In and Around the Acer Aspire TimelineU M3

Stylistically, the Acer Aspire TimelineU M3 is actually among the more attractive notebooks that Acer has offered. Their Timeline series has generally been well-received and among their most compelling offerings, and the M3 is no different. That said, there are a few design choices that are still baffling and definitely curtail some of the notebook's usability.

Black goes with everything, so it's only fitting that the M3 employs a stark two-toned matte black and silver plastic design. While it's premature to begin celebrating the death of gloss in the marketplace, Acer has eschewed glossy plastic almost entirely on the M3, using it only for the Acer logo on the lid. Except for the keyboard tray, the entire notebook is matte black, while the keyboard tray itself uses a shimmering silver that's attractive without being ostentatious. The whole design is actually remarkably minimalistic.

As Jarred noted in his review of the TimelineX, Acer is largely moving away from their old floating island keyboard style and I'm thankful for it. While chiclet keyboards are still a matter of some contention between many users, I still personally find them preferable to the floating island keys. The layout is a logical one, too, and I suspect the enter and backslash keys are snuggled up against each other as a means to make the keyboard easier to swap out for different regions. This isn't one of my favorite keyboards, but with the slightly increased Z-height of the M3 over other ultrabooks it at least has decent key depth and travel.

Where things do get dicier is with the touchpad. Acer uses a massive unified touchpad and like the one we tested on the Dell XPS 13, it's oftentimes more trouble than it's worth. The touchpad has a hard time distinguishing gestures from clicks, and if you need to right-click anything you may find yourself accidentally moving the mouse where you don't want it to go. I've gotten used to using touchpads with dedicated mouse buttons, and breaking the habit of leaving my thumb on the left mouse button is incredibly difficult to do. The result is that I often wind up making gestures I didn't intend, and I've had to actually concentrate on using the touchpad properly.

The port and button layout is also unfortunately pretty poor. All of the connectivity is on the back of the notebook; the optical drive and card reader are on the left side, and the right side is barren except for the kensington lock. Putting the ethernet, HDMI, and AC adaptor connectors on the back isn't really a big deal, but there's no convenient access to the notebook's USB connectivity. Probably worst of all, the power button is on the front of the M3, about an inch left of center, and extremely easy to accidentally press when you're trying to move the machine. If you're using the M3 on your lap, I can't imagine never accidentally hitting it. Most users will probably want to just disable the button entirely while in Windows.

Where I feel like the M3 redeems itself somewhat is in user expandability. As I mentioned before, there's a single panel on the bottom of the notebook held on by three screws. Remove it, and you have access to the mSATA slot, the wireless mini-PCIe card slot, the single user-replaceable DIMM slot, and an empty 2.5" drive bay complete with power and data connections. The 256GB mSATA SSD from LiteOn isn't great, but it's adequate and has a healthy amount of capacity for an SSD; more than that, it's also bigger than any mSATA drive you can buy on NewEgg. The battery isn't user replaceable, but Acer claims it's good for three times the number of charge and recharge cycles of conventional notebook batteries, so if you get even half that you'll still be in good shape.

Honestly I found myself mostly enamored with the TimelineU M3's design. It's all plastic and the build quality doesn't feel the best, but provided you're not too harsh with it, it should last a reasonable amount of time. On the flipside, the dearth of glossy plastic is appreciated, and it's a lightweight notebook that allows us to use mSATA and a conventional 2.5" drive together. The chiclet keyboard is also a massive upgrade on its predecessor, even if the touchpad needs some work.

Introducing the Acer Aspire TimelineU M3 Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • lcarsos - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Oh my the screen is 768p? I would certainly hope that the screen is refreshed in a progressive manner! If my cursor were to start interlacing as I moved it around I would probably start a bar fight.

    My point is, why would an unnecessary descriptor such as "progressive" get slipped into a laptop review? Man up, and display the screen pixelage, of course the laptop is going to display things progressive it wasn't a television designed in the 60s. Now if you were to stick a DVD in there, DVDs are encoded interlaced in most cases. Now what's happening? A progressive display of interlaced images? Better to just leave that out of the review.

    Also, 1366x768 in a 15.6" laptop? What committee let that through? In an age where the iPad can end up with 2048x1536 pixels in a 10" screen for $500 they can certainly slip in a higher quality screen at the price they are currently at. Even if it is still a TN panel. I have a 14" Thinkpad with a 1600x900 display, at no point should a screen of larger size come with lower resolution.
    Reply
  • Glock24 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I've been looking for a laptop to replace my aging Asus F8Va (which has a 14" 1440x900 screen), but every single manufacturer insists on using crappy 1366x768 screens. And I say crappy screens not just because of the resolution, but also because of the poor viewing angles and bad contrast.

    I remember some older notebooks sporting 4:3 screen with at least 1280x1024 resolution. Then came the 16:10 craze and the screens started coming with 1280x800 resolution. Now we have 16:9 screens with 1366x768 resolution. What's next? 1440x600? 1600x400?

    Having 768 vertical pixels feels so 90's. Come on! Even my old 19" Samsung CRT sm997mb, which was in no way top of the line, could diplay 2048x1536@60 (1600x1200@75, 1280x1024@85), and it was made in 2004. I know CRTs are different animals, but I think I made my point.

    I'm not much into the "ultrabook" thing, but I prefer a 14" latop over the more common 15.6" form factor, and I want to play some games on it from time to time, so a dedicated GPU or a decent APU is required. I was considering the Lenovo y470p, which is a 14" laptop with Radeon HD7690, a very good port selection and a great price, but why does it come with a mediocre screen!

    HP makes some decent laptops, the DV6 is interesting, and some of them have a 1080p screen option, but are 15.6" or 17"

    Also, as some others said, why not ditch the optical drive and use the space for something more useful? An additional battery, some more ports, etc.
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    It's not the case that every company only offers 1366x768 screens, my current Vaio is approaching three years old for the model and has a 1600x900 13.1in screen and the model after it (now also retired) offered a 1080p 13.1in screen with decent colour and viewing angles. 13in higher resolution panels are trickier to find but 14in is fairly easy, there's quite a few other with 1600x900 panels.

    I do love that in the comments as always people are saying how Apple will lead the way with high resolution displays despite Sony offering 13.1in 1080p panels for a couple of years now. As usual Apple are first to do something by being several years behind those that are genuinely at the front.

    As for the why with mediocre screens, I would think it's obvious - most people don't care and won't pay for them. I don't agree with that stance but on supporting a large number of these crappy 1366x768 screens both at work and out of work laptops, not one person has every complained to me about the low screen resolution. It tends to be the other way round if anything, people tend to complain about my high resolution panels because they make everything too small.

    John
    Reply
  • Finraziel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Yes, Sony does make nice laptops with sometimes nice screens... The problem is that you pay through the nose for them. When a 500$ laptop offers enough performance for me, and the added cost for a decent screen would be about 50-100$, then why can't I get one of those screens unless I buy a 2000$ laptop?
    As for Apple, I don't think the majority of people saying that in the comments here are fanboys or even saying that Apple would be the first, but it does seem to be the case that whatever Apple does, other manufacturers copy. I'm not even saying that it's to Apple's credit as a technology company, it says more about their marketing department. I actually would never buy anything from Apple because I don't agree with their philosophy and most of their products and think they're a bunch of stuck up snobs (from professional dealings with them), but I would like it if they could jumpstart a trend to include better screens in laptops.
    Reply
  • zepi - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    How about the battery life when gaming? Is it still a dismal 1 hour or so? How about when compared to let's say a Llano laptop? Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Hey Acer! Do you want to stand out and be more like Apple? Then how about making a laptop with a 16:10 screen? Reply
  • HighTech4US - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Why exactly do manufactures chose slower and more power hungry GDDR3 over GDDR5?

    You would think the lower power and higher performance of GDDR5 would make it the obvious choice.

    Is the cost of GDDR5 really so much higher than GDDR3?
    Reply
  • ueharaf - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    you have to compare with amd 6630m on a sony vaio SA.
    z2 has thunderbolt so is not a fair comparison in graphics card. Here I smell a NVIDIA propaganda, rather than a fair comparison of the graphic cards...come on!!!
    Reply
  • Kansja - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Keep this in mind: Due to the much lower thermal headroom in a laptop you can't just stick in enough power to fire up 1080p displays on a laptop, either from the graphic's side or the power constraints (Remember that the iPad has a MASSIVE battery for the power consumption of everything minus display)

    You can't just stick 4 580's on a lap. It's a compromise between costs to the user, mobility and performance. I do agree 1600x900 should be an standard but it's not possible until our graphic's card offer 6870 like performance on 10-20W power envelope
    Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    I had to log in to say this...looking at the results on the gaming performance page, it seems to me that this laptop is able to acquit itself quite well at 1600x900. Honestly, my next laptop will be 1600x900 at 15.6" (unless I need to get a really cheap machine for some reason) and if this model had a matte, 900p display, it would be on my short, SHORT list, especially given the pleasant experience I've had with my current Acer laptop.

    There's really just no excuse for Acer (or anyone) to not put a higher-resolution display on a machine like this. I don't need (or want) 1920x1080, but I'll be damned if I spend more than $600 on a laptop that doesn't have at least 900 rows of pixels on the display.
    Reply

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