Acer TravelMate X3 X349-M review – the true definition of a travelling companion

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn
Pros
  • Excellent design and build quality
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Good keyboard, responsive touchpad
  • Well-priced
  • Good screen for the mid-range models with FHD IPS panels
  • No PWM across all brightness levels
  • Outstanding battery life
Cons
  • The screen quality isn’t justified for the higher-priced models
  • Limited RAM on most models and no possible to upgrade (soldered RAM chip)

Acer is expanding its successful business-oriented TravelMate lineup with a sleek new offering – the TravelMate X349. It’s supposed to come out on the market this fall with an absurdly low starting price of around $649, although the model we’ve acquired sports a Core i7-6500U chip, thus considerably more expensive. Still, the new TravelMate X349 can easily go against other more expensive 14-inchers like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga. But, of course, you won’t get the 360-degree rotatable hinge with Acer’s solution.

Image result for Acer TravelMate X3 X349-M

Anyway, the TravelMate X349 surprises with excellent price/performance ratio, good IPS panel and exceptional build quality complimented with an all-aluminum design. Another interesting thing about this laptop is the wide range of connectivity options including a USB-C 3.1 connector, which allows you to use Acer’s USB-C docking station. It gives you more connection options and a GTX 960M GPU, which will be more than enough for you to enjoy some gaming on the go without sacrificing mobility. We will try to go into detail regarding this feature and see how it will play out.

Retail package

The retail package contains all the usual user manuals, DVD with drivers, AC adapter and power cord.

img_1085

Design and construction

The outer clamshell of the notebook looks strict, minimalistic and premium and the design concept continues on the inside but we cannot stop thinking about ASUS’ ZenBook laptops while looking at the interior. The keys, the keyboard tray, the anodized aluminum, the general layout – all of it looks just too familiar. Nonetheless, Acer was able to implement something of its own – slightly concaved/curved keys on the keyboard for more comfortable typing experience.

img_1091

img_1093

Let’s start with the lid, which is covered in dark gray anodized aluminum. Fingerprints stick easily on the surface but aren’t as visible while the stability of the material is rather questionable because it bends under small weight. Interestingly, though, this doesn’t cause distortions or ripples on the LCD screen on the other side of the lid. Speaking of the screen, when we opened the notebook we were pleasantly surprised by the relatively thin bezels. There’s one big hinge supporting the whole display and stretches almost across the whole base and there you will also find the main exhaust vent. Another similarity with the ASUS ZenBook UX303 for example. Moreover, the hinge is tight enough to eliminate excessive wobbling while typing on unstable surface but loose enough to allow opening the machine with just one hand. It’s also the only plastic element on the chassis and to be honest, it doesn’t feel very rigid. And as for the bottom plate, it’s again made of thin aluminum sheet featuring two grill openings for the loudspeakers on the sides.

img_1136
img_1137
img_1126
img_1129

The ultrabook’s portability properties are backed up with a pretty thin profile of just 18 mm at its thickest point but doesn’t fail to deliver the usual set of ports you will find on a 14-inch form factor. Also, the port distribution is excellent without overcrowding either of the sides. The left side adopts the DC charging port, HDMI, USB 3.0 and USB-C 3.1 connector while the right side houses the SD card reader, 3.5 mm audio jack and USB 3.0.

img_1109
img_1116
img_1120
img_1124

What’s left is the interior. It continues the same simplistic design concept with little distractions. The palm rest area is big and houses a huge touchpad for improved usability. It’s generally good with silky-smooth surface, light mouse clicks, and accurate gesture control. No wobbling occurred while working on it. The keyboard left us with the same impression – comfortable, stable and clicky. We have decent key spacing, travel and slightly curved buttons aiding with the overall usability. You won’t see any difference between this keyboard and a standard 15-inch one, except for the missing Numpad area. What’s interesting, though, is that Acer added and an extra column of keys – Home, Pg Up, Pg Dn and End keys also serving as media player controls. We would have appreciated a different key placement regarding screen brightness, volume and media controls. We assume these keys will be more frequently used and should have been placed near the Fn key so you can operate with one hand. But this is actually a minor drawback. Kudos to the elegant implementation of the fingerprint scanner located next to the TravelMate X sign on the right side.

img_1112
img_1097
img_1100

Weighing just 1.53 kg, the TravelMate X349 is one of the finest all-aluminum ultrabooks we’ve tested so far. The pricing is going to be crucial because there are a good number of competitors in this price range with similar design, features, and hardware. To stand out from the rest, Acer must keep its aggressive pricing strategy to make its ultra portable TravelMate X lineup worthy of its name.

