Acer recently released an update to the S7, aptly called the S7-392. With the launch of Intel’s new 4th-Generation Core (Haswell) CPUs, Acer is revisiting the device in the form of the S7-392, bestowing not only a new processor, but also a bigger battery and twice the RAM. Available with a 13-inch screen, a larger battery promise of seven-hour runtime. Additionally, Acer retooled its cooling setup so that the fans supposedly operate much more quietly.
Does an injection of new and improved internals, as well as a slightly tweaked keyboard help this Aspire achieve ultraportable excellence? We check out the finer points of this $1,450 system, and discover a few things that could still do with some improvement.
To those of you who’ve been waiting for an S7 refresh, this new model barely needs an introduction. The S7-392 looks every bit as good as its predecessor, from the glossy white, glass-covered lid to the anodized aluminum frame and wrist area, which is much more rigid than the carbon fiber chassis of Sony’s Vaio Pro 13. At 2.87 pounds (up slightly from 2.86 last year), it’s still one of the lightest 13-inch touchscreen laptops you’re going to find.
While the S7-392 mostly looks and feels like a premium laptop, it still has a few unsightly blemishes. For starters, the gap between the system’s 1080p touchscreen and the aluminum frame of the lid is still noticeable. The sides are cut in a clean, blunt sort of way, they never feel too sharp. The corners, in particular, have been ever-so-slightly rounded so that they never dig into your palms when you’re carrying it with two hands. Making an easy-to-hold laptop is about more than just using the lightest materials.The screen fits snugly against the left corner and widens along the right edge of the screen.
The dual speakers are also situated on the bottom side — one on the left and one on the right, each with some discreet “Dolby Home Theater” branding written nearby.
Though the S7 has mostly the same selection of ports as last time (two USB 3.0, an SD slot and a headphone jack), except the HDMI socket is now full-sized. For starters, rather than have both USB connections on the right, there’s now one on either edge, which seems like the more convenient setup to us. The SD slot has moved to the left edge, while the HDMI and headphone ports now sit on the right side. Not much to say here except that the power button is unusually difficult to push, to the point where it’s not always obvious that the machine has registered your finger-press. Hopefully Acer will loosen that key up just a bit when it comes time to design the follow-up product.
With its brand-new 4th-Generation Core Intel Core i5-4200 CPU clocked at 1.6GHz, 8GB of RAM, 1080p IPS screen, Intel HD 4400 graphics and a 128GB solid-state drive, the Aspire S7-392 is well equipped to handle most common computing tasks, aside from gaming at high resolutions and high in-game settings. But those looking for more storage space and CPU muscle can step up to a $1,650 model with 256GB of solid-state storage and a Core i7-4500U processor.
Acer moved the small power button back by the power jack where it isn’t as easy to accidentally press. And there’s a full-sized HDMI port this time around. For the most part, Acer has improved the port layout on the new S7. There’s now one USB 3.0 port on each side of the laptop.
But what looks like a ThunderBolt or Mini DisplayPort jack on the right edge of the Aspire S7-392 is actually a proprietary “Acer Converter Port” that’s meant to work with specific Acer-branded accessories.
Display and Speaker
The 1080p touchscreen that ships with all U.S. models of the updated S7 looks good. But as we saw in the previous model, the glass over the touchscreen is exceedingly glossy, making glare and reflections an issue when working in a room lit by sunlight or harsh overhead lighting.
The screen generally seems plenty bright, unless you’re in direct sunlight. Screen uniformity and contrast is good, and the panel was able to render 72 percent of the sRGB scale, which is solid, if not stellar.
In our testing, the S7-392’s screen maxed out at just 114.9 nits, which is low, especially for a premium laptop, and just about half the maximum brightness we saw with the original S7.
We are also a bit disappointed to see that the WQHD (2,560 x 1,440) panel, which Acer mentioned would be available in some markets which isn’t available as an option yet in the U.S. And Acer wouldn’t say for sure if a model of the S7 would ever be available with the higher-resolution panel or not.
If Acer does add a WQHD option, we also hope the company can cut down a bit on the glossy nature of the glass over the LCD, and crank up the brightness, as well.
Unfortunately, the audio quality doesn’t nearly match the visuals. We never did get comfy with the speaker setup: even set to 50 percent, the volume is too weak, but crank it up and the sound gets uncomfortably distorted. We finally settled on 75 / 100, but even then the volume wasn’t quite loud enough.
Keyboard and Trackpad
One of the biggest downsides of Acer’s original Aspire S7 was its keyboard. Sure, its pastel-green backlight was pleasing enough, but the keys themselves had very little travel and were frustratingly smooth and flat.
