I’ve never reviewed anything before, I’ve only read reviews from a wide variety of sources. I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll just go ahead.
My old laptop was over five years old in the summer of 2013. While I hadn’t exactly had the need to use a laptop as much as I had to while I was in school, I felt my old laptop was basically a brick. It was heavy, slow, and a pain to lug around with me. I wasn’t particularly in the market for a new laptop, but a local retailer had the Acer Aspire S3-391-6046 on clearance for just above $275. I decided to bite.
The hardware design of the S3 Ultrabook is about a year and a half old as of the writing of this review in July 2013, however it still feels modern, measuring in at about 0.7” thick and weighing a hair under 3 lbs. At first glance, it may be mistaken for a MacBook Air or comparable Utrabook. The lid of the screen is made from brushed aluminum, while the body is silver-colored plastic. Despite the plastic construction, the whole computer feels very solid.
As mentioned, the hardware specs are a bit dated, especially the processor (a second-generation Intel Core i3 at 1.4 GHz), but it performs fast enough for what I use the Ultrabook for: web browsing, some Photoshop, and streaming video. The Intel HD 3000 graphics don’t lag during video playback, but I haven’t had the computer long enough to give it a thorough test, including some gaming. Despite being based on Intel’s older 32nm process, I noticed very little fan noise and the processor ran quite cool most of the time, averaging around 40-45 degrees C.
The 4 GB of included DDR3 RAM are not upgradable, and from what I can gather are actually soldered to the motherboard; I wish I could upgraded the memory, but this isn’t going to be my main PC, so 4 GB should be sufficient. As for storage, Acer includes a 300 GB spinning hard drive, which is complimented by a 20 GB SSD. The OS (Windows 8 in this case) is installed to the spinning drive, while the SSD is used for some kind of hibernation cache. Boot times are fast enough for a spinning drive, averaging around 30 seconds, while wake times coming from sleep or hibernation are around 10-15 seconds.
The S3 also includes an MMC/SD card slot, which is annoying shallow and causes cards to stick out about a half inch. In addition to the card slot which sits on the right side of the unit, there are two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size HDMI output, and a power connector on the back. There is a sole headphone/mic jack on the left side.
There is no Ethernet jack on the Ultrabook, but Acer includes both 802.11/b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. Annoyingly, using the default, included WiFi drivers, there is a flaw where the laptop will randomly drop WIFi connection every few minutes while on battery, but after doing a bit of research, it was fixed by an update to the latest WiFi drivers from Acer’s site.
The 13.3” LED-backlit LCD display seemed pretty average; it wasn’t anything special, nor was it bad. Color reproduction is pretty good, but like in a lot of other LED displays, it seems a bit too saturated at times. Horizontal viewing angles are good, but vertical angles suffer unless you’re looking directly at the screen. The 1366x768 resolution and glossy screen are pretty standard for today’s budget laptops.
Battery life ranges from about 4-5 hours, during my normal use, which consists of a lot of web browsing, obviously with WiFi enabled. The default Windows 8 “Balanced” and “Power Saver” power options work well, and dim the screen and put the laptop to sleep at appropriate times to conserve battery. While I have not opened the bottom of the S3 yet, from what I can tell, the battery is not easily replaceable, so being close to an outlet may be beneficial. The power brick isn’t too heavy, but still does get very warm while charging.
The keyboard is a typical chiclet-style keyboard, which nearly all laptops use today. The keyboard feels quite sturdy, however the spacing between keys seems a bit small compared to a conventional desktop keyboard. One thing that annoys me about the keyboard is the small arrow keys; they’re each only half the height of normal keys and I often find myself hitting Page Up, which is right above the left arrow, for example.
The touchpad, like the keyboard, feels very sturdy, and is made from one piece of plastic. The bottom half can be clicked for standard right and left click functions. By default, Acer’s touchpad software enables Windows 8 swipe and multitouch gestures. I tried using the touchpad with these enabled, and it was nearly unusable, with random clicks and gestures becoming very annoying, so I quickly turned the gestures off. With the aforementioned gestures turned off, the touchpad is very nice to use, although I’d prefer the physical left and right click buttons being on a different piece of plastic below the touchpad.
The S3’s built-in 720p webcam and microphone are quite sufficient for Skype calls. Microphone levels were good and sound levels are clear. The built-in speakers on the Ultrabook are another story, however. The stereo speakers on the bottom of the laptop are quite small and aren’t very loud, nor do they have much bass. They can be heard from across an average-sized room decently, but add in any background noise, and they can hardly be heard.
Overall, I am very happy with the Acer Aspire S3. It is a very well-built, thin and light Ultrabook. If you can find one with more modern specs, it is well worth it, but even my particular model, with year-old specs is a quite capable machine for most things.
Thanks for reading!