Disassembly, maintenance and upgrade options

Opening the machine is really easy task. You just have to remove all the screws around the corners and pry up the plate with a plastic tool so you won’t scratch the surface.

img_20161107_162026

img_20161107_163150

Storage upgrade options – M.2 SSD slot

The notebook uses a 2280 M.2 SSD stick for storage and the unit ships with an SK Hynix SATA-enabled drive. However, you can upgrade it with an M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD as the motherboard seems to support it.

Slot Unit Upgrade price
2280 M.2 slot SK Hynix HFS256G39TND Upgrade options

img_20161107_163456

RAM

One of the main drawbacks of the device is the soldered RAM that can’t be upgraded and even the mid-range Core i5-6200U-equipped model ships with just 4GB of DDR4 RAM.

img_20161107_163548

Other components

The Wi-Fi card is easily accessible and it’s right next to the cooling fans.

img_20161107_163614

We see some empty space around the battery and we would have appreciated a slightly bigger unit but given the excellent battery results we got, there’s not much room for complaints. The 48Wh unit does its job pretty well.

img_20161107_163204

Cooling system

The cooling system seems a bit of an overkill with those two relatively big fans but, hey, it’s better to run things cooler than keeping the internals hot.

img_20161107_163555

Display quality

The notebook features a Full HD (1920×1080) IPS display with model number B140HAN02.1 manufactured by AU Optronics. The diagonal is 14 inches so the pixel density is 157 ppi and the pixel pitch is 0.161 x 0.161 mm. It can be considered as “Retina” when viewed from a distance equal or greater than 56 cm.

micr-acer-travelmate-x349

The display’s colors don’t shift and offer good viewing experience from a 45-degree angle.

angles-acer-travelmate-x349

We find the display’s maximum brightness a bit low – 234 cd/m2 in the middle and 224 cd/m2 as average with just 13% deviation. Color temperature, on the other hand, is pretty close to the optimal 6500K – 6730K. The contrast ratio is also pretty high – 1240:1 before and 1100:1 after calibration.

The maximum color deviation of dE2000 is 3.4 in the upper-middle part of the screen but it’s still lower than 4.0, which is an unwanted value.

maxbrightness-acer-travelmate-x349

Color reproduction

To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction of the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. To start, there’s the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye, giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy.

Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that is being used by millions of people in HDTV and on the web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used in professional cameras, monitors etc for printing. Basically, colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is the essential part of the color quality and color accuracy of a mainstream notebook.

Still, we’ve included other color spaces like the famous DCI-P3 standard used by movie studios, as well as the digital UHD Rec.2020 standard. Rec.2020, however, is still a thing of the future and it’s difficult for today’s displays to cover that well. We’ve also included the so-called Michael Pointer gamut, or Pointer’s gamut, which represents the colors that naturally occur around us every day.

If you look at the yellow dotted triangle, you will see that the display covers just 50% of the sRGB color space, which isn’t enough for a good multimedia experience – half of the colors will be missing when reproduced.

gamut-acer-travelmate-x349

Below you will see practically the same image but with the color circles representing the reference colors and the white circles being the result. You can see main and additional colors with 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% saturation inside the sRGB gamut pre and post calibration.

befcolors-acer-travelmate-x349
Коaftcolors-acer-travelmate-x349

We adjusted the luminance to match 140 cd/m2 and also to reach an optimal white point (D65) and gamma in sRGB mode.
gamma-acer-travelmate-x349

We tested the accuracy of the display with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange etc. You can check out the results at factory condition and also, with the Office & Web Design profile.

befcolorschecker-acer-travelmate-x349
aftcolorschecker-acer-travelmate-x349

The next figure shows how well the display is able to reproduce really dark parts of an image, which is essential when watching movies or playing games in low ambient light.

The left side of the image represents the display with stock settings, while the right one is with the Gaming & Movie Nights profile activated. On the horizontal axis, you will find the grayscale and on the vertical axis – the luminance of the display. On the two graphs below you can easily check for yourself how your display handles the darkest nuances but keep in mind that this also depends on the settings of your current display, the calibration, the viewing angle and the surrounding light conditions.

nbs-acer-travelmate-x349

Gaming capabilities (Response time)

We test the reaction time of the pixels with the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and reverse.

We recorded Fall Time + Rise Time = 19 ms. That’s surprisingly good result for an IPS panel.

resptime-acer-travelmate-x349

PWM (Screen flickering)

Pulse Width modulation (PWM) is an easy way to control monitor brightness. When you lower the brightness, the light intensity of the backlight is not lowered, but instead turned off and on by the electronics with a frequency indistinguishable to the human eye. In these light impulses the light/no-light time ratio varies, while brightness remains unchanged, which is harmful to your eyes. You can read more about that in our specialized article on PWM.

