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Acer Aspire S3: sleek, sturdy and … cheap!



The Acer Aspire S3 looks elegant, works well and, most importantly, is cheap. SEAN BACHER thinks this Ultrabook will put up a strong fight against the Apple MacBook Air, which until recently had no competition at all.

In 2008, Apple designers came up with a different type of notebook. A notebook that was faster, lighter and sleeker. It named its new format the MacBook Air, and this ultra-light notebook became the first of what we now know as Ultrabooks.

Not many notebook manufacturers took notice of the MacBook Air, and were instead concentrating their efforts on jamming as many features as possible into a their netbooks and notebooks. But, this all changed when Intel announced the Ultrabook format around nine months ago. The result was that, at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, no more than twelve new major brand Ultrabooks were announced from a range of companies. The announcement of the HP Envy 14 range was just one example. (Read Arthur Goldstuck’s Charge of the new light brigade article here.)

It will be some time before we see most of these new Ultrabooks in South Africa, but companies like Samsung and Acer have taken some initiative and launched their MacBook Air competitors. We reviewed the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook last year and found it was a definite Air contender, but its price counted heavily against it (see review here). Now, we put the Acer Aspire S3 through the Gadget Five Question User Test and see if it has a fighting chance.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

Setting up the Acer Aspire S3 is no different to setting up any other computer using the Windows operating system. Out of the box, the S3 uses Windows 7 Home Premium. Enter your details, a Windows key and network connection settings, and the Ultrabook is ready. Once connected to the Internet, the relevant software updates will be automatically downloaded and installed, but you may be required to restart the machine a few times.

The S3’s shell is made from brushed aluminium, giving it a very cool, sleek and sturdy look and feel on the outside. But, when the lid is opened, tapping away at the keyboard and trackpad seems almost ‚plasticy‚ , ruining the initial impression. Worse, the trackpad moved the cursor around the screen as if it was on its own mission, infuriating me when I had to find the cursor on the screen and than track it all the way back to where I needed to click.

The S3 offers a few function keys for making quick adjustments to the sound, display and for turning the WiFi connection on and off. However, these and the QWERTY keyboard keys are not backlit as on the MacBook Air, and the S3 does not offer any other kind of key illumination as found on many other notebooks, making typing in the dark a bit more difficult.

Overall, the S3 is offers nothing out of the ordinary during setup or when being used. Its cheap-feeling trackpad and keyboard are a bit of a disappointment too.

Score: 13/20

2. General performance

The entry level Acer Aspire S3 uses a hybrid hard drive, meaning that the Ultrabook offers 20GB of Solid State Drive (SSD) storage space and 320GB of standard Hard Disk Drive (HDD) space. However, in the case of our review unit, the more powerful Intel Core i7, a 256GB SSD drive is used. SSD is one of the major features that differentiate an UltraBook from any other notebook or desktop. Firstly, a SSD is faster than standard hard drives, because of the lack of moving parts. The lack of moving parts means that less power is used when accessing data from the drive and the drive is less prone to crash when the computer is accidentally bumped.

This speed shows the second you boot it up. Windows 7 is renowned for taking ages to boot up and shut down. But, the S3 will boot up and be ready to run in under 30 seconds. Shutting it down takes a mere 5 seconds, even less if you just slam the lid closed without going through the menu. The machine then shuts itself down.

The Aspire S3’s battery life is amazing. A fully charged battery will last anywhere between seven and eight hours when performing mundane office tasks like checking e-mail and word processing. Watching videos will substantially shorten operating time, to around four hours. Although we were unable to test it, Acer claims that the S3’s battery is able to maintain its charge for up to 50 days. It is a tall order but, judging from the battery’s performance, I wouldn’t be surprised if it lived up to this promise.

As mentioned before, top-end Aspire S3 uses an Intel Core i7 processor, a high-performance processor that is designed specifically for mobile devices. This i7 CPU runs at 1.7Ghz which, combined with the 4GB of RAM and an Intel HD Graphic 3000 graphics card, means it will handle some of the most resource-intensive applications.

