Acer Aspire S7-391-9886 review

Though the Acer Aspire S7-391-9886 is a very good choice for the "money is no object" buyer, some quirks and a brief battery life keep this ultrabook from true greatness.
Photo of Acer Aspire S7-391-9886

The Acer Aspire S7-391-9886 ($1,649.99 list) is one of the thinnest ultrabooks we’ve reviewed, especially given its touch screen. It comes with a quicker Core i7 processor than the run-of-the-mill ultrabook, and its SSD drives with RAID 0 striping make it a speed demon at multimedia tasks. The S7-391-9886 is certainly pricey, but it gives you an aluminum unibody construction, Gorilla Glass 2 on both sides of the lid, and a ten-finger touch screen perfect for learning to like Windows 8. A couple quirks and a relatively short battery life keep it from earning our top marks, but as a “money is no object” lust item, it’s hard to go wrong with the Acer Aspire S7 ultrabook.

Design and Features
The S7-391-9886 is very thin, coming in at 0.47 inches thick, or 11.9 mm. This is almost one half of the thickness allotment (23 mm) that Intel mandates for touch screen equipped ultrabooks. It also makes the S7-391-9886 one of the thinnest ultrabooks, if not the thinnest laptop we’ve ever reviewed. To put this into perspective, the Editors’ Choice winner for mainstream ultrabooks, the Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 is 16mm thick and the high-end ultrabook Editor’s Choice Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71 ($1,299 list, 4.0) is 0.7 inches thick (18mm). None of these three ultrabooks is thick by any means, but if you liken the Zenbook Prime to a weekly magazine, the Acer Aspire S7-391-9886 would be like a stack of a few sheets of paper, tacked to a wall. The S7-391-9886 is also very light, tipping the scales at 2.86 pounds, lighter than the Zenbook, but a smidge heavier than the Portege.

Acer certainly took looks and functionally into account when they designed the S7 series. The S7-391-9886 is built into an aluminum unibody, with Gorilla Glass 2 on both the touch screen face and on top of the lid. A raised lip around the sides of the keyboard deck provides protection while keeping the overall thickness slim.

The backlit chiclet style keyboard is itself recessed into the laptop’s unibody chassis, so the keys don’t come into contact with the glass screen and scratch or mark it. Key travel is ultrabook short, but the keys themselves have a solid feel while typing. The one-piece trackpad responds quickly to multitouch commands, including Windows 8-specific gestures. The chiclet keyboard has a few drawbacks, however: since the keys are limited to five rows instead of six, the “regular” number keys at the top of the keyboard double as function keys (after pressing and holding the Fn key), the caps lock key shares some space with the apostrophe/tilde key (instead of the tilde key being under the Esc key), and some of the navigation keys are doubled above the directional keys (like Home/Pg Up and End/Pg Dn). All in all, it works, but your fingers will have to get used to the new key placement.

The 13.3-inch IPS widescreen has a true 1080p HD resolution (1,920 by 1,080), and it supports up to ten-finger touch. This means that you can share the screen with another user or use both hands, provided the software you’re using supports them. The innovation here is that the screen tilts all the way down to 180 degrees, letting you share the screen or use it like a tablet on a table. Since the system uses an IPS panel, the screen is viewable and bright in any orientation. The screen doesn’t flip over like the Dell XPS 12 or flip around like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, so you can’t use the S7-391-9886 in a slate fashion with one hand. This is a laptop with a touch screen, not a convertible tablet like the others.

Another notable innovation is the two-step torque friction in the S7-391-9886′s hinge. The screen opens nice and easy up to 90 degrees, but past this point the screen takes a little more effort to move. This is a benefit for touch screen users, as the screen remains rock solid in the middle of touch sessions. Contrast this with the HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100, which is a little more wobbly when using the touch screen. The extra friction makes it possible to even type on the virtual keyboard on the S7-391-9886′s screen, something you wouldn’t want to do on most other touch-screen laptops. The system’s Dolby-tuned speakers and sound system sound rich and full, which is remarkable in such a slim laptop.

When in desktop mode, the S7-391-9886′s screen is free of extra icons and bloatware shortcuts. That isn’t to say the system is free of any third-party software, since you’ll find them in a large block of 24 tiles on the Start screen (the interface formerly known as Metro). Aside from the usual Microsoft tiles, you’ll find tiles for Amazon, Amazon Kindle, eBay, Skype, Netflix, Encyclopedia Britannica, StumbleUpon, Spotify, Skitch (a simple sketching program), 7digital (music store), WildTangent (games), Evernote, and tunein radio. While this many programs would look unwieldy on the desktop screen, the nature of the tiled Start screen means that the block of third party software looks like it belongs there (if a little busy). One largish tile brings up Acer Explorer, a one-stop are for finding updates from Acer and even more apps. Since the S7-391-9886 runs a full version of Windows 8, you can load your old Windows XP/Vista/7 programs as well.

