Mobility

Acer Timeline: Don't buy a netbook, get this instead

Learn why a new breed of laptops such as the Acer Timelime series is gaining steam and why they often make a lot more sense to buy than netbooks.

When I wrote my article "MSI X340 Slim: The best laptop you've never heard of," several TechRepublic members responded by saying that a similar laptop in the same class was the Acer Timeline series. Both the MSI X340 and the Acer Timeline are part of what Intel calls its Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage (CULV) line of machines. These laptops are characterized by their thin, light designs, long battery life, and processors that can handle bigger loads than netbooks.

So, at the prompting of the TechRepublic community, I got a hold of an Acer Timeline and put it through its paces. Here are the pros and cons of the machine from a business perspective. See why it's a better choice than a netbook for many business users.

Also read: Netbooks are dead. Long live the notebook.

Specifications

  • Cost: $669 retail
  • Model number: Acer Aspire Timeline AS3810TZ-4880
  • Operating system: Windows Vista Home Premium (upgraded to Windows 7 Ultimate)
  • Processor: 1.3GHz Intel Pentium Ultra-Low Voltage SU2700
  • RAM: 4GB DDR3 1066
  • Hard drive: 320GB SATA (5400rpm)
  • Display: 13.3" WXGA LCD (1366x768 pixels) with LED backlight
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD with 64MB dedicated video RAM
  • Video ports: VGA, HDMI
  • Other ports: 3 USB, microphone, headphone, RJ45
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000; 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi; Bluetooth
  • Webcam: Integrated
  • Card reader: 5-in-1 SD/xD/MMC/Memory Stick
  • Dimensions: 12.67"(w)x8.97"(d)x1.13"(h)
  • Weight: 3.5 lbs (1.4 kg)
  • Battery: 6-cell Lithium-ion (up to 8 hours of battery life)
  • Acer Aspire Timeline official product page

Who is it for?

For business travelers and knowledge workers who want a highly portable laptop that can capably handle standard business applications and has enough battery life to last for a coast-to-coast flight across the U.S., the Acer Timeline machine is a solid choice.

It will cost $200-$300 more than most netbooks, but for most business users, the extra CPU power and battery life provide enough value to justify the cost. Plus, we're still talking about a pretty powerful machine for well-under $1000.

What problems does it solve?

The biggest drawbacks with netbooks have always been the small LCD screens and tiny, non-standard keyboards. The Acer Timeline eliminates those concerns by providing a standard laptop keyboard and a 13-inch 1366x768 screen. While the Timeline is a little wider than a netbook, it makes up for it by being thinner than most netbooks.

The other problem with netbooks is that the Atom processor that powers most of them tends to be pedestrian when it comes to multi-tasking and doing much more than Web browsing. The Timeline I tested was much snappier, even with its 1.3 GHz Pentium. And, some of the CULV laptops even have Core 2 Duo processors.

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Standout features

  • Slim form factor - Portability is one of the factors that has fueled the success of netbooks. However, you don't give up much with a CULV system like the Acer Timeline. Again, the height and width of the Timeline is bigger than a netbook, but it is much slimmer and the weight is comparable.
  • 5+ hours of battery life - Even more than other CULV systems, such as the MSI X340 Slim, the Acer Timeline offers outstanding battery life. The marketing materials claim "8+ hours" of battery life. In my tests, I easily got up to 5-6 hours, enough to last an entire cross country flight in the U.S.
  • Solid performance - As mentioned above, the Timeline has a stronger processor than the Intel Atom that powers most netbooks. I didn't run into any slow-downs with standard business apps like Microsoft Office, and it handled multi-tacking with multiple apps with no problems.
  • Runs cool - Some laptops make it very difficult to use them in your lap because they run so hot. That's not the case with the Timeline. It has a special thermal-efficient cooling design that allows the Timeline to remain very cool and quiet. That said, I should also note that there was a recall on a select number of Aspire Timeline machines in 2009 due to a malfunction that caused an overheating issue.

What's wrong?

  • Small touchpad - With all laptops I typically use a wireless mouse because I do not to like touchpads. However, the touchpad on the Timeline AS3810TZ is particularly bad. The actual touch-sensitive area is really small and there's only one mouse button (you click the left side for left-click and the right side for right-click) and it tends to stick. The touchpad is also supposed to have special gestures (similar to the Mac laptops) but these did not work very well in my tests.
  • More expensive than a netbook - Most netbooks these days hover around the $300-$400 range, although business-class netbooks can cost $500-$600. The retail price of the Timeline I reviewed was $669. You'll find some Timeline models in the mid-$500 range, but most of these CULV systems will cost 20-30% more than netbook.
  • Product naming - The naming convention for the Acer Timeline series is overly complicated and it confuses users. There's a cryptic product line number (AS3810TZ) plus a four-digit code on the end (4880). This makes it tough for buyers - whether IT departments or individuals - and these product numbers tend to change quickly so it can become even more confusing and difficult to standardize if you have a large team, department, or company.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

If you or your employees want a thin, light laptop with great battery life and enough horsepower to handle business applications, it's probably going to make a lot more sense to buy a CULV system like the Acer Timeline than to buy a netbook.

User rating

Have you used or supported the Acer Timeline? If so, what do you think? Rate the device and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. You can also give your own personal review of the Acer Timeline in the discussion thread below.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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