Acer's Aspire S 13 is one of the most well-rounded work machines you can buy for less than $800. The 13-inch laptop has tons of high points, including zippy performance, a sharp HD display and a handsome, portable design that makes the machine extremely commuter-friendly. Plus, the S 13's long battery life will help the $749 system last through the end of the workday and beyond. Its keyboard could be more comfortable, though.
Measuring just over a half inch thick and weighing roughly 3 lbs., the Aspire S 13 is slightly more portable than the 13-inch MacBook Air. That's good news for workers who need to lug their laptops back and forth between home and the office. If portability is your top concern, though, you might want to check out the 2.8-lb. HP Envy 13t or the 2.6-lb. Dell XPS 13.
Commuters and frequent travelers will also appreciate the notebook's sturdy aluminum edging and soft-touch bottom, which make the device easy to hold. But because it's a consumer-focused notebook, the S 13 lacks the extra durability credentials of business-class systems such as the Lenovo ThinkPad L460.
You get a fairly standard selection of ports. The left edge includes a USB 3.0 port, as well as an SD card slot for expanding the system's internal memory.
The right side has an HDMI port for connecting to monitors and projectors, a second USB 3.0 port, and a USB Type-C port for connecting newer accessories.
The Aspire S 13's sharp 13.3-inch display feels great to work on. The 1920 x 1080-pixel panel produces crisp text and vibrant colors, and it's just large enough to make split-screen multitasking feel relatively comfortable. The display is also unusually bright, topping out at 327 nits of brightness. That makes it easy to view the screen outdoors or in direct sunlight.
While my review unit came with a nontouch display, Acer also sells the system with a touch screen. I didn't get a chance to test the touch-screen model for this review.
Picky typists might be a bit turned off by the S 13's keyboard, which isn't quite as deep as I'd prefer. Our tests showed that it offers about 0.87 millimeters of key travel, which is below the 1.5 mm that we consider the minimum for a typical work laptop. Thankfully, the keys feel snappy, which helps mitigate the issue a bit.
The arrow keys are very small, which can make it difficult to navigate around documents. On the bright side, you get two different levels of backlighting for the keyboard, which comes in handy for low-light typing.
The Aspire S 13 seriously impressed us on our battery-life test, running for an impressive 9 hours and 8 minutes. That outlasts the average laptop runtime (8:10) and easily beats rival systems such as the Asus ZenBook UX303UA (8:27). It's not the longest-lasting 13-inch laptop, though; Dell's XPS 13 (11:54) and Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air (14:00) ran for even longer.
We only tested the battery life for the nontouch version of the S 13; Acer also sells the system with a touch-screen display. Touch screens tend to drain battery life faster, so mobile workers might want to steer clear of that option.
My Aspire S 13 review unit came outfitted with a 6th Generation Intel Core i5-6200U processor with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) — a configuration that's fast enough for serious multitasking. As I typed up this review on the S 13, the system sped along without a hitch, even with more than a dozen tabs open in my Chrome web browser.
The Aspire S 13 racked up a solid score of 6,290 on the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, which measures overall performance. That's roughly on a par with rivals such as the Dell XPS 13 and the HP Envy 13t, and noticeably faster than the 13-inch MacBook Air.
The Aspire S 13 also performed admirably on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in OpenOffice in 4 minutes and 29 seconds. That edges out the XPS 13 and the Envy 13t by a few seconds each.
Acer sells the Aspire S 13 in a handful of hardware configurations. The system featured in this review came with an Intel Core i5-6200 processor with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 13.3-inch, 1080p display, for $749.
A midrange model is available with twice the storage space (512GB) for $899. The top-end model comes with the larger SSD and a beefier Core i7 processor, and costs $999.
Acer's Aspire S 13 is a very-well-rounded work companion for frequent travelers. You get a lightweight laptop with snappy performance, long battery life and a sharp 13-inch display, all for a very affordable $749. The system's sleek design is just a bonus.
There are certainly better options if you're willing to pay a bit more. Dell's XPS 13 is a top contender, with a much more portable design and even longer battery life, but it starts at $999. That's why budget-minded business users might be better off sticking with the Aspire S 13.