On the outside, the S3 offers two USB ports, as with the MacBook Air, but it goes one step further, with the addition of a HDMI port. It also houses an SD card reader and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Score: 19/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

The Acer Aspire S3 takes portability to the next level, with its 18mm thin body, which weighs just over 1.3kg, and that long battery life.

In addition, the Dolby Home Theatre sound and bright 13‚ 1366×768 screen will make the S3 a great machine for both work and play.


4. Innovation

Aside from the great battery life, the Aspire S3 does not offer much in the way of innovation. Its physical dimensions are much the same as the 13‚ version of the MacBook Air. If anything, the S3 could be considered a Windows version of the Air.


5. Value for money

The Acer Aspire S3 retails for R9 999. This price puts it at R7 000 less than the equivalent 13‚ MacBook Air and R4 000 less than the other available Windows competitor, the Samsung Series 9. Even the entry-level MacBook Air 13‚ , with 128GB SSD, costs R3 700 more than the S3.

Apart from its great battery life, its price is a huge selling point and, for that, it gets a rare full marks.



Total score: 84%

The pros far outweigh the cons. The pros include price, battery and speed. The only cons I could find were a flimsy keyboard and unresponsive trackpad. Yes, the two are vital to a good computing experience, but they are no reason to choose a far more expensive Ultrabook over the S3. This is a winner all the way.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Hit the road with high-tech night light for bikes

Cyclists need effective lighting by night and day, writes JOEL DORFAN, in his test ride of the latest in high-tech from Fenix



Since 2004, Fenix Light has been manufacturing quality lights ranging from flashlights and headlamps to lanterns and bike lights.

There are many folks who ride their bicycles at night for various reasons. Whether on-road or off-road, there is always the need to see the path ahead of you. During the day, it’s wise to have a really bright strobe light so others around you can see you coming. 

Enter the BC21R V2.0.

The original 880 lumen BC21R was released some years ago. Besides the main light, it also had two red lights at the side. However, there were several complaints about this older version. The main ones were:

  • Plastic construction – does not dissipate heat causing the light output to step down;
  • Rubber mount – stretches and perishes over time;
  • No helmet mount.

With the launch of the new light, now called the BC21R V2.0, the folks at Fenix have kept all of the good features and added a bunch more, as well as remedying all of the complaints from the original. In a nutshell, it offers:

  • 1000 lumen output
  • Removable 18650 LiIion battery
  • Built in USB Type-C charging port
  • Dual Distance Beam System
  • Battery level indication and low-voltage warning
  • All-metal heat fin; IP66 rated protection
  • Quick-release bike mount compatible with Fenix bicycle light helmet mount

The increase from 880 to 1000 lumens means that there is now better coverage of the road ahead. The dual distance beam system means that the areas both near and far are illuminated. They do this by graduating the top half of the front lens that refracts some of the light down towards the front wheel, allowing the rest of the light to illuminate the roadway.

When you do not need all 1000 lumens, sequential taps of the on/off switch will cycle through the different output settings of low, medium, high and turbo. In any of these modes, a double tap of the switch will put the light into strobe (alternating high and low output) mode. On a fully charged battery, runtime on Turbo is published as being 2 hours, and on low at 50 hours. 

Many lights today are sealed units. Once the battery stops taking a charge, the light would have to be discarded. The removable battery means that, once it reaches end of life ,it’s a simple matter of inserting a new 18650 battery. Also, should you be on a really long ride and find that the battery starts going flat, you could stop along the way and swap out the battery for either another fully charged one or two CR123 batteries. 

At any time, you can tap the on/off button, which will light up an indicator to tell you the current state of charge of the battery. This same indicator will flash red when it’s time to recharge the battery.

To prevent damage to the LED light source, temperatures are monitored and, if the light gets too hot, the output is reduced. This is not ideal when you are out on a ride on a hot evening. By changing the head from plastic to metal with cooling fins, however, the light will now remain cooler, allowing for full output for longer periods.

Instead of a stretchy plastic mount like on the older model, Fenix has now gone with a proper clamp type mount. This is secured to the handle bars using a thumb screw; and then there is a quick release that allows the light to be attached or removed from the clamp with ease. Two different-sized rubber inserts for the clamp ensure a good fit on different diameter handle bars.

