Netbooks may be scoring the most laptop headlines of late, but there's another class of machine challenging for the hyper-portable crown. Consumer ultra-low-voltage, or CULV, laptops -- catchy, eh? -- tend to be slightly larger and more comfortable to use than netbooks, yet offer similar levels of performance and battery life, making them ideal for anyone that values both portability and comfort. One of the best examples in this category is the 11.6-inch Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T, our configuration of which, the AS1810TZ-413G25N, is on sale now for around £460.
Hoi polloi's delight
The 1810T's 285 by 22 by 204mm chassis feels just right in most usage scenarios. This is a laptop that's just as comfortable to use whether you're sitting at a desk for hours at a time, or vegging out in bed watching episodes of Lost. What's more, at 1.4kg, it's exceptionally easy to carry, and its gorgeous red colour scheme won't fail to impress the hoi polloi (it's also available in black or blue).
Use me, abuse me
Early netbooks, and indeed some newer models, have tiny, cramped keyboards that render them almost useless for anything other than hammering out a quick email or Web address. The keyboard on the 1810T, however, is fabulous. Each of its buttons is actually larger than those on a full-sized desktop keyboard, and there's a good amount of space between each key and its closest neighbour. The amount of travel in the keys seems quite shallow, but we found it easy to achieve the same typing speeds on the 1810T as we did on a proper desktop keyboard.
The 1810T's trackpad is also worthy of praise. It has a small surface area, but supports multi-touch gestures, so users can navigate files with just a swipe of the fingers, as with the iPhone.
Connect the dots
The 1810T won't shy away from connecting to external devices. It has a total of three USB ports -- two on the right and a third on the left -- plus a multi-format memory-card reader, mic and headphone jacks, a VGA video output, and, pleasingly, an HDMI port.
Devices of this size -- even the similarly equipped Acer Ferrari One -- usually lack an HDMI port, so its presence is a welcome bonus, particularly for users who need to connect their laptop to a digital external display. The 1810T also comes with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, although Bluetooth and 3G connectivity are conspicuously absent.
Display of affection
The 1810T's 11.6-inch display is, on the whole, very good. It's comfortable to stare at -- even for long periods -- and its 1,366x768-pixel resolution lends itself well to playing 720p video. Disappointingly, it has limited vertical and horizontal viewing angles, and the reflective surface makes it difficult to see what's on the screen unless it's angled perfectly and nowhere near light sources -- such as the sun.
The 1810T's 1.3GHz Intel Pentium SU4100 chip and Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics card are potent enough to keep the machine from feeling sluggish during everyday use. The laptop returned a PCMark05 benchmark score of 2,943, which is around 1,000 more than your typical netbook would achieve. It failed to return a score in 3DMark06, but we'll forgive it, as games aren't what this machine was designed for.
In Battery Eater's Classic test, which runs a laptop's CPU at 100 per cent until the battery dies, the 1810T lasted 3 hours and 21 minutes. That's a fair way off Acer's claimed 8 hours, but the company's figure is entirely achievable with less intensive use.
The Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T is a fabulous alternative to a netbook. It's not quite as portable or capable away from the mains as something like the Eee PC 1005PE, but it's worth considering simply due to the fact that it's more comfortable to use on a day-to-day basis.
Edited by Charles Kloet