When I first fired up the TimelineU, I had a hard time determining whether I should review the machine objectively as a standalone product or if I should impart my preconceived notions about ultrabooks. In the interest of fairness, I'll try to cover both starting with the latter: As an ultrabook, the M5 falls short.
It's almost twice as heavy and measurably thicker than truly thin-and-light systems like the 13-inch Samsung Series 9, its hybrid storage is slower than a genuine SSD, its optical drive seems out of place and many would argue that a 1366x768 screen has no business in a 15.6-inch notebook these days.
While those facts make the M5 a lousy ultrabook, Acer still has a decent graphics-oriented mainstream notebook on its hands. For starters, the TimelineU series starts at only $780 and our review unit retails for $830, whereas the aforementioned Samsung model is priced between $1,250 and nearly $1,400.
It's all about tradeoffs, as noted in the intro. Because the M5 is bulkier, it affords room for features such as a numpad, a discrete graphics processor and an optical drive. I found it peculiar that the company opted for a DVD drive over Blu-ray, however.
If I were shopping for an $800-$1,000 notebook, I'd rather spend another few dollars for the newer media format, or I'd prefer the DVD drive to be axed and the cash put toward a better screen or SSD. I won't say nobody needs a DVD drive in their notebook, but it's certainly less important than it once was.
It seems to me that the TimelineU's strongest selling point is its Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics chip, which offers enough of a boost to handle many modernish games on mediumish settings. Bleeding-edge titles on max won't fly, but we recorded playable results in Far Cry 2 and StarCraft 2.
Instead of confining itself to Intel's guidelines, Acer could've had something more attractive by adding $100-$200 worth of hardware and pushing the TimelineU as an affordable, sub-inch-thick multimedia workhorse. Instead, it's a graphically-endowed half-breed for people with girly hands (I kid -- see the first page).
Pros: Affordable price, relatively powerful GPU, full-size backlit keyboard.
Cons: Weighs over 5lbs, low-res 15.6-inch screen, cramped touchpad, hybrid storage.