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The Acer Aspire S 13 may be punching above its weight

Can you make an ultrabook as appealing as the Macbook Air and sell it for half the price? Acer believes its new Aspire S 13 thin-and-light, a $700 notebook with as much flare and processing power as laptops twice its price, can do that. But while the specifications compare well on paper, at first glance it seems the company’s hopes may be misplaced. Though a decent approximation of a high-end ultrabook, it does not ascend to the same technical heights.

The S 13’s hardware is certainly built to compete. The laptop can equip up to an Intel Core i7 processor, Intel HD Graphics 520, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. It also boasts a 1080p IPS display with an optional 10-point touchscreen. Acer said the non-touchscreen model can last for 11 hours, and the touch model can go for 13, on a charge. Along the sides there are two USB 3.0 ports, a reversible USB 3.1 Type-C port, an HDMI port, and an SD card reader.

Most importantly, the Aspire S 13 is thinner — .58 inches — and potentially lighter — 2.86-3 lbs depending on whether or not you add the touchscreen — than a 13-inch Macbook Air.

It has plenty of bells and whistles, too. Its built with “diamond cut” edges to ensure sleek lines, and a grippable upper half made using a process called nano-imprinted lithography, which at the very least sounds fancy. In general, the laptop feels sturdy and well-constructed. It doesn’t need any buzzwords to convince us that it’s a capable piece of hardware.

The Nano-imprinted upper half, effectively a series of very sharp, thin vertical lines, gives the laptop a distinctive, if sticker-unfriendly, look. Personally, I think the design gives the impression that it should be easier to grip, easing fears of a nightmarish slip-and-throw-your-computer scenario. Whether or not it actually does so remains to be seen, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.

And yet, it does not feel quite as impressive as it sounds. Despite the reported specifications, the S 13 felt heavy in hand. Not “Oh my god, who would carry this around?” heavy, but heavier than one would expect from a computer supposedly defined by its lack of weight.

We were also disappointed by image quality. 1080p resolution is sharp enough, but the contrast looked muddled compared to what we would expect from a top-of-the-line machine. Images generally looked good, but they didn’t pop as they do on a Dell XPS 13. Whether or not this is a big deal remains to be seen. $700 laptops usually don’t have great displays, but the Acer’s most obvious competitor, the Asus Zenbook UX305CA, isn’t bad. We’d have to compare them side-by-side to declare a victor.

When comparing ultrabooks, especially by weight, you’re often splitting hairs. Expectations play an undeniable role in distinguishing the amazing from unremarkable. If Acer had not specifically invoked Apple and the high-end ultrabook market as this device’s direct competition, it would almost certainly have fared better.

As it stands, the Aspire S 13 will likely be an excellent option for those of us looking for fully functional laptop, rather than a tablet or 2-in-1, for a high, but not premium price. As for whether or not it’s legitimate alternative to elite devices like the Macbook Air, Dell XPS 13, and Asus Zenbook UX305CA – that remains to be seen.

The Acer Aspire S 13 will be available in North America in May, 2016, starting at $699. Acer will begin taking pre-orders for the laptop soon through the Acer store.

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