So in this case, the notebook’s screen doesn’t use PWM for regulating brightness levels so it can be considered as “user-friendly” and will not put unnecessary strain on your eyes.

pwm-acer-travelmate-x349

Blue light emissions

Installing of our Health-Guard profile not only eliminates PWM but also reduces the harmful Blue Light emissions while keeping the colors of the screen perceptually accurate. If you’re not familiar with the Blue light, the TL;DR version is – emissions that negatively affect your eyes, skin, and your whole body. You can find more information about that in our specialized article on Blue Light.

You can see the levels of emitted blue light on the spectral power distribution (SDP) graph.

spd-acer-travelmate-x349

Conclusion

It really depends on what you are looking for but most of the user base, which would be businessmen, will be absolutely happy with the presented image quality. It’s a matte, high-contrast IPS panel with good viewing angles and close to optimal color temperature but somehow narrow sRGB coverage and slightly inaccurate color reproduction. Also, the screen’s maximum brightness might not be sufficient for outdoor use.

But as we said earlier, the panel will be perfectly fine for most users doing general web browsing, office work and will satisfy your needs for multimedia on the go. It sure is a breath of fresh air in the lower and mid-range segment of the market. The X349-M will struggle to compete only against higher-priced models where the Core i7-6500U configuration stands. And finally, it’s really important to mention that the display doesn’t use PWM at all and this is really important because as a business laptop, you are ought to spend a lot of hours in front of the screen. So keeping your eyes safe is a top priority.

Buy our profiles

Since our profiles are tailored for each individual display model, this article and its respective profile package is meant for Acer TravelMate X349-M configurations with 14.0″ AU Optronics B140HAN02.1 (FHD, 1920 × 1080) IPS, which can be found on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2eeSAZB

*Should you have problems with downloading the purchased file, try using a different browser to open the link you’ll receive via e-mail. If the download target is a .php file instead of an archive, change the file extension to .zip or contact us at bg.laptopmedia@gmail.com.

In addition to receiving efficient and health-friendly profiles, by buying LaptopMedia’s products you also support the development of our labs, where we test devices in order to produce the most objective reviews possible.

Office work and web design
Office work / Web design

If your field is office work or web design, or you just want your monitor’s color set to be as accurate as possible for the Internet color space, this profile will prove to be useful.

Gaming or movie nights
Gaming or Movie nights

We developed this profile especially for occasions on which you spend a lot of time in front of your monitor with some games or watching movies – it will be easier for you to discern fine nuances in the dark.

Health protection
Health-Guard

This profile reduces the negative impact of pulsation and the blue spectrum, securing your eyes and body. You still get a pitch-perfect color image, albeit slightly warmer.

All

Sound

The stereo loudspeakers provide good sound quality throughout all frequencies and the maximum allowed volume is decent as well.

sound-acer-travelmate-x349

Specs sheet

The specs provided below may differ from the final unit and configurations may varry depending on your region.

Image result for Acer TravelMate X3 X349-M
CPU Intel Core i7-6500U (2-core, 2.50 – 3.10 GHz, 4MB cache)
RAM 8GB (1x 8192MB) DDR4-2133
GPU Intel HD Graphics 520
HDD/SSD 256GB M.2 SSD
Display 14-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS, matte (touchscreen is optional)
Optical Drive
Connectivity Intel® 802.11ac (2×2) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 Combo
Other features
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 1x USB 3.1 (Gen 2) Type-C with Thunderbolt support
  • HDMI
  • SD card reader
  • 3.5 mm audio combo jack
  • keyboard LED backlight
  • Can be paired with Acer’s USB-C dock
Battery 48.9Wh
Thickness 18 mm (0.71″)
Weight 1.53 kg (3.37 lbs)

Software

The testing unit came with pre-installed Windows 10 (64-bit) and we used it for our testing. However, if you wish to perform a clean install of the OS, we suggest downloading the latest drivers from Acer’s official support page when the notebook hits the market.

Battery

The battery on this thing is truly amazing. It comes as close second behind the ASUS ZenBook UX303 in terms of battery life while sporting roughly the same hardware – Core i7-6500U and a 14-inch IPS display supported by a 48.9Wh unit. The battery runtimes even beat some considerably more expensive notebooks along with some 12-inch and 13-inch devices with Core m processors, which by default should provide longer battery life.

Anyway, all tests were run under the same conditions as always – Wi-Fi turned on, Windows battery saving feature turned on and screen brightness set to 120 cd/m2.

Web browsing

In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for automatic web browsing through over 70 websites.

x349-net

More than an excellent result – 619 minutes (10 hours and 19 minutes).

