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Acer Aspire S3: A Second Look

By , 11 May 2012
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I’ve now used the Acer Aspire S3 (see previous article / link) for about a month, taking it across the US and even overseas. Here are my impressions of the device – and my thoughts about how it might work for the mobile developer.

Acer did a nice job on build quality for a Windows laptop. I have yet to find something that feels as precisely constructed as the MacBook Air hardware, but this unit felt sturdy yet light. If you find the MacBook Air’s aluminum a bit too heavy for you, you might like the feel of the Acer.

I found I could consistently get a little under five hours from the battery – which I put to the test with wireless off in an overseas flight (I got about an extra 20 minutes from the battery with wireless off, according to the battery tray icon. Seems like the new wireless chipsets do a good job of being more conservative with power consumption.)

While it did not seem as fast as purely SSD-based laptops and Ultrabooks I’ve used in the past, I found that its performance was still comfortable when I was doing most basic daily tasks, be it email, document writing, or basic coding. Most of the coding I did was PHP, HTML and JavaScript, so extremely light processor demands from my IDE (usually Notepad++.) (I did very little with compiling or other processor-intensive operations.) I did find the fan noise distracting when it kicked on.

Here’s my issue with this laptop, though. The keyboard is just not great. It is acceptable, but not great. I found it still, occasionally dropped keypresses. I’ve never had this problem on another laptop. Admittedly, I’ve been a pretty staunch Lenovo user – and they have fantastic keyboards. But even with the lower profile keyboard on the MacBook Air, which I’ve used quite a bit, I’ve not run into this problem.

The trackpad: also not great. I found I was able to tweak the settings to make it work better for me, and once I experimented with the settings – much like getting the driver’s seat adjusted just right in a new vehicle, I found it perfectly fine. I’ve used better, but it was fine. If I needed fine control, however, I would probably have used a Bluetooth mouse. But I feel that way about most trackpads, admittedly, except, again, the one on the MacBook Air.

Of course, connectivity is important, and I found wireless performance was good and I found it held connections as well as any device I have. No complaints.

My initial impression of the display is that it seemed washed out, and I found that was the case over time as well, regardless of my attempts to adjust the contrast and brightness. Again, it was acceptable, but certainly not impressive. That said, the LED backlight did provide even illumination, and I was able to use it in many different light conditions.

But the Achilles heel(s) of this unit are the input devices. As I mentioned before, I was able to tweak the touchpad to be acceptable, but it was not optimal. The keyboard, however, remained disappointing. I found that even after a month of daily use, I was still watching for spelling errors due to missed keypresses. It’s entirely possible that my typing style did not lend itself to this keyboard, but I think it’s more likely that Acer needs to make some improvements in the keyboard hardware.

Would I recommend this to a developer looking for an Ultrabook? Sure, if price is an issue. I really like the Ultrabook concept, and appreciated the form factor. I’d recommend Ultrabooks in general with no reservations. But if you’re considering this unit, I recommend you spend some time with the keyboard if you can find it in a store and see if the keyboard will work for you.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

Jeff Hadfield
Developer Media / CodeProject
United States United States
Jeff started with personal computers in the late seventies, when he learned to program BASIC on an Apple II (not an Apple II Plus, mind you). Since then, he’s learned Pascal, Fortran, COBOL and VB/VB.NET – all of which have been enough to show him that he’s not a born developer, but he can play one on TV, so to speak. (He's not bad at markup (HTML, CSS) but not good at JavaScript.)
 
Jeff has worked with developers and developer communities for 20 years. He is the former Editorial Director of WordPerfect Magazines (remember macros?). He's also the former Editor in Chief and Publisher of Visual Basic Programmer's Journal, Visual Studio Magazine, Java Pro magazine, Visual C++ Developers Journal, Exchange & Outlook Magazine, Enterprise Architect magazine, and Microsoft Architecture Journal. He also worked on the VBITS/VSLive! conferences and the various related websites for those publications and conferences. He has spoken and presented at many tech and marketing industry conferences and events.
 
He currently works to help businesses understand and reach developers better as part of Developer Media.
 
All things considered, he'd rather be cycling.
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