With the updated Aspire S7-392, Acer says they’ve increased key travel from 1mm to 1.3mm. That may not sound like much, but it definitely makes a difference. The keys are still smooth and flat, but they no longer feel egregiously shallow and devoid of appreciable feedback.
Still, we wouldn’t call the keyboard great. Key travel is still a bit shallower than we’d like. Most of the buttons are actually big enough to hit without looking keys like Escape and Caps Lock are oddly vertically squished, and the left and right arrow keys are mushed with the Page Up/Down keys, making them difficult to hit without looking.
The new S7 still comes standard with a touchscreen, but the touchpad here works well for many Windows 8 gestures, as it’s nearly flush with the wrist area. Just like the original S7, though, there are no dedicated buttons, and it could do with a different texture than the wrist wrest, so your thumbs can more easily find their way around.
The trackpad here is leaps and bounds better than the one on the old model. It handles pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolls reliably, along with all the usual Windows 8 gestures. Best of all, though, it now does a much more precise job tracking single-finger navigation and smooth experience.
Performance and Battery Life
In everyday use, the S7 feels exceptionally fast; it’s quick to launch apps, switch between them and handle all manner of transitions.
Acer’s been loading its flagship machines with solid-state drives arranged in a RAID 0 configuration. That doesn’t leave any redundancy in terms of data security, but it makes for some unbelievably fast I/O speeds, which is a pretty good selling point, indeed. In particular, we saw a huge rise in write speeds over the last-gen models, with writes regularly topping out over 1 GB/s. Read speeds were almost as fast, at 975 MB/s, though we saw similar performance even in last year’s S7.
That fast SSD setup was enough to help lift all the other benchmark scores too. As promised, the fan noise has been improved so much that you’d have to put your ear up against the keyboard to hear even the slightest purring. Then again, the trade-off to having a meek set of fans is that they don’t seem to do quite as good a job at keeping the system cool: the underbelly here can get quite hot, even if all you did was leave the system idle for a while.
So while the S7 is a whole lot quieter now, it also runs hot, particularly when pushing the graphics chip. With its integrated Intel graphics, we wouldn’t recommend the S7 as a serious gaming machine anyway. But if you do plan on playing moderately demanding games on your new machine, you’ll probably want to look to something other than the new S7, unless you don’t mind using a laptop cooler.
with a relatively small 6,280mAh battery, the S7 still lasts for much of the day, even under a taxing workload. The new CPUs, combined with an internal battery that Acer says is 33 percent larger than that found in the original S7, makes a big difference when it comes to battery life. Our review unit of the S7-392 managed to keep going for 2 hours and 3 minutes on demanding Battery Eater test. The previous model lasted just 1 hour and 34 minutes in the same test which is an increase of about 30 percent. In our less-demanding Reader’s Test, the S7 managed to run for a quite reasonable 11 hours and 12 minutes.
The Acer Aspire S7 ran for 7 hours and 14 minute sin our video playback battery drain test. Considering this system’s half-inch thickness, the new S7’s battery life is pretty impressive. For most users, though the updated Aspire S7’s battery should be sufficient.
Software and Warranty
If you buy the S7-392 from the Microsoft Store, it comes completely free of any crapware or pre-installed utilities. In case buying it through Microsoft isn’t an option, you will get a handful of extra software programs, though we promise the bloat isn’t that bad. On those non-Microsoft-Store models, pre-installed apps include: Amazon Kindle, Netflix, newsXpresso, Social Jogger, Nero BackItUp Essentials 12 and CyberLink MediaEspresso. Also on board: trials of Microsoft Office and Norton Internet Security, along with Norton Online Backup. Meanwhile, there are also a few Acer-branded apps, including Acer Power Management, Acer Recovery Management, Acer Theft Shield and Acer Crystal Eye.
If you buy the S7-392 through the Microsoft Store, it comes with a one-year warranty. Buy it off Acer.com, though, and you get two years of coverage.
For the most part, Acer’s updated S7 is a triumph of improved design and internals. Battery life is a lot better, the keyboard’s travel no longer feels as shallow as a reflecting pool, and fan noise is no longer all that noticeable.
But, while a new fan design helps keep the noise down, Acer has mostly played a game of whack-a-mole when it comes to heat and fan noise. The previous model of the S7 was loud but remarkably cool under load. The update swaps fan noise for a big bump in temperatures under heavy graphics performance.
So if gaming is important to you, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere. It’s still not perfect, but with a bigger battery, a better keyboard, and a new Haswell CPU, Acer’s updated S7 manages to be ultra-thin without many major sacrifices.