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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  • Finraziel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Hell, my old 15" laptop from 2002 had a 1400x1050 screen (and a buddy at the same time had one with 1920x1200, I don't think you can even get that anymore and no 1080 isn't as good)... It's ridiculous how laptopscreens only seem to get worse over time. Reply
  • Mitch89 - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    I have fond memories of the WSXGA+ panel in my Dell 8600, 1680x1050 in a 15.4in display was awesome. You could even get a WUXGA 1920x1200 panel as well.

    That was 2003, yet this 1366x768 crap is still being offered today.

    Very much looking forward to Apple pushing the envelope on laptop displays, the 1920x1200 display on my 17" Pro is good, but a res bump would be sweet. (and please offer a matte option...)
    Reply
  • SnowCat00 - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    My Thinkpad T60P from five years ago has 1680 X 1050 15 inch panel, the one thing holding me back from replacing it is all the crappy panels that are going into laptops lately... For once I say Go Apple! I hope the new Ipad pushes manufactures to start putting better screens inyo there tablets and laptops. Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Yup.

    I stopped reading after I noticed the resolution. It's time for this shit to end. Since LCDs took over we've been in a race towards the bottom - lower resolutions and worse and worse panels.
    I really hope the dick measuring contest in the smartphone and tablet space leads to more high and ultra high resolution IPS (and with time OLED) displays in laptops and desktop monitors. So few even offer a high res alternative these days.
    Reply
  • VoraciousGorak - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Yeah.

    "...one of the most compelling notebooks we've seen yet..."

    Screen Resolution: 768p

    /me scrolls down to comments to complain, then hits Back button on browser.
    Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    Seriously. Is 1366x768 a good replacement for 1024x768? Sure. For 1280x800? No. Likewise, I'm fine with 1600x900 rather than 1440x900, and 1920x1080 instead of 1680x1050, but going from 1920x1200 to 1920x1080 is...well, it's just insulting.

    Manufacturers: If you're really hell bent for leather on shoving wider screens down our throats, the least you could do is give us 2048x1152, which still fits into the single-link DVI spec. How about 2400x1350? It divides nicely into 1600x900 for gaming and other 3D applications, and still gives you that shiny high-res look for regular 2D stuff.

    I suppose 2048x1280 or even 2048x1536 on a desktop monitor is just too much to ask...
    Reply
  • Malih - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    This will depend on whether Windows 8 can deliver good hi dpi support, currently some applications break when setting the text size of text to other than default, and non apple laptops use Windows, so they're somewhat held back by compatibility issues.
    I believe Metro apps will adapt well with high resolution, but this is not the case with some desktop apps.
    Reply
  • danielkza - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I'm yet to find a single application updated on the last 5 years that messes up high-DPI, at least starting from Vista when I started using it. Reply
  • Malih - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    well, I found some, mostly utilities and apps that comes from manufacturers with the driver cd/downloads, that uses fugly UI, but because I need them to use the hardware... latest app I found that breaks is The Witcher 2 Configuration Tool Reply
  • Finraziel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Well, some of us also just have good eyes... I have absolutely no problems using my acer AO522 netbook which has a 720p 10" screen. That comes to exactly the same pixel density as 1080p on 15". Actually I wouldn't mind if the pixel density got even higher, when Asus comes with their full hd 13" models I might be really tempted, if I have the money for it then. Reply

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