acer Aspire S3-951 generally did run noisier as well, it’s fan quite audibly ‘on’ much of the time.
As is typical for an ultraportable, the Acer Aspire S3-951 relies on integrated graphics. These aren’t really cut out for heavy gameplay, but we saw the Acer Aspire S3-951 play FEAR at Maximum detail at an average of 12fps. After dropping detail to High, it averaged 38fps, proving that Intel’s last generation of Core chips can get you by, if you keep the quality down.
We wonder if Acer has underclocked the Intel graphics processor here, however, as Apple’s ultraportable managed a smoother 17 and 52fps in the same two tests.
Battery life from the non-replaceable built-in battery was very good, at a little over 6 hours (370 mins) in the MobileMark 2007 Productivity challenge.
Acer UK doesn’t have the resources to provide relevant review samples of its products. Instead the company loaned us an Acer S3-951-2634G24iss model that is not sold in the UK.
The nearest UK version we could find to match this 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-powered laptop was one with a 1.6GHz Core i5 processor. With the same 240GB SSD storage capacity and 4GB memory, this slower model sells for £1099.
NEXT PAGE: Original PC World Australia review >>