Last year, the first official Ultrabook (the 2011 Samsung Series 9 didn’t count) that reached us was the 13-inch Acer Aspire S3. It showed consumers what to expect from Ultrabooks in general. It was thin, light and generally a good notebook to have. It did have its flaws, but we felt that they were only apparent because Acer was trying to keep the price low.
Fast forward to the present timeline and Acer now has a premium edition of the Aspire S3 - the Acer Aspire S5. With a slightly refreshed design, this 13.3-inch notebook features a much newer internal platform running the Intel Ivy Bridge processor (Core i5-3317U) and its associated features. Storage is now downsized to just 128GB, but it's a true SSD drive and not a standard hard drive, nor a hybrid drive. That would directly translate to a better user experience thanks to its improved access times and much faster data transfer rates. Will the hardware upgrades automatically make the Aspire S5 a better machine than the more basic Aspire S3? That's what we intend to find out over the next few pages.
The new Aspire S5 looks different from the S3 due to a difference in color and design style, but otherwise, overall handling felt familiar. This time round, the S5 follows the design principles seen on the multimedia Acer Aspire M3 notebook. The S5 has the same soft curves at all the edges, and also an aluminum lid which makes the notebook feel robust. The rest of the notebook has a pretty sturdy magnesium alloy build. At 15mm (thinnest point is 11mm), the S5 is slightly thinner than most Ultrabooks in the market.
So not only does the Acer Aspire S5 look better and sleeker than the basic Aspire S3 Ultrabook model, it's also lighter at 1.2kg as compared to the 1.33kg of the latter notebook. From the looks (and feel) of it, Acer seems to be delivering on its promise to focus on bringing high quality products to the market. This is further confirmed when you open its lid (held by fairly tight hinges) and inspect its roomy interior. Immediately, you will be greeted by a very large clickable trackpad, which consumers will likely be fond of. The feel of the clickpad is very similar to the S3 as it's got that satisfying click, an important feedback for consumers when using a clickpad.
Complimenting the nice clickpad, the notebook's keyboard is a decent companion. There isn’t any flex on the keyboard housing, because it's made of fairly thick magnesium alloy. The chiclet keys are springy (though a bit wobbly) and they aren’t as shallow as the keys on other sleek Ultrabooks. Even so, we thought more rigid keys and better key travel would have made the typing experience an even better one.
If it's your first acquaintance with the Aspire S5, you probably must have noticed that there's a severe lack of ports and connectivity throughout the exterior of the machine. You can look all over the machine, and all you will find is a power switch on the left underside of the machine, which is accompanied by a card reader slot. On the right is an audio jack, and that's all.
So, where are all the usual connectivity options? Well, here is where the Acer Aspire S5 will show off one of its neatest tricks. Once you hit the Magicflip button on the top right corner (as seen in the photo), you will hear a pretty loud buzzing noise. Don’t be alarmed as that’s just the Magic Flip opening and revealing a few of the most desired ports. This photo will reveal where exactly are the extra ports located and thus, the Magicflip feature:-
You'll find a full-sized HDMI port (not the miniaturized variety), dual USB 3.0 ports, followed by the biggest surprise on an Ultrabook - a Thunderbolt port. The Thunderbolt port is currently one of the fastest, but most elusive port you can find on a Windows based notebook. That's because adoption rate of this new format is slow, due to its prohibitive high costs and the accompanying peripherals. Still, this gives the notebook quite a big advantage in capabilities/versatility and you can get yourself a new Thunderbolt compatible display or portable hard drive to take advantage of its blazing speed.
While the Magicflip is a neat party trick (both in reality and metaphorically speaking), we're not quite sure of its practicality. After all, these ports are probably going to be often used and hiding them in this fashion could be annoying to some. Furthermore, as a mechanical part, it’s best not to overuse it because no one can vouch for its reliability in the long run. The only way to find out is to get one and try it for yourself.
One smaller observation of the Magicflip is that it raises the notebook ever so lightly, but in our actual usage, the raised notebook didn't lend itself to be a better usage experience. In fact, we hardly felt the difference.
For such a small machine, the speakers on the Aspire S5 are quite usable. It isn’t enough to start a party going, but watching Youtube videos personally and not having to strain your ears is definitely possible. The screen is however the only real weakness of the notebook - a low resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels and a glossy screen. It's quite disappointing considering that the rest of the Aspire S5 is actually quite impressive. We can only hope that the next generation of the Aspire Ultrabooks will ship with a better screen. Better yet, we hope Acer hears our pleas and introduce higher resolution screen options for a marginal fee.