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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  • Exchequer - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    It is clear you are NOT a gamer... I hace combined my gamign rig intentionally with a 1680x1050 screen, why? Because it MATTERS for your framerate.

    1024x768=768k
    1280x1024=1.2M
    1680x1050=1.76M
    1920x1080=2M
    1366x768=1M

    Your talking about is 5M

    That is pure madnes... Even if you go from 1M pixels to 2M pixels, this mean your framerate will drop down 50%... E.g. if you had 50 fps before it will end up near 25 fps. To talk about 5M pixels means you really have absolutely no clue about gpu's and games...

    Of course you can lower the resolution of your game but, as anyone that ever tried this will know, if you move away from the native resolution screens become very ugly. Your better off playing native on a lower resolution than picking this resolution on a higher res panel.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    When you have pixels that small, things actually scale quite well, so going to a lower resolution for a game is no big deal.

    I agree that a 1680 x 1050 screen is great for mainstream gaming - it's a good compromise between having a nice big screen, and not too many pixels to push.
    Reply
  • airmantharp - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Did you seriously just say 1680x1050 for gaming?

    That's great, if you can't afford a video card, and I'm aware that not everyone can.

    But let me tell you, gaming on a 30" 2560x1600 IPS screen is something to behold. Battlefield 3, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, The Old Republic, all look and play amazing when driven by a pair of HD6950 2GB cards.
    Reply
  • Exchequer - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    First of all we are talking here about mobile gaming... Even if you get an insanely expensive laptop with sli/crossfire you still wont have enough fps for a 30 inch screen with that resolution...

    Furthermore crossfire results in microstutter so thats not an ideal solution, it pretty much ruins the game.

    On pc gaming I once bought an 8800 GTS 640mb for 320 euro when it was just released (probablyt wrong priced should be 450 euro), 6 months later the 8800GT was introduced at half price. Since then I learned my lesson and got the gtx 260 for 140 euro (and got 90 back for the 8800gts), after that a gtx460 hawk for 165 euro. If you stick with your 1680x1050 panel you can run all games with AA without any problems for at least a year for about 50-60 (because each time you get 90-100 back for your old card). If I want to play bf3 on 1920x1080 I have to upgrade to a 560ti which would cost me 220 euro while resulting in the same detail settings and fps...
    Reply
  • Bols - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    But you are so very wrong (and angry), young padwan.

    The beauty of a 2880x1800 screen is that it scales perfectly down to 1440x900, which would allow it to be driven by a mid-class GPU for fast FPS-games, and you will not be able to see that there is any scaling going on. (There isn't - every pixel in the 1400-domain is just shown as four pixels). For serious use, you can cram in four times more information and text in the 2800-resolution. If you working with text, like programming, screen estate matters.

    And you should ease up on the assumptions. I am an ex-fps-junkie, but I still care about framerate.
    Reply
  • Finraziel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Double the pixels is half the framerate? Right, and there we stop taking you seriously... You read Anandtech yet you don't know there are lots of different possible bottlenecks and they are not all affected by resolution?
    Aside from that I agree, scaling isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be on a proper high resolution screen. I've regularly done it both on laptops and on my 24" 1920x1200 display and if you can live with lower res I don't see how you can be so picky to whine about a bit of blurring from the scaling. Maybe if you play text-heavy games, but those tend to be less sensitive to framerate, so it works out nicely.
    Reply
  • Exchequer - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    It is... I have an old Philips 17 inch TFT (25ms from 2003 so 9 years old!) as secondary monitor with 1280x1024. My main monitor is a samsung 2253BW (2008, 2ms), which is regarded as a high quality monitor. If I put the 2253BW on 1280x1024 (including black bars) you get about the same screen surface. The 17 inch is 27 cm height and the 22inch is 30cm. However the image quality is a LOT worse. If all you can run is 1280x1024 (gpu limited) than you are 100% better off with the old 17inch 5:4 panel as compared to downscaling the modern 22inch panel.

    Besides gaming it is of course personal preference. Back in the day you could get a 1680x1050 22 inch or a 1680x1050 20 inch, or a higher resolution 22 inch. However this results in very small text on your OS forcing you to use larger icons which (in the old days) were not as pretty ^^. Small icons get annoying pretty quickly. Anyone that has been wearing contact lenses for some years will know what im talking about:D.
    Reply
  • Exchequer - Saturday, March 17, 2012 - link

    "Double the pixels is half the framerate? Right, and there we stop taking you seriously...´`

    Maybe you should not only visit anandtech but also take a look at techpowerup...

    http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Zotac/GeForce_G...

    2560x1600 48 fps
    1680x1050 85 fps
    1280x1024 109 fps

    If you are talking about 5M pixels (the post that I replied to then I can assure you that you will be gpu imited and that scaling will be completely lineair...

    ps since sandy brige its hard to be cpu limited with a single gpu ^^.
    Reply
  • JojoKracko - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Yes, disgraceful. I have to agree. Lets hope that Apple also forces a return to the infinitely more logical 16x10 format for laptops. 16x9 is simply cost saving BS which I equate to skimping on the quality of the screen.

    Make it 16x10, IPS, and I will gladly, GLADLY, kick the vendor an extra $150.

    If they can put a 2560x?? IPS panel in a $500 iPad (not 3) then they can damn well do the same in $900 and up laptops.

    All we need is ONE manufacturer to set the example, (and do it well for pete's sake, don't skimp on the keyboard to compensate), and the HUGE SALES will show all of the others that this is what they should have been doing all along.

    If they would have put a 1600x1000 quality TN panel into THIS laptop, I would have been a buyer for $100 over list price. As is though, it is useless crapola to me.

    Props for the mSata SSD and the EMPTY drive bay. Although, I'd prefer two fullsized bays and the ability to buy my own SSD and install it along with the crap HDD they would include.
    Reply
  • JojoKracko - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Hey, if Asus can put a 1080P IPS Matte screen in an $1100 UX31A, then every other laptop maker sure as heck better start doing the same. It is just crazy that it has taken this long for the first quality laptop display to appear.

    Let me say it again.

    1080P IPS Matte Screen

    Just do it!

    http://www.notebookcheck.net/Asus-to-release-the-Z...

    This one, or hopefully a G75 with a similar spec'd screen, is something I'm looking forward to buying in the near future. Not things like this acer with the low res, low spec screen.

    Review the UX31A next please Anandtech.
    Reply

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