- Review Date: 11/27/2012
- Bottom line: The Acer Aspire S3-391-6046 gives you a full-blown Windows 8 ultrabook at a decent price. If you want a thin, light, reasonably fast ultrabook to learn Windows 8 on, this is worth a look.
- Pros: Inexpensive ultrabook. Light weight. Responsive multitouch trackpad. Two USB 3.0 ports. No confusing USB 2.0 ports. Full size HDMI port. 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi.
- Cons: Uses last generation Intel Core processor. Non DX11-compatible graphics. No touch screen. Small arrow keys.
The Acer Aspire S3-391-6046 ($648 list) proves that you don't have to start at $899 to get a decent ultrabook. To keep the price down, it uses an older second-generation Intel Core i3 processor, but that CPU is still faster than the AMD E series APU, Intel Atom, or Celeron CPU in other inexpensive laptops. The S3-391-6046 is also an inexpensive way to introduce your family to Windows 8 and that operating system's radically new interface. It's being featured at $499 at Walmart for Black Friday 2012, but it's still a well-equipped system after the price jumps back to the $648 regular price. It's a much better laptop than the netbooks you used to expect in this price range, and as such it comes recommended.
Design and Features
The S3-391-6046 looks every bit the ultrabook, with a thin and light design in line with other Acer ultrabooks like the Acer Aspire S5-391-9880. The S3-391-6046 measures by 8.52 by 12.59 by 0.68 inches (HWD). This means that it's much thinner and lighter than the budget laptop Editors' Choice Acer Aspire V5-571-6891 ($499.99 list, 4.0 stars). Granted, the V5-571-6891 is more of a desktop replacement laptop with a larger 15-inch screen and a DVD drive, but they are priced and aimed at the same budget market.
The S3-391-6046 is more portable, with a 13.3-inch screen with a 1,366-by-768 resolution (720p). That is smaller than the 1,920 by 1,080 resolution (1080p) found on ultrabooks like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A-R5102F, but that's okay, since you'll pay quite a price premium for that 1080p screen, and it's not absolutely necessary at this budget price point. The 1080p resolution is more important to movie buffs and people who do a lot a multitasking with multiple windows open (like spreadsheets), and we think 1,366-by-768 is adequate for home and student use. The screen itself is bright and clear, displaying smooth text and graphics.
The S3-391-6046 weighs three pounds even, which is average for 13-inch ultrabooks, but a lot lighter than larger five-pound laptops you'd find under $500. The included AC adapter adds less than three-quarters of a pound to that in travel weight. The weight and size mean that the S3-391-6046 is a good companion for those who constantly roam the house or need to traverse a school campus. It's also well suited to be your PC companion on a vacation.
The system comes with a pair of USB 3.0 ports and no USB 2.0 ports, saving users the confusion over which port to use. The S3-391-6046 comes with a full-sized HDMI port, so you can hook the laptop up to a large HDTV if you wish. The system has a full-size QWERTY keyboard, but the arrow keys to the lower right are more compact than usual. This isn't too much of a problem for most, but it could make navigating larger spreadsheets or databases harder for those with fists of ham.
The laptop's multitouch touchpad supports all the expected pinch, zoom, scroll, and Windows 8 functions, like bringing up the Charms Bar. That is a good thing, considering that this ultrabook doesn't come with a touch screen display (nor should you expect one at this price point). The touchpad is very responsive, and it is easy to get used to moving the cursor around new Windows 8 interface. Make sure you take a look at the included Windows 8 cheat sheet if this is your first Windows 8 PC. Many of the ways you're used to doing things in previous versions of Windows have changed in Windows 8. The system comes with a 1.3-megapixel webcam for Skype and self portraits.
The S3-391-6046 comes with a bunch of pre-loaded programs (Amazon, eBay, Evernote, newsXpresso, Office 201 trial, WildTanget games, Netflix, Skype, etc.), and while they aren't obtrusive in the new Windows 8 Start screen, they do clutter up the system's desktop mode (aka the screen that looks like your old PC). Connecting the system to our 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networks were easy, as the S3-391-6046 support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, giving you extra flexibility. The system lacks an Ethernet port, but wired Ethernet is less prevalent in the home, it's more of a must have in business offices.
The S3-391-6046 comes with a second generation Intel Core i3-2367M processor, four GB of system memory, Intel HD Graphics, a 320GB hard drive and 20GB SSD for speed. The SSD is invisible to the user, it's here to provide speed in booting, launching apps, and waking the system from sleep. It's a little slower than an SSD-only ultrabook, but SSD-only ultrabooks like the Asus Zenbook Prime cost hundreds of dollars more. The system wakes from sleep in a quick 5 seconds, which is about right for an ultrabook. The second generation Intel Core i3 processor is a little bit older than the current third generation processors found in higher end ultrabooks, but it's perfectly alright for home and school users. See more below in our performance section. The system comes with a one-year warranty, which is average for consumer laptops.
The system's Core i3 processor is much better than the Intel Celeron processor found in lesser budget systems. For example, the S3-391-6046 got a modest 1,883 point score at the PCMark 7 benchmark test, but that's still better than the Celeron-powered Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542 and Acer Aspire 5349-2635
What's more relevant is the respective system's battery life. The S3-391-6046 comes in with a decent four hours, forty-seven minutes on our video rundown test, a little under Acer's 5.5 hour claims. This is still forty minutes longer than the V5-571-2635 on the same test. Thirteen minutes short of five hours is pretty good for a home or school bound laptop. That gives you enough power to watch a couple movies on the laptop itself, or surf while doing the same in your TV room.
If there's any drawback to using older tech in the laptop, it's that the system doesn't support DX11 3D for newer games. That said, if you have no idea what DX11 is, then you're not missing out on a lot. The system plays casual games like Cut the Rope (found in the Windows 8 Store) and Angry Birds (in your browser) just fine. Videos played smoothly on the 13.3-inch screen, and navigating around the Windows 8 interface was snappy and responsive.
The Acer Aspire S3-391-6046 is a tempting ultrabook. At the $499 Black Friday price, it's a no-brainer, as it's competent to a T with nice styling and portability. The Acer Aspire V5-571-6891 holds on to the current Editors' Choice for budget laptops, since it has a larger hard drive, more memory, a better list price, and a larger screen (with the same resolution). However, for a user who wants more portability, the S3-391-6046 makes a good second choice. If you want to dip your toe in and see if you like the Windows 8 interface, the Acer Aspire S3-391-6046 is a very good system to try.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.