Acer's new Timeline series of laptops, including the 13-inch Aspire Timeline 3810T, aims to combine the thin, sexy designs of more expensive machines 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 Athlon Neo and Intel CULV family, so Acer needs a bigger hook, such as the 3810T's claims of all-day, 8-hour computing.
The 3810T is available in two configurations: the version with an Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 CPU is available for around £550, and the model with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor (reviewed here) costs around £680.
While perhaps not as striking at the MSI X340, another slim, 13-inch laptop, the 3810T's grey 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 LED-backlit screen helps keep it fairly thin, although it's not in the same category as the Apple MacBook Air or Adamo.
The large, flat keys will feel familiar to anyone who's used an Apple or Sony Vaio laptop, and typing feels comfortable and natural. The touchpad is smaller than you'd find on a MacBook, but still usable. We aren't crazy about the single rocker bar that acts as the left and right mouse buttons, though. Besides simply preferring separate mouse buttons, it's stiff and unresponsive -- you have to make sure to give it a solid press for it to register your input. The touchpad understands a few multitouch gestures, such as pinching to zoom in on a photo, which is useful, but the implementation is nowhere near as seamless as that which 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 back-up program, and a power-saving preset.
The 13.3-inch, widescreen, LED-backlit display offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a 16:9 screen of this size. More common are 16:10 displays at a 1,280x800-pixel resolution. Text and icons are highly readable, and the glossy screen isn't as susceptible to glare as most.
The two big things you'll find missing on the 3810T are an optical drive and Bluetooth connectivity. We're perfectly happy to skip the DVD burner, but Bluetooth is very handy for tethering a 3G smart phone or for connecting a travel mouse.
Intel's single-core SU-series CPUs have been generally lacklustre performers, but the dual-core Core 2 Duo SU9400 in the 3810T provides a much more usable overall experience. It easily out-performed the single-core MSI X340, and it feels 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 X340 and Adamo have only half that.