Targeted squarely at the highly mobile, Acer's new 11.6-inch Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118 has a lot of punch for its size. Though a little on the pricey side compared to its tiny netbook cousins, the $899 1830T comes well equipped with a much faster processor than the 11-inch MacBook Air (a 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) and gobs more storage space for $100 less. It also lasts longer on a charge, providing more than 6 hours of runtime. Best of all, you get all this goodness in a trim and attractive business-casual design that will look equally at home in the conference room or the student library. Still, is this svelte performer worth the premium over other 11-inch Windows ultraportables?
Weighing in at a featherweight 3 pounds (the same as its predecessor), this newly refreshed 1830T is also just over an inch thick. That's beefier than the 11-inch MacBook Air (.11 to .68 inches), but it's a breeze to slip this machine into a bag and tote around town. The 1830T shares other design accoutrements with its forerunner. You'll find a similar fingerprint-resistant black cover featuring a texturized surface, making for a better grip by damp hands between tense meetings and lectures.
Flipping open the 1830T reveals its glossy black bezel, which is unfortunately prone to prints, and its matte black keyboard set in brushed gun-metal gray aluminum. Though it boasts a sizeable six-cell battery, the power source doesn't protrude behind the laptop and won't prove to be a hindrance or snag stray cords.
The 1830T was one relatively cool customer on our heat tests. After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we measured 85 and 87 degrees at the Aspire's touchpad and between the G and H keys respectively. That said, we recorded a higher 95-degree temperature at the center of the undercarriage. Still, that didn't quite trigger our heat alarms, since we consider anything over 100 degrees to be toasty.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Almost identical to the previous 1830T, this refresh sports the same flat square-style keys crafted with a deliberately rough surface for additional texture. Even so, this does not make up for the somewhat shallow key travel and mushy feel when typing. Also, the keyboard layout, while close to full-size and an accomplishment for a laptop of this small stature, feels a bit cramped. Still, both left and right shift keys are large enough and you can use the 1830T pound out larger documents when necessary.
The touchpad is on the petite side at 2.5 x 1.3 inches. Compounding the problem of tiny input area, the pad appears virtually invisible against the brushed-metal styling of the wrist rest. Fingers also don't slide well against its textured surface. This resulted in a number of uncertain swipes and scrolling errors on our part. Even so, the touchpad supports multi-gesture pinch and zoom motions, which comes in especially handy when web surfing.
Display and Sound
With the 1830T open, the 11.6-inch wide-screen display greets you with a bright, 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, enough to pump out 720p HD video. We fired up Gattaca on Hulu and were pleased with the saturated blues and deep blacks both the display and this title provided. Reds and oranges seemed slightly dampened, though. Viewing angles were pretty good, with the screen still offering visibility at a respectable 60 degrees off-axis. This is likely due to the high-contrast glossy filter applied to the display. Keep in mind that this treatment also easily creates reflections, so you'll have to avoid bright light sources over your shoulder.
With a pair of small stereo speakers underneath the 1830T's front edge, sound quality isn't much to write home about. Still, if you need to listen to music or view video with sound, the laptop is serviceable in this regard. Just don't expect much in the way of volume or base. Using headphones is a much better experience because the 1830T comes with special audio effects by Dolby and SRS.
Ports and Webcam
On the left side of the 1830T you'll find a VGA port, power connector, and USB port. As with the previous model we reviewed, there is an HDMI v1.3 port here as well. With it you'll be able to output HD video to your HDTV. On the right side are headphone and mic jacks, two additional USB ports, plus a Kensington lock slot and Ethernet. To activate Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a keyboard shortcut is provided (no physical switches are offered).
The Aspire's 1.3-megapixel webcam is standard fare. Colors looked a bit washed out but video performance was adequate. The bundled Acer Crystal Eye software does allow you to change the resolution, shoot video, snap quick pics, and alter various video processing vectors such as contrast, gamma, and hue.
