Acer's new Timeline series of laptops, including the 13-inch Aspire 3810T, aims to combine the thin, sexy designs of more expensive laptops with cost-saving, low-power processors. But that's a direction many PC makers are moving in, thanks to budget-friendly CPUs such as the AMD Neo and Intel CULV family, so Acer needed a bigger hook, such as the Timeline's claims of all-day, 8-hour computing.
We generally take such claims with a grain of salt, as they usually require a fairly rigid set of preconditions: Wi-Fi turned off, screen brightness turned way down, and so on. However, the $899 Aspire Timeline 3810T managed to impress us with its 5-plus-hour battery life in our much more rigid testing regimen (and it would probably get closer to 8 hours under casual use). Add in the decent industrial design, light weight, and reasonable (at least compared with other slim 12- and 13-inch laptops) performance, and it all adds up to a compelling 13-inch alternative.
Note that Apple's basic 13-inch MacBook offers similar battery life for only $100 more, plus includes an optical drive, but that system weighs more and has less RAM and a smaller hard drive, making for an interesting tossup between the two.
|Price as reviewed||$899|
|Processor||1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU U9400|
|Memory||4GB, 1066MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions||12.7 inches wide x 8.9 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.7/4.5 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
While perhaps not as striking at the MSI X340, another recent inexpensive, thin, 13-inch computer, the Timeline's gray metal lid and overall sturdy construction give it a more professional feel. It's slightly lighter than Dell's upscale 13-inch Adamo, and the backlit LED screen helps keep it fairly thin (but not in the same category as the MacBook Air or Adamo).
The large, flat keys will feel familiar to anyone who has used an Apple or Sony Vaio laptop, and typing felt comfortable and natural. The touch pad is smaller than you'd find on a MacBook, but still usable. We weren't crazy about the single rocker bar that acted as the left and right mouse buttons; besides simply preferring separate mouse buttons, it stiff and unresponsive--you have to make sure to give it a solid press in order to register. The touch pad understands a few multitouch gestures, such as pinching to zoom a photo, which is useful, but the implementation is nowhere near as seamless as what you'd find on a MacBook.
Above the keyboard, a small row of touch-sensitive quick-launch buttons control the Wi-Fi antenna, a built-in backup program, and a power-saving preset.
The 13.3-inch wide-screen LED offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a 16:9 screen this size. More common are 16:10 displays at 1,280x800 pixels. Text and icons were highly readable, and while still glossy, the screen was not as susceptible to glare as most.
|Acer Aspire Timeline 3810T||Average for category [thin-and-light]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA, Mini-HDMI or Mini-DVI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi,||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
The two big things you'll find missing on the Timeline 3810T are an optical drive and Bluetooth (although both are available in related 14- and 15-inch configurations). We're perfectly happy to skip the DVD burner, but Bluetooth is very handy for tethering a 3G smartphone, or for connecting a travel mouse.
Intel's single-core SU series CPUs (part of the Consumer Ultra-Low-Voltage line, or CULV) have been generally lackluster performers, but the dual-core U9400 version in the Timeline 3810T provides a much more usable overall experience. It easily out-performed the single-core MSI X340, and in anecdotal use it felt perfectly capable of performing standard tasks smoothly, such as Web surfing, working on office documents, and media playback. Of course, adding 4GB of RAM also helps--both the MSI X340 and Dell Adamo had only half that.
The Timeline's main selling point is its battery life, and while we didn't get the advertised 8 hours, we were still very impressed. The 3810T ran for 5 hours and 29 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. That test is particularly intense, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use. That's about 30 minutes more than Apple's $999 white MacBook (but about 20 minutes less than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, with Apple's improved nonremovable battery).