Acer Aspire TimelineU M3: Life on the Kepler Vergeby Dustin Sklavos on March 13, 2012 5:56 PM EST
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.
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Bols - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link...to light up the comment panel with frustration over the screen resolution. 768p on an otherwise premium notebook is ridiculous. With a 15" form factor it is a complete disgrace.
Let's hope apple sets the standard with a 2880x1800 macbook soon...and the rest of the world will follow.
Frallan - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link
Aye for once Im happy that there is an "i-wave" rolling over the world. The new i-pad has waaaay better resolution than this notebook. Its time to shape up or ship out for the companies that keep cramming crap screens into otherwise decent hardware.
Was a very interesting aticle though especially as it seems as if there are going to be new mobile chips coming from nVidia soon and AMD will have to follow.
damianrobertjones - Thursday, May 16, 2013 - link"The new i-pad has waaaay better resolution than this notebook."
OMG! Have you truly been taken in by the marketing? Yep. That high resolution ipad has increased DPI which means it might as well be 1280x720 when you actually want 'working' space.
Confusador - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - linkAgreed wholeheartedly, though it's worth noting that this machine can't even keep up with its direct competitors. I don't know what it's going to take to get typical buyers to care about this, but maybe Apple ca do it.
piroroadkill - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - linkIt's wholly acceptable on an 11-12" format, borderline unacceptable in a 13.3" chassis, and ridiculous to have 1366x768 on a 15.6" format. No other way to put it.
kkwst2 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - linkI would argue that the new iPad has proven that it is completely unacceptable even in a 10-12" format. If a $500 iPad can have a high quality, high resolution screen, there is no reason a $2000+ high end ultraportable notebook cannot. I'm talking to you, Lenovo.
noeldillabough - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - linkI have to agree with you, while I LOVE my X220, the 768p screen is a sore spot. Its beautiful, IPS clear etc, but not enough pixels.
Next machine will be a high res 12" laptop with an ivy bridge and HD4000 graphics (discrete graphics cards on laptops are on their way out)
kkwst2 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - linkYes, it is actually what keeps me in the T series rather than the X series. While the X panels are much higher quality, I can't work effectively with the pixel count.
Hoping for over 1000 vertical pixels in an X series notebook within a year.
JojoKracko - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - linkI'd second this, but I'd be talking to Alienware, whatever fool is still putting glossy crap screens in the new Asus G75, and MSI as well.
A $1500 or more gaming laptop SHOULD REALLY HAVE A GOOD SCREEN when the top quality parts only add $100 to the total price.
Make it a frickin' option at least and see what kind of response you get. And I mean a REAL OPTION. Allow it to be added to the BASE MODEL, not ONLY TO THE $2500 version. Yeah, I'm talking to you fAlienware!!!
fAlienware LOL. WHY have I not seen it written like this before?!?
kmmatney - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - linkHell - my old 15" laptop from 2005 had a 1280 x 800 screen. I'd take the extra 34 pixels over this 768p crap.