This speedy ultraportable hides plenty of horsepower under the hood. Running a 1.47-GHz Intel Core i7 CPU with a full complement of 4GB DDR3 RAM, our TimelineX 1830T-68U118 flew through the benchmarks. On PCMark Vantage (which measures overall system performance), the laptop notched a smoking (for an ultraportable) score of 4,717. That's almost 900 points faster than the previous 1830T we tested just a few months ago, and about 200 points higher than the 11-inch MacBook Air in Boot Camp mode (4,553). It also trounced lesser (and cheaper) Athlon-based laptops such as the Dell Inspiron m101z, which managed only a 2,431 on the same test.
Configured with Windows 7 Home Premium, The 1830T was able to boot up in 1 minute and 2 seconds, which isn't slow by any means compared with the sluggish times of the Toshiba Satellite T215D and the previous 1830T. That said, it pales next to the 15-second power up provided by the new all-flash 11-inch MacBook Air. On the plus side, the 1830T offers 500GB of storage space, compared to only 64GB for the Air's starting configuration.
Transcoding a 114MB MPEG-4 file using Oxelon Media Encoder took the 1830T a peppy 1:04, which is a minute faster than the average, as well as 30 seconds faster than its predecessor and the 11-inch MacBook Air. However, copying a 4.97GB folder took 3:53, which translates to a pokey 21.8 MBps transfer rate (28.4 MBps is the average).
In terms of 3D performance, the 1830T proved itself on a par with its previous incarnation, scoring a 3DMark result of 1290. That's only 12 points higher, which is understandable given the similar Intel HD graphics chip. Even so, the Dell Inspiron M101z had more graphics oomph (1,309) due to its Radeon HD 4225 3D graphics. The 1830T isn't even in the same league with the 11-inch MacBook Air's discrete Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU, which notched a score of 4,290.
Not surprisingly, the 1830T would have trouble with a casual session of World of Warcraft; we clocked a maximum of only 17 frames per second at the laptop's native resolution of 1366 x 768 (and with effects set to Recommended), where the MacBook Air saw 48 fps.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The beefed-up processing power of the 1830T doesn't make a huge dent in battery performance. The ultraportable lasted for a respectable 6 hours and 5 minutes on our tests and is over the average of 5:34 and the 11-inch MacBook Air (5:11). This also beats other AMD-based machines such as the Dell Inspiron M101 and Toshiba Satellite T215D, which had less staying power at 4:54 and 4:45, respectively.
The Intel WiFi Link 1000AGN 802.11a/b/g/draft-n Wi-Fi throughput of 38.5 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point was well above the category average (25.4 Mbps). Its throughput of 18.2 Mbps from 50 feet nearly met the average of 18.8 Mbps.
Taking 3 hours and 13 minutes to fully recharge, the 1830T used an average of 27.9 watts during that time. Demonstrating strong battery life, the 1830T's LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating was 14.8, much better than the ultraportable average (19.6). The system is not rated by EPEAT.
Acer offers three major configurations of the TimelineX. The Intel Core i7 CPU based model we tested costs $899, and lower-priced systems based on the Core i3 and Core i5 ULV CPUs start at $599.
Software and Warranty
The 1830T comes with a host of Acer apps (including Crystal Eye webcam software and GameZone), as well as ePower and eRecovery Management, Identity Card, Video Conference Manager, and Acer Assist utilities. Additionally, the company bundles CyberLink PowerDVD (optical drive will cost extra), Google Desktop and Toolbar, a 30-day trial of McAfee Internet Security Suite, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home, Norton Online Backup, and Skype.
With its refresh of the TimelineX series, Acer has created another compelling ultraportable. The 1830T's fast performance and long battery life make the notebook an excellent companion for students and business users who are always on the go. If you can live with the smallish keyboard and the somewhat steep price, this Acer may have your name on it. Those looking to save money and are willing to skimp on performance might prefer the AMD-powered Dell Inspiron M101z ($549). And if you want good graphics performance and superior ergonomics in a thinner chassis, the $100 more expensive 11-inch MacBook Air is a better choice. But if you crave more processing speed and more storage space in a take-anywhere design, the TimelineX 1830T is the machine to get.