You’ll have to find those programs online or use an external optical drive, because the S7-391-9886 doesn’t have an optical drive built in. No doubt this is to keep the system thin, but boxed software on CDs or DVD is essentially obsolete these days anyway. The S7-391-9886 comes with two USB 3.0 ports, which is a little stingy considering that the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71 comes with three. The Asus UX32VD-DB71 also trumps the S7-391-9886 by using a full-sized HDMI port, you’ll have to buy and adapter for the S7-391-9886′s micro-HDMI port.

The S7-391-9886 comes with a micro-HDMI to VGA adapter and a USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet adapter. The S7-391-9886 also comes with a wireless mouse in case you prefer using one for intricate details. Not that you’ll need it, because the screen on our review unit was intelligent enough to determine whether we were trying to touch a tiny close box or the expand box next to it in desktop mode. This is one of the first 13.3-inch Windows systems with a 1080p HD screen that you can leave as is: You won’t have to bump up the screen zoom on UI elements in desktop mode, even if you use the touch screen.

Performance

The S7-391-9886 comes with an Intel Core i7-3517U processor (a dual-core CPU with Hyper-Threading), 4GB of system memory, Intel HD Graphics 4000, and two 128GB SSDs in a RAID 0 array (256GB total). The RAID 0 array helps the system with performance. This is shown in the system’s PCMark7 score of 5,090 points, which is much faster than the spinning hard drive-equipped Asus UX32VD’s 2,523 points. Other scores were very good as well, including the system’s multimedia scores like Photoshop CS6 (4 minutes 48 seconds) and Handbrake (1:17). The S7-391-9886 is certainly fast enough for the power multimedia user. But it falls short on 3D performance, with only integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics. You wouldn’t want to use the system for gaming anyway. In high-performance mode, the system’s fans kicked in any time the system was stressed. In low power (battery) mode, the system uses passive cooling at the expense of a little processing power.

You’ll want to keep the S7-391-9886 plugged in often. To keep the system light and thin, Acer only promises a six-hour battery life using the internal (non-serviceable) battery. Our video rundown test returned a passable 4:45, but this is far from all-day computing. In contrast, the HP 4t-1100 lasted 5:48 and the Dell XPS 12 came in at 5:09. The media-darling (and ultraportable Editors’ Choice) Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) topped all at 7:10. Granted, at 0.75 inches, the MacBook Pro is the “thickest” of the systems in this svelte lineup.

The Acer Aspire S7-391-9886 is a media performance laptop for the traveling artist, similar to the main audience for the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) and the current Editors’ Choice for ultrabooks, the Asus ZenBook Prime UX32VD-DB71. All three give you 1080p (or greater) resolution in a 13-inch portable package, as well as good multimedia benchmark performance. The S7-391-9886 is certainly the way to go if you want the slimmest possible touch-screen system to commute with you on the train. However, the other choices may be better if you’re a plane commuter, since they have better battery life overall. The Asus UX32VD-DB71 in particular comes with discrete graphics and a much less dear price tag of $1,299. Even the other Windows 8 systems with touch screen (Dell XPS 12 and HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100) have better battery life than the S7-391-9886. Again, if you have $1,700 to spend, you’ll probably be happy with the S7-391-9886, but for a little more ($200), you’re in upgraded MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) territory. And that laptop will make it through a continental plane trip with many minutes to spare.

BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS
Check out the test scores for the Acer Aspire S7-391-9886

COMPARISON TABLE
Compare the Acer Aspire S7-391-9886 with several other laptops side by side.

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Specifications
Operating System Microsoft Windows 8
Weight 2.86 lb, 2.86 lb
Graphics Card Intel HD Graphics 4000, Intel HD Graphics 4000
Type General Purpose, Ultraportable, Tablet, Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage
RAM 4 GB, 4 GB
Screen Size Type Widescreen
Networking Options 802.11n
Graphics Manufacturer Intel
Processor Speed 1.9 GHz, 1.9 GHz
Primary Optical Drive External
Screen Size 13.3 inches, 13.3 inches
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 256 GB, 256 GB

Verdict
Though the Acer Aspire S7-391-9886 is a very good choice for the "money is no object" buyer, some quirks and a brief battery life keep this ultrabook from earning our highest honors.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc