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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  • Kansja - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    I do agree 1600x900 are fine, but I can't get over a 700$ budget and I want to play games at least medium. HP + Llano + 7690 stays under that budget with 768, but doesn't have the option to 1600x900 other than 1080p and that would be too taxing, so it's unfair. It's a compromise: Want better displays on laptops? You need more power, thus, pay more, thus, lose markets. Most people won't notice a lot of difference unless you're a graphics junkie. You are niche users, not the mainstream market Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    Actually, I really wouldn't care what resolution a game rendered at as long as it ends up looking okay in the end. Render in 960x600 and upscale to 1440x900, or in 1280x720 or 1200x675 and upscale to 1600x900. I don't care, it's fine with me, as long as the scaling is decent.

    But that's neither here nor there. I want a resolution with 900 rows for productivity reasons. Gaming is a secondary concern for me, but I will want to be able to fire up something more than classic Unreal Tournament or d1x-rebirth in my next laptop. Honestly, with Kepler and even Trinity nearly here, I suspect that GPU power is about to become a non-issue.

    I was really disappointed in the Samsung Series 7...I thought it would be my perfect laptop, but what I read about it left a bad taste in my mouth. So I'll be watching for a thin(ish) and light(ish) 15.6"(ish) laptop with a 1440x900 or 1600x900 (or thereabouts) matte screen that can game reasonably well, whether that's with a Trinity APU or with a i7-3xxx paired with Kepler. I think a system like this could probably hit around $700 with a Trinity APU.
    Reply
  • Kansja - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    Trinity: Yes. If Llano is any indicative and even a 10% increase of power on both sides on the same TDP, it could handle it pretty well. Otherwise, 640M seems disappointing to say the least... Let's see how Kepler scales tho, since this is the smallest part I guess. Reply
  • Osamede - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    A 15" laptop with a 1366 x 768 screen? Why would Anandtech even waste its time reviewing junk like this?

    No offense fellas, but I dont care if the company even PAID you to review this thing, you should say no, because it hurts your own brand as a tech media website, to review this dross.

    Next time you have a laptop review I cant tell you I aint clicking, because you seem likely to waste my time....
    Reply
  • akyp - Monday, March 19, 2012 - link

    Stopped reading there Reply
  • nissangtr786 - Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - link

    imo I have had a couple 1920x1200 dell latitude d820/e6500 and 1440x900 14inch screen on d630 and recently an e6420 14" 1600x900 screen. Now 16:9 is something I didn't want but it makes watching movies better. Also as bad as 1366x768 is, it is liveable. 640m and 720p gaming will go very well.

    I currently use an acer 5930g and I am on the process to upgrade to an i5 3317u m3 640m machine. Seeing this review it shows that is good enough and good as a cheap replacement for use for next 2-4 years.
    Reply

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