For two years running I've regarded the Asus ZenBook UX305 as the ultimate bargain laptop because it offers an amazing screen, reliable power, long battery life and an all metal shell for just $699 (£599, AU$1,199). However, it may finally have a challenger in the form of Acer's latest 13-inch Ultrabook, the Aspire S 13.
With the same $699 or €699 (about £487, AU$899) starting price, the Aspire S 13 offers even more with a Core i3 processor leap frogging the UX305's use of Intel Core m-series processors. What's more, it comes with 1080p 13-inch screen, up to 13-hours of battery life and a premium style unto itself.
This baby has curves. Unlike most other modern laptops, this 13-inch Ultrabook comes with a refreshingly rounded design. The notebooks curved corners gives way to a gently bowed front edge.
Available in a Pearl White (touchscreen) and Obsidian Black (non-touch), it's clear the Aspire S 13 takes inspiration from the Acer Aspire V15 Nitro. The lid is adorned with a very similar lined and rubbery textured lid.
An Acer spokesperson explained the lid is printed with the company's unique nano imprint lithography. No matter what it's called, the added finish provides texture and grip, while helping to make the machine look less monotonous than a semi-glossy sheet of aluminum.
The laptop also features other accents including a metal hinge stamped with a tasteful bit of Aspire S typography. Along the inner outside edge of the keyboard deck, you'll also find a diamond cut, chamfered edge.
Though the Aspire S 13 aims to be affordable, the entire shell is surprisingly made of aluminum. The premium material helps elevate it above other budget machines like Chromebooks while keeping up with its direct rival, the all-metal UX305.
Unfortunately, the Aspire S 13's inputs aren't as impressive. The keyboard doesn't offer much travel and typing on the keys feel squishy even down to their rubbery finish. Meanwhile, the plastic trackpad feels flimsy in its own way though this may be due to the laptop being a pre-production model.
The Aspire S 13 is respectably just 0.57-inches (14.8 mm) thick, putting it above the 0.68 inch (1.7 cm) MacBook Air but it's still behind the 0.48 inch (12.3cm) thick Asus UX305. Unfortunately, it's not the lightest Ultrabook either weighing it at 2.68 pounds (1.3kg). Comparatively, the Asus Ultrabook and MacBook Air tips the scales at 2.6-pound (1.18kg) and 2.96 pounds (1.35kg), respectively.
Of course the biggest way this 13-inch Ultrabook differentiates itself is the fact that its powered by Intel Core i-series processors. Users will be able to choose between Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 CPU chips. Storage is also generous with a maximum configuration of 512GB and so is RAM topping out at 8GB.
No matter which configuration you choose, you'll still get a 1080p, Full HD display and it's fairly decent too. I was able to push the screen brightness on the Aspire S 13 high enough to see everything on screen even with sunlight streaming through the windows on the 57th floor at 4 World Trade Center.
The 13-inch panel also offers some decently wide viewing angles coupled with great color and contrast. I wasn't able to get down to some hardy image editing work, but the screen should be more than good enough for watching movies and a typical day's of web browsing.
For less than a grand the Aspire S 13 looks like a solid fully-featured Windows 10 laptop with a great screen, decent performance and a tasteful design. I have a few misgivings about its cheap feeling keyboard and mouse, but hopefully these annoyances will be rectified as Acer gets closer to the final production model.