After the first fruits of Intel's ultrabook initiative fell almost a year ago, this category now has a veritable cornucopia of machines from practically all PC manufacturers. Although this has produced some highly attractive products, it also tarnished what was once a clear mission statement.
Ultrabooks were originally introduced as Windows-based competitors to Apple's MacBook Air: thin, light, sexy, and fast with under $ 1,000 all-day battery life – a challenging feat but one that many companies quickly mastered, including HP with its ~ $ 900 folio 13.
With another year of engineering and the more efficient Ivy Bridge architecture, it should be even easier for systems builders to meet or exceed Intel guidelines. On paper, the second wave of ultrabooks should be slimmer, faster, cheaper, more portable, and more autonomous.
Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-581TG-6666 – $ 830
- 15.6 "1366×768 LED-illuminated display
- Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7 – 2.6 GHz)
- Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE 1 GB
- 6 GB DDR3 RAM
- 20 GB SSD + 500 GB 5400 rpm hard disk
- 8X dual-layer DVD drive (left)
- SD / MMC card reader, audio jack (right)
- 1 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, HDMI, LAN (rear)
- 802.11b / g / n, Bluetooth 4.0 + HS
- 1.3 megapixel webcam (1280 x 1024)
- Backlit chiclet keyboard (white light)
- 3-cell 4850 mAh battery (8 hours)
- 14.43 "x 10.05" x 0.79 / 0.81 ", 5.07 lbs
And you are. These attributes have improved, it's just difficult to find them all in one machine, and the systems closest in the raw specs usually exceed $ 1,000. With so many heavyweights eating a relatively small piece of cake, their attempts at differentiation can be expected.
More than last year, the 2012 Ultrabooks were about compromises: screens with low resolution compared to high-resolution screens, TN panels compared to IPS, snappy SSDs compared to spacious hard drives, dual-core CPUs compared to quad- Core screens, 2 GB vs. 8 GB, power sipping IGPs vs. muscle-bound GPUs, mainstream vs. Premium prices and so on.
In other words, shopping for one ultrabook is eerily similar to shopping for another notebook, which raises concerns about the long-term marketing potential of ultrabooks as a special sub-classification of premium laptops – a topic worth exploring, but we will do it go ahead before your eyes glaze over.
Acer's new TimelineU makes its own compromises. Our review unit features a full-size backlit keyboard, 500 GB of storage, a GeForce GT 640M LE GPU, an optical drive, eight hours of battery life, and an attractive price of $ 830. The question, of course, is: what's the catch? Let's get to the bottom of this …
External & Ease of Use
The brushed aluminum surface of the TimelineU M5 looks professional. If you look at the machine from the front or from both sides, you'll see clean lines and a minimalist design. This is, at least in part, because virtually all of the system's I / O ports are on the back, not the sides.
Rear-mounted USB, HDMI, and Ethernet ports make for a cleaner look, but I found these ports difficult to use without flipping the M5, and this was especially annoying as its L-shaped power connector likes the edge grabbed my desk in the middle -rotation, often disconnect.
As stated in the specification list, the left side has an optical drive while the right side contains a multi-card reader and audio jack. For some reason, Acer has placed the M5's power button on the front edge rather than under the display. Aside from the brief confusion, this wasn't a problem.
Opening the TimelineU reveals a 15.6-inch glossy display, aluminum deck, full-size backlit keyboard and number pad, large off-center touchpad, and the mandatory branding stickers. We'd rather not have stickers, but Acer has at least used monochrome colors which blend in pretty well with the design.
The display flexes a little when you open it, and like most glossy panels, there is noticeable glare in a well-lit environment, while in low-light conditions, reflections from the backlit keyboard may appear when using the system at certain angles. Not a big problem, but worth mentioning.
Lots of users seem to be vehemently against 1366 x 768 laptop displays – especially when it comes to 15.6-inch notebooks – but I don't necessarily have a problem with the M5's resolution. However, I believe that higher resolution options should be more widely available, and I hope it will in the next 6 to 12 months.
While the M5's buttons are a bit small and squishy for my tastes, they are well spaced and easy to type (I spent 15 minutes doing typing tests and had no issues reaching my usual WPM). Acer also did a good job of ensuring that each key is evenly lit – it's not uncommon for larger keys to have dark spots.
The multitouch trackpad is very slightly sunk, large, reads gestures well and has a nice coating. I don't have any issues with the touchpad itself, but it's a little too far to the left for me. My palm is four inches wide and there is only three inches of surface next to the touchpad.
Unless I'm very careful to tilt my left hand, the base of my thumb, and part of my palm on the touchpad. Fortunately, I hit the space bar with my right thumb while typing, so this isn't a problem. However, there are several problems encountered when using the touchpad with the right hand, especially with gestures.
For example, I often use the two finger swipe to scroll but it doesn't register, or I just move the cursor and my left palm does pinch-to-zoom input that enlarges my desktop or browser. It was annoying enough that I wouldn't hesitate to return the M5 and opt for another machine.
That said, people with smaller hands might not have a problem, and whatever it's worth, a quick search suggests the average male palm width is around 3.30 inches and 2.91 inches for women, so the Acer engineering team not exactly sleeping at work. I would still rip out a tape measure before ordering.