- Great performance for its class
- Thoughtful software selection
- Keyboard is a potential dirt magnet
- A little too much bloatware
This Intel-powered portable, which camps between netbook and notebook, delivers decent performance and style in spades.
The Acer Aspire 3810T, aka the Acer Timeline, has two things going for it: This model is one of the first laptops out the gate to use an Intel CULV processor (in this case, the 1.4GHz U9400). The 3810T also has a sharp style that’s sure to grab attention. How does this laptop stand up to the MSI X340 or to the HP Pavilion dv2 (which uses the first-gen Athlon Neo CPU)? Pretty well.
In WorldBench 6, the Timeline trounced the Pavilion dv2 (which scored a 46) and outpaced the MSI X340 (which earned a 56), notching a mark of 68. That’s the kind of score we’ve seen from some typically expensive ultraportables–but in this case, you’re paying only $799. While this machine manages to outrun similar competitors for the price with a U9400 CPU and 4GB of RAM, it lacks a discrete graphics card. As a result, though the Timeline surprisingly sails through 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium, you shouldn’t expect it to be a multimedia marvel. It does, however, hang in for a ridiculously long stretch of time–it lasted about 8 hours, 21 minutes on a single charge in our tests. That’s a pretty solid run, and that battery life was one of the things that helped push the Timeline ahead of the X340 in our evaluations.
But where do you peg a portable like this? Is it a high-powered tweener, or is it a low-performance ultraportable on the cheap? That depends on whom you ask. The dv2 stretches the definition of a netbook. The X340 is a slim, plasticky, poor-man’s MacBook Air. The Timeline is a sleek, solid notebook, but it’s the size of a conventional ultraportable. Measuring 12.67 by 1.13 by 8.97 inches and weighing 3.5 pounds, this system could be easily confused with a traditional laptop.
Now, the layout of the Timeline–namely, the keyboard–might prompt some love-hate reactions. For an advanced hunt-and-peck specialist like myself, the keys feel springy and good to the touch. But the flat, seemingly floating, psuedo cut-out keys aren’t suitable for everyone. Say you’re munching on snacks while typing (this review brought to you by Cheetos)–grit and debris will quickly, easily, and frequently fall between the buttons. And my editorial partner in crime, Melissa Perenson, was quick to point out that anyone with long fingernails will find their fingertips catching underneath the keys. Does that mean you’ll break a nail every time you type or try to wedge up a key? I don’t know, but folks in need of a manicure should consider themselves warned.
Among the Timeline’s handy and unique features are a couple of touch-inducive shortcuts. A Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n toggle sits next to a shortcut to Acer Backup Manager (an easy-to-use software utility) and a quick toggle for a battery-saving mod.
Camping below all that is a good-sized touchpad. It has the same texture as the wrist rest, and the only indicator that you’re in the strike zone is a slight speed bump surrounding the area. The mouse-button bar has an odd lip that your finger can slip into so that your thumb can rest while you navigate. I’m not particularly crazy about the cheap plastic feel of both the wrist rest and the button, but the setup certainly gets the job done. I know it’s an entirely different class, but I wish that more portable makers would take a cue from the Asus Eee PC 1008HA, which has golf-ball-like dimples dotting the active touchpad area. And metallic buttons on the Timeline wouldn’t hurt, either.
The screen is nice–provided that you use the Timeline only indoors. The glossy 1366-by-768-pixel panel has colors that pop. If you saw this system on a store shelf, you’d be drawn in by the rich reds and blues that don’t drown each other out. Try typing on it outside, however, and you’re looking into a fairly expensive mirror. It’s not exactly unusable–I wrote half this review outdoors. But the display is extremely dim, and making out much more than black text on a white background under broad daylight is hard. In short, it’s just the continuing curse of the glossy screen coating.
Judging from its size and shape, the Timeline seems capable of accommodating an internal optical drive. But it doesn’t. What it does have, however, are a reasonable number of ports. VGA and HDMI video-outs complement three USB plugs, an RJ-45 ethernet port, a Webcam, and headphone and microphone jacks.
As for the software, yes, you get some of the usual trialware (Microsoft Office, for instance). However, Acer has also thrown some helpful applications into the mix, ones that might be worth your while to try. Beyond Office, you get Microsoft Works, the eSobi news reader, the aforementioned backup utility, MyWinLocker for safely stowing files, and Orion, a soup-to-nuts IM/communication client. Oh, yeah–you’ll also find a host of obnoxious casual-game demos in the “Acer GameZone” that you’ll probably want to uninstall the second you power the Timeline up.
Overall, the Acer Aspire 3810T is a handsome-looking portable masquerading as something more powerful than it truly is–and that could be a bit of a problem for this slightly oversized netbook. The large, comfortable keys and the 13.3-inch screen could lull you into thinking that this portable is mighty. It is, by netbook standards–but that’s about it. That said, the Timeline is a pretty solid deal, and a decent-looking machine.