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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  • mschira - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    You call this compelling?
    Trackpad sucks. COME on. That is one of the most important usability items on a laptop.
    If the trackpad sucks the notebook sucks.
    Screen resolution? 768P on 15.6" are they joking?

    Also ditch the optical drive. I have a Lenovo 420s and replaced the optical drive with a second battery. I have the optical drive somewhere but I am not sure I would find it if I ever needed it.

    Great move with the GT 640 absolutely. Also great move with the mSSD and harddrive bay.
    But else?
    M.
    Reply
  • nateclind - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    How about showing a little class and respect. You can definitely disagree, but go about it in a more constructive way. Reply
  • snuuggles - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    The tone of the op was somewhat ascerbic. The tone of -your- post is just weird... How, exactly, are they not being "classy?!"

    Try to be specific (as the op was).
    Reply
  • weiran - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    His points are perfectly valid and constructive.

    In the recent Dell XPS13 review, it had almost the exact same faults as this laptop and yet this one is somehow "compelling"? The trackpad and screen are two of the most important parts of a laptop, yet the poor screen doesn't even get a mention in the conclusion. Is the rest of the laptop good enough to overlook those deficiencies?

    The author also seems to base his final judgement on a retail price of around $800, I'll tell you now there's no way it will be close to $800 a decent sized SSD and i7.
    Reply
  • mschira - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Hm, I didn't even get far enough to appreciate the price. 800 would be a good offer, but a 256GB SSD, and i7 and a Kepler GPU for 800?
    Sure.
    And the next iPad will be sold for a benefit price in Africa.
    M.
    Reply
  • nissangtr786 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I reckon this has 20-50% less power then the full gt640m 2gb card as the 1gb gt640m is the LE version 15-20w card vs the 2gb gt640m 25-30w card.

    http://forum.notebookreview.com/gaming-software-gr...

    See that forum and see the list of graphics cards and you will se it is pretty impressive for a 15-20w card.
    Reply
  • Gideonic - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Nice ME3 reference ;) Reply
  • kallogan - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Kepler seems indeed to be a big step forward... Reply
  • flensr - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    My wife is complaining about her laptop again and this is exactly the form factor she likes (thin and light but with optical drive) but the screen is so awful that I'm going to have to give it a pass. Almost everything else about this is awesome (6GB ram max is pretty weak but the mSATA SSD + 2.5 HDD is a great choice) and having an ethernet port and optical drive is a requirement for me, but the screen simply must be better than this or it's a complete waste of money to purchase.

    I bought a lenovo T420s which is remarkably similar to this thing (thin light with optical, 14") but after receiving it and seeing how terrible that screen was, I'm going to hold out until either the laptop screens improve or tablets improve to the point where I can switch over completely to tablet use. That T420s is the last laptop with a crummy screen I'll ever buy.

    Laptop manufacturers are going to lose their customers in a BIG way in a year or two when tablet hardware is capable of running a "real" OS, unless they can figure out a way to put nice screens in their laptops. I would have happily paid an extra $400 for my T420s for an upgraded screen, and I won't buy a replacement with a TN screen at ANY price. If that means I wait until the ipad 8 or whatever microsoft comes out with in a couple of years when their tablets are not much different than tiny desktops/laptops, then that's better than using one of these horrible screens.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Doesnt the 560M have just half that many cores? And it is faster? What is going on here? Reply

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