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Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook hands on

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Acer is gearing up for an October launch of the very first ultrabook, and V3 got some hands-on time with a system that may tempt many early adopters and business users.

The S3 is 13mm thick and comes with a 13.3in HD screen and a chiclet keyboard, so comparisons are inevitably going to the drawn with the MacBook Air. The aluminium/magnesium alloy chassis feels strong but looks rather plain when compared to the Air. We also think that the trackpad is rather on the small side.

The S3 weighs 1.4kg, so it's reasonably lightweight and just a few grams heavier than the 13in MacBook Air (1.35kg).

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook front

Under the hood, the Acer is expected to ship with Windows 7, a choice of Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, 4GB of RAM as standard and an SSD or HDD depending on preference.

USB and HDMI ports are located on the back, which also houses the air vent so that the base does not get hot.

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook ports

Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba ultrabooks are also set to offer similar form factors and specifications, and Acer is looking to differentiate by including Instant On and Instant Connect technology.

Instant Connect can boot the device from sleep mode in 1.5 seconds and from hibernation in six seconds. We tested this in sleep mode and the claim was bang on. Interestingly, even ultrabooks with HDDs will come with a small SSD to enable this quick booting time, although Acer is unclear about the capacity of these SSDs.

We asked Kristof Houben, a product manager at Acer, about cold-boot times, and he told us that the S3 will have boot times consistent with standard Windows 7 laptops. But he pointed out that the platform has been designed so that it does not need to be turned off.

Meanwhile, Instant Connect automatically connects to previously used Wi-Fi networks in 2.5 seconds, much like the Mac OS X Lion operating system.

S3 buyers can expect up to seven hours of battery life if they opt for the full SSD storage option. This is under the eight hours that Lenovo claims for the U300s ultrabook and the nine hours that Samsung touts for the forthcoming Series 7 Chronos laptop.

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook side on

Acer has no plans to ship different screen sizes this year, but Houben said that different models are likely to appear in 2012.

Of course, Acer is also aiming to be the first to market. The manufacturer will start shipping the S3 from October starting at £699 and going up to £1,099.

Overall, the S3 looks a promising piece of kit, but we have yet to be convinced that it's better than the MacBook Air. With Microsoft hyping Windows 8, it remains to be seen whether consumers will buy an ultrabook now or wait a little bit longer for a next-generation model with a touch-screen operating system.

16 Sep 2011

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