The new 11.6-inch MacBook Air isn't the only contender for the high-end ultraportable crown. The $899 Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118 looks like a Netbook from the outside, but inside, its specs are utterly upscale. An Intel Core i7-680UM dual-core ULV processor, 500GB hard drive, and 4GB of DDR3 RAM match what we've seen in midrange full-size laptops.
However, at $899, the real question is whether you're considering the 1830T-68U118 as a complete laptop or merely a portable tool in your computer arsenal. If the former, you may consider a thin 13-incher such as the Asus U35Jc-A1 instead. If the latter, you might look at a cheaper dual-core premium Netbook, for example the Gateway LT3201u, and save a few hundred dollars.
However, unlike the better-designed but limited MacBook Air, which lacks HDMI and SD card ports, this Acer will at least offer everything you'd expect in a laptop, only on a smaller scale.
|Price as reviewed||$899|
|Processor||1.46GHz Intel Core i7 680UM|
|Memory||4GB, 1,066MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.2 inches x 8 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.0 / 3.4 pounds|
From the outside, this tiny TimelineX so closely resembles other similarly sized premium Netbooks that it pretty much blends into the landscape. An 11.6-inch glossy screen and a full-size flat keyboard are contained cozily in a narrow lightweight chassis, resembling an Acer TimelineX in miniature. The black crosshatch-patterned plastic on the back lid and black plastic around the inner keyboard deck and upper screen give the unit a budget feel, except for a narrow palm rest/touch pad area in brushed metal.
A six-cell battery is tucked above the keyboard and between the screen hinges, reducing bottom bulk. With the lid closed, the machine is easily lifted in one hand, coming in at an even 3 pounds in weight. The included AC adapter is far more compact than on many other laptops, eschewing a power brick in favor of a small wall-wart that looks similar to a cell phone charger and is easier to pack into a small bag.
A large edge-to-edge flat keyboard fills the middle of the 1830T's lower midsection, but size isn't everything: though the keys are plenty wide enough for anyone's fingers, the overly flat sensation and lack of a distinct raised-key feel made locating keys by touch quite difficult, and rendered typing messy. The keyboard's not much different than other Acer/Gateway flat keyboards we've seen, particularly on the 11.6-inch Gateway LT3201u, a system this TimelineX closely resembles. Still, on an $899 laptop, we'd expect a more premium experience.
Similar ergonomic problems plague the narrow palm rest below, which is a bit too small for comfortable use with large hands. The multitouch touch pad in-between is flush with the rest of the surface, delineated only with small raised strips on either side. Two small, discrete buttons beneath serve to cram the usable touch pad space down to an area not much bigger than two postage stamps laid side by side, which presents a real challenge for multitouch gestures such as two-finger zoom. Even more vexingly, there's quite a bit of dead space above the keyboard and below the screen that's wasted; only a single power button and the wedge of the six-cell battery lie up there. The MacBook Air wisely lifts its keyboard up to the screen, leaving plenty of space below for a large trackpad and palm rest; we wish Acer had done the same.
Apart from the round blue LED-lit power button on the top left, a few LED lights on the top right of the keyboard indicate little-used functions such as hard-drive activity. A few more LEDs line the left front edge of the laptop, showing Wi-Fi activity and battery-charging status. It adds up to a lot of blinking lights. Volume control and screen brightness are controlled via a combo of Fn and the arrow keys, but we'd prefer function-reversed Fn buttons instead.
The LED-backlit, glossy 11.6-inch 16:9 screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, standard for this size. The dual-hinged screen opens up nearly 180 degrees, but viewing angles degrade at extreme tilt. The overall screen brightness and clarity are about average, with colors looking a bit less sharp than on some premium screens we've seen. Front-firing stereo speakers situated under the laptop are definitely loud enough to enjoy videos and Web chat, even music, and are better than you'd find on most Netbooks.
The included Webcam has a maximum video resolution of 640x480 pixels, and Acer's Cyber Eye Webcam software is bare bones but offers plenty of camera-setting tweaks. Still pictures can be taken up to resolutions of 1,280x1,024 pixels.
|Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI-out||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
Three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI-out, Bluetooth 3.0, and Windows 7 Home Premium round out an attractive feature set for an ultraportable this small. Really, other than an optical drive, this 11.6-incher lacks nothing. That's great news for those who need this system to act as their primary laptop, rather than as a satellite.
Acer has other versions of the TimelineX 1830T with Core i3 and i5 ULV processors at about $599 for the Core i3 and $700 for the Core i5 version, and the Core i7-680UM dual-core ULV in this laptop is the high end of the product line. It's a similar but even better-performing CPU to what we saw in the Core i7 Dell Alienware M11x. However, it shouldn't be confused with a standard-voltage Core i7; this one operates at roughly half the system speed, although Intel's Turbo Boost technology can increase the CPU speed up to 2.53GHz at the expense of battery life. It is, however, a far better ULV processor than the Core i3 ULV CPU, providing an experience that comes pretty close to what you'd experience on a standard-voltage mainstream processor. Streaming-video playback, multitasking, and everyday office tasks fly on the 1830T-68U118, and it should represent a very solid experience for most mainstream users.