03/05/2012 17:16 | By Cliff Joseph, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Acer Aspire S3 review

It might not have the finish of some of the pricier Ultrabooks on the market, but the Aspire S3 offers style and performance at an affordable price point.

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook (© Acer)

What is it?
An Ultrabook with a non-ultra price.

What's great?
It's very slim and light, with good battery life, yet comes in at less than £700.

What's not?
The casing's a little plasticky, and the keyboard's cramped.

Bottom line
It can't match the elegance of some of its more expensive rivals, but the S3 brings Ultrabook design to a wider audience.

The new Ultrabook laptops that we've seen in the last few months have all been terrific - sleek, slim, and so light that you'd barely notice the extra weight in your bag or backpack. The only disadvantage is that they're also pretty expensive, rarely giving you any change from £1000.

Thankfully, that's starting to change now, and Acer's latest S3 model comes in at just £679.97. That's tantalizingly close to our popular sub-£600 price category, and far cheaper than rivals such as Apple's MacBook Air.

It has to be said that the S3 does very much take its cue from the MacBook Air. Measuring barely 0.7 inches thick when folded shut, the S3 has the same tapered edges as the Air, and a similar brushed metal finish. Even the keyboard is recessed into the body of the machine in a similar fashion. It's the same weight too, at just 1.35Kg for a model with a 13.3-inch screen.

Acer can't quite match Apple's quality and attention to detail, though. We certainly wouldn't describe the S3 as flimsy, but the casing does have a rather lightweight, plasticky feel to it. The keyboard also feels a little cramped - especially the tiny 'Enter' key, which looks like it's been chopped in half and could slow you down if you're a fast typist. The trackpad's a better size though, and responds smoothly to multi-touch gestures, such as swiping your fingers left and right to step forwards and backwards through a series of web pages.

The 13.3-inch screen is good too, displaying vivid colours when we were watching EastEnders Omnibus on the BBC iPlayer. We got a full four hours out of the battery when using wi-fi to stream video from iPlayer, so you could probably stretch that to five hours or more for lighter tasks such as browsing the web or sending emails.

The built-in speakers do sound a bit thin and tinny, but there's a headphone socket if you want better audio quality, as well as an HDMI connector for hooking it up to a flat-screen TV. There's no built-in DVD drive, though, so you'll have to provide an external drive of your own for playing DVDs or installing software off a CD-ROM.

Inside the S3 you'll find a dual-core Intel i5 processor that runs at 1.6GHz, along with 4GB of memory and a 320GB hard disk. That's not exactly top-of-the-range these days, but it's perfectly fine for browsing the web, playing video and doing a spot of photo-editing. The Intel HD 3000 graphics chip doesn't have the raw horsepower to handle the latest 3D games, but that's true of many more expensive laptops too, so we can't complain too much about that.

Acer has made a few compromises to squeeze the price of the S3 down to this level, but it's still a very attractive laptop. It's light and compact, yet powerful enough for most day-to-day computing tasks, and makes a good alternative to expensive designer laptops from rivals such as Samsung and Apple.

HP Envy 14 Spectre is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets (© HP)

Essential info:
Typical online Price: £679.97
URL: Acer Aspire S3
Screen: 13.3-inch, 1366x768 resolution
Processor: Intel i5 at 1.6GHz
Memory: 4GB
Hard disk: 320GB
Weight: 1.35Kg

Also consider:
Samsung Series 9 - more expensive than the S3, but even lighter and slimmer and quite impeccably stylish.

HP DM1 - a really compact 11-inch laptop that comes in for less than £400.

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