Acer's Timeline small business laptops mix both business and pleasure; you get a good quality, if a little basic, machine for not much cash. The latest 15-inch model adds good looks to the mix, along with a Sandy Bridge Core i3 processor and plenty of memory.
Unless you’re forking out for a custom colour, laptops are usually black, silver, or if you're really lucky, white. So it's nice to see Acer taking a different approach to the look-and-feel with the Timeline X.
Our sample machine was a tasteful metallic blue, with a metal surround around the recessed keyboard and the large speaker grille. There's a black bezel around the glossy screen, and a dark blue metallic lid. Underneath, the body is a dark black plastic with plenty of ventilation grilles.
Keyboard and trackpad
Acer uses the same isloated keyboard in the Timeline X as in many of its recent laptops. That means you get a comfortable typing surface, with good travel and responsive keys. On the downside, Acer's unusual and frankly unwelcome compressed combinations of shift and and # and enter are here too. The arrow keys are separate though - handy as they double as volume and brightness controls – and are located under the right shift key, making them easy to reach for gaming. If you need larger directional keys, you can reach for the numeric keypad.
As usual, the function keys double as system controls, for Wi-Fi, sleep and with basic play/pause media controls. Press the tiny P button by the speaker grille to open Acer's launch manager and configure an application or web site to associate with the button in future.
There are very few indicator lights. The biggest is the blue LED behind the power button, and there are three small LEDs on the front of the Timeline X for power, Wi-Fi and disk activity.
Like many other laptops, the Timeline X has a Synaptics multi-touch trackpad. The style of this is well-integrated with the blue case, with a wide screen aspect ratio that simplifies moving around the large screen. While it's wide, it's not very tall - and it’s really a little too small - so you’ll need to invest in a mouse for when you want more precision. You get the usual two finger scrolling and pinch zoom plus a two finger flick for browser or image navigation, but no three finger gestures - which would have been difficult to use in the restricted space of the trackpad anyway.
The glossy 15.6-inch screen has a standard WXGA 1366x768 resolution, ideal for 720p video. And while the display is clear and crisp there's a lot of reflection from the glossy glass - so this is definitely an indoor laptop - although the viewing angle is wide enough that you can usually avoid reflections. Picture quality was good, with a 1080p YouTube video showing good detail and downscaling with no artefacts, and a 720p video streaming cleanly from a local network source.
We'd have preferred a higher resolution screen, as icons and text seem a little too large on this size panel, but this is a budget system. Audio quality is good, with Dolby sound processing and a large speaker under a metal grille behind the keyboard.
The selection of ports is decent for the price, but there are none of the more unusual connectors of business notebooks. Sandy Bridge means that's there's a single USB 3.0 port on the left (along with HDMI, VGA, and gigabit Ethernet). On the right you'll find three USB 2.0 ports, one of which can be used to charge devices even when your laptop is turned off, and a DVD-RW optical disk burner. On the front is a multi-format card reader and if you've bought a 3G version, the SIM card port is on the back, just behind where the screen drops down below the body.
A slight lack of power
A Core i3 processor means that there's enough power for everyday tasks, and you'll get good performance when working with the Web, or using Office. Don't expect the same performance when you're playing games though, as there's only the built-in Intel HD graphics.
With 6GB of RAM you've got more than enough memory for everyday use, and with the 640GB hard disk, there's plenty of storage to go along.
Battery life is excellent. Using a balanced power profile, and with Wi-fi and using the Timeline X for basic browsing, with minimal streaming of video and audio, we got just under 5 and a half hours of usage. You should expect to get most, if not all, of a working day with Wi-Fi off when on the road.
One thing to note about the Timeline X: the battery isn't removable. There's a pinhole on the bottom which hides a button that simulates disconnecting and reconnecting the battery, in case you need to reset the system without using the power button.
Usual annoyance of pre-installed software
Acer bundles a lot of software with the Timeline X. Most of it isn't much use, but you'll find the usual Office 2010 Starter and Windows Live Essentials to get you started, along with security and entertainment software. There's also the useful Clear.fi media sharing software, which makes the Timeline part of a home entertainment system wherever it is in the house.
We were pleased to see that most of the bundled software was in installer form only, and isn't installed until you're ready to use it, so there are fewer startup tasks slowing things down.
The latest model of Acer's small business laptop is a good looking machine, with much of the power you need - and at a very reasonable price for its specification.
We liked its looks, and were surprised to find just how light it was. The integrated battery could be an issue, but with more than five hours of battery life, it's not something that should be much of a problem.