With laptops diversifying in multiple directions, major PC vendors this week leveraged a New York City press event to trot out new models ranging from Toshiba's glasses-free 3D notebook to a small slew of ultrathin models, including the first ultrabook from Acer for the US market.
Acer will officially announce the US edition of its Aspire S3 Ultrabook Laptop in October. The US version will come in the same form factor as its European cousin, with the same height of 1.3 centimeters, or slightly over one-half inch. It will also ship with the same lightweight, high density battery, billed as delivering seven hours of power, along with Acer Green Instant On technology, designed to preserve battery life while also providing instant resume functionality.
Acer representatives didn't say whether the US edition will incorporate the same 13.3-inch ultra-thin HD LED display, vent-free bottom, and chiclet-style keyboard as its European counterpart, although all of that seems like a fairly safe bet given the identical dimensions.
US Edition of Acer's S3 Might Be Different
Despite the similar exterior, the US ultrabook might not offer the same processor and storage options which, in the European notebook, amount to a choice of second gen Intel i3/i5/i7 processors, plus a choice of either a 240GB SSD or 320/500GB HDD. The hard drive option also includes embedded SSD to help optimize media and data storage and speed up access.
Please pardon the cliche, but the Aspire S3 felt as light as a veritable feather in my hands, weighing in at less than 1.4 kg, or 3bs. The chiclet-style keyboard was springy and comfortable to the touch. I also noticed the lack of any heat on the keyboard or palmrest areas. Acer has managed this by placing components away from these areas, and also through an airflow design that dissipates warm air in the back of the notebook to stop air from moving back in the direction of the user's hands.
I also checked out the two sleep modes on the S3, and Acer Instant Connect, which gave me blazing fast access to the Internet. Thanks to these sleep modes, the S3 can resume in 1.5 seconds or recover from Deep Sleep in six seconds. I didn't have time during my quick hands-on to play with the integrated Acer Crystal Eye 1.3 megapixel camera and mike -- although I saw that they're in there.
Acer's Three Ultrabook Rivals
Rival ultrabooks also set for shipment this year include the equally Apple MacBook Air-inspired Asus UX21, outfitted with a very high resolution 1600-by-900 display and 256GB SSD, the Toshiba Portege Z835; and the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, a book-shaped model that uses fans placed under the keyboard to draw in air for cooling purposes.
Also shown at Pepcom, the 13-inch Toshiba Portege, set for release in November, is even lighter than the Acer S3 at 2.45 pounds. The difference actually seemed palpable. It is also wafer-thin, measuring just 0.51-inches -- in comparison to the 13-inch Air's 0.67 inches -- at its thickest point.
To help achieve this thinness, all four vendors have left out optical drives, although the European edition of Acer's S3 does come with an integrated 2-in-1 card reader supporting SD/MMC cards. Of course, you could always attach an optical drive through a USB port. These days, though, optical drives are falling into more and more disuse, now that just about every app can be purchased for download and streaming video and YouTube are taking the place of entertainment DVDs.
Still, vendors are managing to pack in a lot of I/O. The Toshiba ultrathin model, for example, offers three USB ports along with HDMI, VGA and Gigabit Ethernet ports. None of the first crop of ultrathins, though, is outfitted with screens supporting 1280p resolution. To view videos in full HD, you need to hook up an HDTV through the HDMI port.
A Glasses-free 3D Laptop from Toshiba
In stark contrast, Toshiba's new Qosmio F55-3D290 glasses-free 3D laptop is expressly designed for viewing videos: specifically, 3D Blu-ray movies. It also contains a feature for 2D-to-3D video conversion -- although trying that out certainly would have taken me way too long in my hands-on demo.
You can also run standard apps in 2D mode, and view those 2D apps alongside the 3D video running in a separate window. The F55-3D290 does support 1280p resolution -- yet for some reason, only on 2D images. Resolution for 3D images maxes out at 720p.
I honestly found it a true treat to watch 3D video on a 15.6-inch computer screen, unencumbered by glasses. Right out of the gate, the 3D effects looked amazingly natural, even from a side angle. A Toshiba rep told me that while the glasses-free laptop relies on traditional stereoscopic 3D technology, the display uses eye-tracking software to track users' head movements through a built-in Webcam and to make the appropriate adjustments similar to the glasses-free 3D demo at CES earlier this year.
As you'd only expect, however, the glasses-free 3D laptop -- offered with a red cover and black interior -- is relatively large and hefty. It tips the scales at 7.1 pounds without its AC adapter -- much more than double the weight of the Portege Z835 -- and measures 1.5-inches in height. Toshiba started shipping its latest Qosmio earlier this month in the US at a list pricing of $1,699.
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