A bonus of this type of quick release mechanism is that the light is now compatible with the Fenix helmet mount should one wish to mount it there. Also, should you wish to use the BC21R V2.0 as a handheld flashlight or to stop it being stolen, no tools are required to remove it from either the bike or helmet mount.

So how does the BC21R V2.0 perform in real life?

It puts out a very concentrated spot-like type beam optimised for distance. The lens setup ensures that most of the light is below the horizon where it needs to be, which also makes sure that it does not blind oncoming motorists. 

The light will start getting warm to the touch when stationary or when hand held. However, when cycling, the cool air passing over the finned head does keep the light cooler.

Being a single 18650 battery light, a ride of longer than about 90 minutes will see the light starting to reduce output. It’s the tradeoff of size vs run time. Therefore make sure that, if you’re going to need the full 1000 lumen output for an extended period, to carry a spare battery with you.

The older model cost $75, and the good news is that Fenix appears to have maintained this price even with all of the extra features of the V2.0 model. This places the BC21R V2.0 in the mid- to high-range of  single battery lights. Given the features and multi-use applications it’s pretty good value for money.

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Product of the Day

Hisense adds AI-cameras to handsets

Hisense has entered the AI-camera space with the Infinity H30, aimed at the mid-range market. BRYAN TURNER tests the new camera technology.

Click below to read the review.



While many know Hisense for its TVs and appliances, it has an impressive lineup of smartphones. Its latest Infinity H30 smartphone packs a serious punch in the mid-range market, including features like a low-bezel screen and AI camera.

Out the box, the phone comes with the usual charger, charging cable and earphones. There is a surprise in the box: a screen protector and a clear case. A nice value-add to the already affordable smartphone.  

The polycarbonate plastic body feels premium, especially for a device in this price range. It has a colour changing body, depending on the angle at which it is held. The colour of the device we reviewed is called Ice Blue, and shimmers in darker and lighter blues. Aesthetically, this is a big win for Hisense.

The 6.5″ screen is a narrow-bezelled FHD+ display with good colour replication. Hisense is known for creating colour-accurate displays and it’s good to see it continue this legacy in its smartphones. The shape of the display is interesting, taking some design notes from Huawei’s Dewdrop display with what Hisense calls the “U-Infinity Display”. It makes the phone look really good. 

On the rear of the phone, one finds a dual-camera setup with fingerprint sensor. On the bottom of the phone, there is a speaker, a USB Type-C Port and a headphone jack. The speaker’s placement on the bottom isn’t optimal and the sound is muffled if one accidentally covers the single speaker area.

The 4,530mAh non-removable battery is very capable, providing a good 12 hours of medium usage (checking messages every half hour and playing an online game every hour) until it reaches 20%. The battery capacity isn’t the only power feature of the device; it runs on the latest Android Pie operating system, which includes AI power-saving software measures to keep background apps from using battery.

It is a little disappointing to see the device came with some pre-installed games. Fortunately, one can uninstall them. Hisense makes up for this by issuing Android updates and security patches as the come out. This, coupled with the MediaTek Octa Core processor, provides a good user experience for playing games and multi-tasking.

The H30 has a whopping 128GB of on-board storage, and it can be expanded even more with a MicroSD card. The 4G-LTE capabilities are perfect for most high-speed broadband situations, with around 40Mbps download and around 10Mbps upload in an area with good cell service.

The 20+2MP rear camera configuration is good at taking shots on Auto mode, but pictures can be better after figuring out all the camera modes available. There is a professional mode for those who want to be extra creative with their photography. It also includes a baby mode, which plays various noises to make a baby look at the phone for a better picture. The AI mode can be enabled to make full use of the processor in the device, and fif the camera mode to be selected based on scenes photographed. 

The 20MP front camera performs equally as well. This camera is the reason for the U-like shape at the top of the screen. The camera app has beauty-face filters, for those wanting a slimmer face or smoother skin.

Overall, the Infinity H30 is a prime example of a good phone in an affordable price range.  The camera is very capable, and the AI processing helps what would otherwise be a regular camera. The aesthetically pleasing colour saves the day, and makes this mid-range device look like a high-end flagship. The device is retailing for R5,499 from most major carriers.

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