Acer's back with another Aspire S7. Only this time there's nothing new on the outside; it's all on the inside, with a brand new Haswell processor and touchscreen with WQHD resolution (2560 x 1440 pixels). How does it stand up to two of our favourite laptops from this year, the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus and MacBook Air 2013?
The body is practically a carbon copy of the previous edition, 2012's Aspire S7-391. It's an aluminium chassis and lid with Gorilla Glass 2 covering the screen. The keyboard panel is the same colour as the chassis. Everything is well manufactured and the hinges feel solid.
The keyboard itself isn't quite up to par with the rest of the design. It offers a nice stroke and the chiclet keys are backlit and feel good to the touch with proper resistance, but Acer obviously had to try hard to squeeze all the keys in there, leaving some of them overly small.
We find the placement of the F1, F2, etc. keys somewhat absurd. Usually they're placed just above the numerals, but here they've been squeezed onto the same keys, even though there's plenty of space between the bottom keys and the touchpad... As for the touchpad, it's an alright size (10.6 x 6 cm) and recognises all the Windows 8 touch gestures.
The ports are fairly standard for an ultrabook: one USB 3.0 port on either side, an SD card reader and an HDMI port, plus one port that Acer says is proprietary but that looks oddly similar to a mini-DisplayPort. We took the risk and plugged an DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter into it, and guess what? It worked. Like the S7-391, the S7-392 comes with a few accessories including a travel pouch and a dongle providing a VGA port, a USB 2.0 port and RJ45, but no mouse this time.
The wireless connectivity consists of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n. The Wi-Fi signal is relatively stable; we measured it at -41 dBm from 5 metres away, -44 dBm from 10 metres away and -58 dBm from 20 metres away.
Heat readings with the components under stress (°C)
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
The heat is well managed, never going above 40.7°C even when it's running full throttle (that's better than the Samsung Ativ Book 9). The hot air is expelled along the hinges between the screen and the chassis. The fan noise stays low at maximum 36 dB(A).
The Aspire S7-392 has an IPS touchscreen with 2560 x 1440 pixels. The maximum brightness is just 300 cd/m², which is a bit too low to counter the glossy screen's reflections in sunlight. IPS panels usually offer wide viewing angles, but that's not the case here. Fortunately, the contrast is a high 1,000:1.
Grey colour temperature
The Delta E is 3.5, signifying that the colours are almost perfectly faithful (three and below means perfect accuracy), making it one of the ultrabooks with the most natural colours on the market. The colour temperature, on the other hand, is a bit cold at 7,500K, making for blue overtones (the target is 6,500 K).
The headphone output offers sound quality in the upper average for an ultrabook. It has relatively high volume with no noise or distortion and a great stereo image.
The built-in speakers, however, are not quite as good. They provide an acceptable frequency response (though with the typical lack of low-end) and volume, but the sound sounds muddled, overly aggressive with low dynamics. That said, it's fine for Skyping on.
Configuration:The model we were sent to review features an Intel Core i5-4200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, an Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset and a 128 GB SSD. The observations above refer to all configurations of the Aspire S7-392, whereas the comments below apply only to the model we tested (see inset below). Available configurations may also vary depending on the country/region in which you live.
The Intel Core i5-4200U is the same processor found in the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus and Microsoft Surface Pro 2. In the Aspire S7-392 it rated well in our in-house rating system, about 15% faster than on the Ativ Book and Surface Pro. It's a capable CPU that can undertake any task.
The 128 GB solid-state drive allows the S7-392 to start up in 7 seconds and shut down in 9 seconds.
With just an Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset at the helm, the Aspire S7-392 can only handle the most basic of games. With a score of just 5900 in 3DMark06, it can run games like FIFA 13 or World of Warcraft in Full HD resolution, but not bigger titles like Crysis 3 or Bioshock Infinite.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
The Haswell processor should be enough to give the Aspire S7-392 longer battery life than the S7-391, and it does. The S7-391 lasted for just 4½ hours of video playback (with the Wi-Fi turned off, the screen brightness at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in) and the S7-392 lasts 5½ hours. Unfortunately that's still less than the Ativ Book 9 Plus (6½ hours), the Surface Pro 2 (7 hours) and the 13" MacBook Air (15 hours).
It's a light ultrabook that weighs just 1.3 kg and is therefore very easy to carry around.