Acer has always built notebooks that seek to find the sweet spot between quality (of build and components) and affordability. Often, consumers do get a good buy from Acer as their products tend to be value for money and that bodes well for many consumers. Late last year, Acer announced their desire to change their focus towards quality products that will help people associate the brand with more desirable traits. However, it appears that someone forgot to forward the memo to the rest of the company.
Unfortunately that’s the feeling you’d get once you put your hands on the much discussed 15.6-inch Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 notebook. That’s because most of the new notebooks that were launched and reviewed recently were using tougher materials like aluminum alloy, magnesium alloy, carbon fibre or even Gorilla Glass. Plastic alone doesn’t cut it anymore (perception-wise). Granted the lid of the Timeline Ultra M3 machine is made of a metal alloy, the rest of the chassis is made from plastic.
But of course, there's more to the new Acer Timeline Ultra M3 that has helped it make some waves in the online space. For starters, it's nicknamed as the first true 'Ultrabook' because of it's slim build (20mm), decent weight (2.2kg) and it packs in a discrete graphics unit in that thin frame (take note that all references are with regards to the 15.6-inch form factor of the notebook). To be precise, the M3 packs in a spanking new NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M graphics module. In case you haven't heard, the new NVIDIA GeForce 600M series of mobile GPUs hail from the same desktop series of products based on the new Kepler architecture that's made from the 28nm process technology and was officially launched yesterday. Compared to the its predecessor, the GeForce GT 540M, NVIDIA promises double the performance with better power efficiency and stronger tessellation performance. We'll soon touch on these aspects to see if it really makes a difference in our performance benchmarking section.
So we started this review pointing out Acer's liberal use of plastic in the Aspire Timeline Ultra M3, and it did disappoint us somewhat. But initial disappointments aside, we have to admit that the the M3 is a machine that is still very well designed and constructed. When handling and using the machine, we didn't find any weak spot on the notebook that creaks or squeaks.
In fact, the use of plastics could be a major factor that contributes to the 15.6-inch notebook's very light 2.2kg weight. And at 20mm, it could very well be the thinnest 15.6-inch notebook we’ve seen so far. Take note that you might find NVIDIA and Acer touting this model as an Ultrabook, but in our point of view, with its size and form factor, it's nowhere near the Ultrabooks we've seen to-date that are handy and portable. Calling the Timeline Ultra M3 is a bit of a misnomer to the public, but we do get the idea that it is much more portable than other notebooks of it's form factor.
And if you haven’t noticed from the pictures by now, the M3 is fully covered in black. Some may find the choice of color uninspiring, but then again there is little leeway to go wrong with black, especially if it’s matte black. The only thing that is shiny here, is the Acer logo right in the middle of the metal alloy lid.
Externally, the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 is fairly devoid of any features that leap out to hit you in the face. It’s only when you look hard enough can you see the two status LEDs on the left front side. But once you see the status LEDs, you’ll also see something that shouldn’t be found anywhere outside of the of machine -- the power switch.
What was Acer thinking when they decided that the power switch should be placed there? Sure it isn’t hard to reach, but it definitely isn’t the first place you’d look when you want to turn the machine on. When the machine is safely placed on a table, this might not pose much of a problem (except for the initial stage when you can’t figure out just where the switch is). However we feel this could be a major user-friendliness issue if you have the notebook on your lap. You may not accidentally hit the switch all the time, but there are chances, and when it happens, it will no doubt be the cause of some burst blood vessels when the machine abruptly goes to sleep, or worse, turns off.
Another baffling design choice is the location of all the ports - they were found at the back of the machine! With twin USB 2.0, one USB 3.0, HDMI and Ethernet ports, the quantity of connectivity options won’t be an issue, but getting to it easily is the problem. If the notebook is on the desk, you’d have to either get up, or pull the screen down in order to plug anything in. If it were on your lap, you’d have to juggle the notebook just to plug in a USB storage device. Not the most convenient of things to do. This gets worse if you're on the move.