Pulling the 14-inch Acer TimelineX 4820T from its box, one thing went through our mind: this could be the perfect thin and light laptop. The $717 system is about an inch thick, weighs only 4.7 pounds, and still has an onboard DVD drive. And unlike the past Acer Timelines and their sissy ULV processors, it has a standard voltage Core i3-350M CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. Oh, and it promises over seven hours of battery life. Sound like the perfect no-compromise ultrathin laptop to you too, right? Well, even after our unboxing, the TimelineX 4820T did live up to many of our expectations, but disappointed in some unfortunate others. We'll explain it all in our full review after the break.

Acer TimelineX 4820T review

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Acer

TimelineX 4820T

Pros

  • Very thin, light chassis for a 14-inch laptop
  • Standard voltage Core i3 CPU
  • Over five hours of battery life

Cons

  • Flexy keyboard
  • Poor vertical viewing angles
  • Crappy build quality
Summary


Look and feel

Unofficially, the X at the end of the new Timeline series stands for "extreme," but we're going to pretend it stands for extra polished. The system's professional look is still very much intact, but Acer's added a bit of pizzazz here and there: there's now a silver trim around the touchpad and the black brushed aluminum cover gives it a classic look. Even better, the 4820T has very little gloss as the palmrest is covered in a silverish metal as well, though the screen bezel and trim around the keyboard still gets the unfortunate black glossy-plastic treatment.

The 4820T's 0.9 to 1.1-inch thick body is the biggest design coup, though. It's just an incredibly thin and light 14-inch laptop, and the battery doesn't bulge at all like some other ultraportables out there. For comparisons sake, it's thinner and ligher than the smaller-screened 13-inch ASUS U30Jc and ThinkPad Edge 13. Shoving the 4.7-pounder into a larger shoulder bag was no issue – we actually didn't mind dragging it to and from the office. Despite the thin dimensions, the machine still has room for a DVD player and three USB ports on its right edge. We're not sure why Acer had to line up all the USB ports so close to each other -- it makes it hard to simultaneously plug in multiple devices. An extra USB jack, HDMI, Ethernet, VGA, and mic and headphone sockets dwell on the left side, while its 5-in-1 card reader lives on the front lip.

We've said this in the last couple of Acer reviews, but there's no harm in repeating our disclaimer on the build quality. The make isn't superb, though in this case it's what you'd expect for the price. There are parts of the 4820T – notably the flexy keyboard and plastic hinge reinforcements -- that don't have us convinced the machine will age well, but sometimes these are the sorts of laptops that end up lasting longer than you ever thought. Obviously, you take a chance with any machine.

Keyboard, touchpad and screen

Acer's been using the same chiclet keyboard on all of its laptops these days, and it would be perfectly fine with just a few tweaks. The rounded keys have a nice amount of bounce, but they're just too flat. We wish they had some sort of curve to them and that they melded to your fingers more over time. The real kicker, however, is that the panel on the TimelineX 4820T was ridden with flex – just pressing one finger on the "G" key caused the entire thing to bend. And because of this, there was a slight squeaking sound when we typed this review. It's not good, but for what's worth we did type at a fairly fast clip and without too many typos.

The touchpad on the 4820T is quite generous in size. It supports multitouch gestures, though we turned off the pinch-to-zoom function since it would mistakenly zoom in on webpages when that's the last thing we wanted to do. The scroll strip on the right edge of it was responsive, however. The single mouse button didn't give us any issues, though we'd like to take a knife and chop it into two dedicated buttons. The dual speakers above the keyboard are decent for personal listening, and we could hear a YouTube clip over our TV in the background. Yet, they aren't as loud or full as those on the HP Pavilion dm4.

As members of the matte screen lovers guild (seriously, we'd join if this existed), we think the 4820T would've been perfect with a non-glossy version of its 14-inch, 1366 x 768 display, but everyone seems set on these glossy, reflective screens. Like we've been seeing on recent Acer laptops, the screen's bright, but viewing angles were quite bad. Horizontal angles weren't terrible for sharing the screen with another, but tilting the screen back when watching a gripping video of Lindsay Lohan's sentencing caused her face to darken and her tears to be indiscernible.

Performance and battery life

As one would expect, the TimelineX 4820T's standard voltage Core i3 processor beats all of the ULV laptops we've reviewed in the past few months. The 2.26GHz Core i3-350M processor along with 4GB of RAM was certainly fast enough for our everyday routine, too – we simultaneously ran Chrome, Microsoft Word 2007, Tweetdeck and Trillian with no lag, and even adding DVD playback to the mix didn't slow things down. It's not as fast as the Sony VAIO Z with its Core i5 processor and GeForce GT 330M graphics, but the Z's at least double the price. Cramming a standard voltage CPU into a thinner chassis does have its downsides, and those lie mostly in heat. For the most part, the 4820T did stay relatively cool, but programs that were CPU intensive, including Firefox Beta 4, caused the left palmrest and touchpad to get extremely toasty.

Though the TimelineX is available with a discrete ATI Radeon GPU, our review unit had Intel's integrated HD graphics. The integrated option was fine for watching YouTube HD videos and a local 1080p Green Hornet trailer, but it's not going to appease heavy gamers. For those that need the extra graphics muscle, the $799 4820TG-5637 with Core i3 and ATI Radeon HD 5650 graphics may be the worth the extra cash.


PCMarkVantage 3DMark06
Battery Life
Acer TimelineX 4820T (Intel Core i3-350M) 4926 1724 5:04
Dell Vostro V13 (Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300) 2687 556 2:39
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 (Core 2 Duo SU7300) N/A 905 5:12
ASUS U30Jc (Core i3-350M, NVIDIA) 4841 1739/3686 4:10
ASUS UL50Vf (Core 2 Duo SU7300) 3724 827/3438 6:10


Onto the million dollar question: how does Acer's use of a standard voltage CPU affect the battery life of this very portable laptop? Not much, by any measure. The 4820T's 66Wh six-cell battery lasted five hours and four minutes on our video rundown test, which loops the same video at 65 percent brightness. That's actually longer than the ULV-powered Dell Vostro V13 and just around the same time as the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13. In everyday usage with brightness set at 75 percent we squeezed about five and a half hours out of the system – that should be good enough to last the bus ride from New York to Boston.

Just like the Aspire One 521 and 721, Acer's loaded up the TimelineX with a bit of software. The desktop comes cluttered with Netflix, Acer games, Norton and McAfee antivirus shortcuts.

Wrap-up

Is the Acer TimelineX 4820T the perfect ultrathin laptop? Well, it's surely a step in the right direction, but ultimately what holds this back is the same stuff that holds most Acers back, and that's really its substandard build quality. In the case of the 4820T, it's especially apparent in its flexy keyboard and poor LCD. However, there's no doubt that it's in a class much on its own (the Toshiba Protégé R700/R705 falls into the same one, but we're still waiting to review it), and for $717 the 4820T fills the niche for those looking for mainstream laptop power in a thin and light chassis. And, well, that alone may just be perfection for some.

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