The chassis isn't entirely made of aluminium; only the matte black lid got the royal treatment. For the rest, it's plastic, plastic, plastic. Acer obviously intends to beat the competition's prices with this one. The design is sober, in a broad-appeal kind of way, but lacks the sense of prestige found with the Asus UX31E.
We were impressed with the keyboard—the keys aren't raised very high, yet they're precise and quiet. And the addition of the numeric keypad doesn't clutter the space. One thing we did find bothersome, though, was the ridiculously small arrow keys...
The area below the keys has been put to good use with a spacious, multitouch 10.6 x 8 cm touchpad for two-finger zooming and scrolling. You can tap/click anywhere on the touchpad, and when you slide your finger the onscreen response is nice and smooth. It's also highly precise. The M3's touchpad is a real pleasure to use.
The webcam (720p), on the other hand, was a disappointment. It's pretty disastrous when it comes to reproducing movement, and dark colours come out so dark that they often hide the details. Basically, it's not for the webcam that you're going to buy this computer.
Other than the SD card reader and DVD burner, all the connectivity takes place on the back edge of the device: three USB ports (2 x 2.0 and 1 x 3.0), one HDMI port, an Ethernet port (RJ45) and a headphone/mic combo jack for a hands-free kit. In other words, you have to reach around the back every time you want to plug something in, and with a large-ish USB key there's always the risk of blocking one of the other ports. This isn't the most convenient location for the headphone/mic jack, either. Hands-free kit cables are rarely longer than 1.2 metres, so you run the risk of either damaging the connector by constantly tugging on the cord or settling into a less-than-comfortable position just to avoid it happening. There's enough connectivity on the M3 to cover your average daily activities, but the ports could have been better placed on the device.
Despite the thin chassis and dedicated graphics card, heat levels on the M3 always stay reasonable. And same goes for noise levels when the components are under stress. It isn't totally silent during intensive use, but the sound from a video game or some low-volume music is enough to make you forget about the noise.
Please note that the exact model we received for testing (low-voltage Intel Core i7-2637M + 256 GB SSD) may not be available in the UK. But it's worth mentioning that our version gave a CPU index of 112, starts up Windows in 20 seconds and shuts down in less than 10 seconds. An Intel Core i5-2410M (which is not low-voltage) is 10% faster on average.
Video & GamingThe Intel HD 300 chipset is more than sufficient for decoding 1080p video. One of the great novelties of the M3 ultrabook is that it has a truly dedicated graphics card. And not just any graphics card: it's the hot-off-the-shelves Nvidia GT 640M, which will likely become a common feature in the new generation of ultrabooks.
This makes the M3 capable of running any recent video game in the screen's native definition (1366 x 768 pixels) with a level of detail that ranges from "medium" to "high", depending on the game. It seems ultrabooks have added a new string to their bow.
Let's not forget to mention that the Nvidia chip features Optimus technology, which switches off the Nvidia chip and moves the computing to the HD 3000 whenever the GT 640M's power isn't needed. This improves the battery life, as we'll see further below.
AudioGreat audio performance. The input and output signals come out clean and loud, and the speakers are listenable even at maximum volume. It isn't necessarily the best sound system you can find on a laptop, but Acer's judiciously chosen configuration provides good quality sound even with the speakers blasting. It's a good idea to activate Dolby when plugged into an external speaker set—it can work wonders with the M3.
Portability & Battery LifeWeighing barely over 2 kg and with a 5 hrs 20 min battery life while playing video (with the display at 100 cd/m², Wi-Fi turned off and headphones plugged in), the M3 will catch the eye of anyone looking for a truly mobile computer. However, don't forget that even though it is thin, the other dimensions are still pretty close to the average 15.6-incher and it's not always an easy object to slip into your backpack.
- Battery life: 5 hrs 20 min
- Processor power
- DVD burner (rare in ultrabooks)
- Good handling of games in the screen's native definition (1366 x 768 pixels)
- Large touchpad
- Keyboard & numeric keypad
- Low noise
- Good audio
- Only 2 cm "thin"
- Ports inconveniently located
- Low-contrast, glossy TN screen
- False colour rendering
Though imperfect (the glossy screen is of mediocre quality and the ports aren't necessarily located in the best place), the Acer M3 has a lot of strengths. It has great battery life, it's powerful, it's less than 2 cm thick, it has good audio and it even has respectable gaming capabilities (as long as you don't transfer the image to a Full HD screen).