Acer’s Timeline series of laptops was one of the first to emphasize long battery life in a slim, but full-powered system. Since the first Timeline laptops hit in the first half of 2009, many other PC makers have been able to match thin designs with long battery life and decent performance, making the Timeline at least somewhat less distinctive.
That said, the latest version, the 13-inch Acer Aspire TimelineX AS3820T-5246, is a competent Intel Core i3 laptop with good looks and performance, and battery life that’s very good, but doesn’t radically outpace the competition.
At $729, it’s at the lower end of the thin 13-inch price scale. A largely comparable Toshiba Portege P705 costs $829, and adding discrete graphics, as in the Asus U33J, can run $999 or more (although both of those models have snazzier designs and sturdier build quality).
The black brushed-metal lid and thin design make the TimelineX a snazzy but subtle looker. The dull gray interior wrist rest and border, however, remind us more of dry business laptops; the system would probably look better with an all-over black design rather than a two-tone look.
Since its original release, the ranks of slim 13-inch laptops have grown, including recent systems from Toshiba and Asus (such as the previously mentioned Portege R705). That may make the TimelineX less one-of-a-kind, but the system does a good job of fitting in a large keyboard/touchpad combo for its size.
The wide, and widely spaced, flat-topped keys are of a style unique to Acer, and may take a little getting used to for those used to standard island-style keys. That said, we liked the extra surface area of the individual keys, and the extra-large right Shift key in particular. After an hour or so, our fingers got used to the key spacing and our typo rate declined back to its normal level (which is still pretty high). The keyboard tray also includes a single quick-launch button, which can be programmed to launch just about any application, but there are no discrete media control keys.
The touch pad is a decent size, but nowhere as large as the ones found on 13-inch MacBooks or even HP’s 13-inch Envy. Acer pioneered mutlitouch gesture support on the PC side, and in addition to the usual two-finger scrolling, we also liked the use of a circular finger pattern (starting from the top right corner) to scroll through long documents or Web pages, and two fingers flicked horizontally to go forward and back in your browser history. That said, all of these moves require a much more exact finger placement than on a MacBook, making them less useful, as they require some real concentration to use properly.
The 13.3-inch display has a 1,366×768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for most laptops with 11- to 15-inch displays. That’s a good middle ground for Web surfing, movie watching, and document creation, and the screen itself was clear and bright, even from extreme angles. The built-in speakers have a Dolby Home Theater label on them, but they sound like standard laptop speakers to us–meaning they’re fine for casual use, but an immersive music or movie experience will require headphones or external speakers.
When it comes to thin 13-inch laptops, the two sides of the aisle one can fall on are optical drive or no optical drive. Though the extra-thin MacBook Air does not have one, the not-quite-as-thin Toshiba Portege R705 does. The Acer TimelineX also omits the optical drive, which seems a bit dodgy, considering it’s thin, but not incredibly so. At the same time, we never missed it, and we find that the optical drive may be the least-used laptop feature for many people.
Under the hood, this is an Intel Core i3 system, which means it’s more than fine for everyday computing, and we ran into no slowdown or stuttering while Web surfing, watching online video files, or working on office documents. Benchmark performance was nearly identical to the Portege R705, which also has an Intel Core i3 CPU.
The Intel integrated graphics aren’t going to do much for gamers, but causal and social games play fine. Booting up the built-in benchmark on Street Fighter IV, we averaged around 12 frames per second, which is not exactly playable, but an indication that older games should run decently.