Watching a movie

For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.

x349-movie

Much lower score but still comes on top of most devices – 441 minutes (7 hours and 21 minutes).

Gaming

For accurate simulation, we used the Metro Last Light benchmark running on loop with graphic settings set to minimum.

x349-game

This test got the most of the battery since it’s the most demanding one – 223 (3 hours and 43 minutes).

CPU – Intel Core i7-6500U

corei7Intel Core i7-6500U is part of the Skylake generation processors and it’s entitled to the ULV lineup (ultra-low voltage) with 14nm FinFET manufacturing process. It has two cores that support Hyper-Threading technology resulting in up to 4 threads. The chip is a direct successor to the Core i7-5500U Broadwell CPU expecting slightly better performance with emphasis on the power efficiency features.

The CPU is clocked at 2.5 GHz and can go up to 3.1 GHz for one active core or 3.0 GHz for two active cores. Also, the silicon includes an Intel HD Graphics 520 iGPU that sports 24 Execution Units ticking at 300 MHz and can go up to 1.05 GHz. The whole SoC supports DDR4-2133/DDR3L-1600 memory in a dual-channel array. So the whole chip is rated at 15W TDP including the memory controller and the integrated graphics thus making it suitable for 11-inch notebooks or bigger. It also supports the cTDP down feature and the OEM can lower the TDP to 7.5W.

  • Cinebench 11
Results
Acer TravelMate X349-M 3,59
Dell Inspiron 13 7359 2,75
ASUS ZenBook Flip UX360CA 2,34
ASUS ZenBook UX303UB 3,35
Results are from the Cinebench 11 test (higher the score, the better)
Laptop Results Result
difference
Price Price
difference
Acer TravelMate X349-M Intel Core i7-6500U (2-cores, 2.5 – 3.1 GHz) 3.59
Dell Inspiron 13 7359 Intel Core i3-6100U (2-cores, 2.3 – 2.3 GHz) 2.75 -23.4%
ASUS ZenBook Flip UX360CA Intel Core m5-6Y54 (2-cores, 1.1 – 2.7 GHz) 2.34 -34.82%
ASUS ZenBook UX303UB Intel Core i7-6500U (2-cores, 2.5 – 3.1 GHz) 3.35 -6.69%
Fritz

Fritz is a chess benchmark that tests the computing capabilities of the CPU with various chess moves. The Intel Core i7-6500U reached 6.124 million moves per second. By comparison, one of the most powerful PCs, Deep(er) Blue, was able to squeeze out 200 million moves per second. In 1997 Deep(er) Blue even beat the famous Garry Kasparov with 3.5 to 2.5.

GPU – Intel HD Graphics 520

intel_hd_graphicsIntel HD Graphics or also known as GT2 is an integrated graphics processor used in ULV (Ultra-low voltage) chips from intel that are part of the Skylake generation processors. The GT2 core boasts 24 Execution Units (EUs) that are clocked up to 1050 MHz, but the latter can be changed depending on the CPU that’s used in. The graphics processor supports up to DDR3L-1600 or DDR4-2133 RAM and uses two channels for reaching maximum bandwidth.

The revised GPU now supports H.265/HEVC hardware decoding but the most notable feature here is that the chip supports DisplayPort 1.2 while the HDMI support is limited to the older 1.4a. The GPU can support up to three displays simultaneously. The power consumption of the whole chip (along with the CPU and memory controller) is 15W.

  • 3DMark Cloud Gate (G)
Results
Acer TravelMate X349-M 7.225
Dell Inspiron 13 7359 2.547
ASUS ZenBook Flip UX360CA 4.333
ASUS ZenBook UX303UB 8.403
Results are from the 3DMark Cloud Gate (G) test (higher the score, the better)
Laptop Results Result
difference
Price Price
difference
Acer TravelMate X349-M Intel HD Graphics 520 7225
Dell Inspiron 13 7359 Intel HD Graphics 520 2547 -64.75%
ASUS ZenBook Flip UX360CA Intel HD Graphics 515 4333 -40.03%
ASUS ZenBook UX303UB NVIDIA GeForce 940M (2GB DDR3) 8403 +16.3%

Temperatures

This test doesn’t really translate into real-life use because the general user won’t be able to reach 100% CPU and 100% GPU load for such long periods of time but it’s still a good way to determine the reliability of the system as a whole.

We started off with 100% CPU load for an hour. At first, the system was able to utilize the full potential of the chip reaching 2.8 GHz but then declined to 2.7 GHz, which is still in the Turbo Boost range. Also, the temperature of the CPU was pretty low and you can hardly hear the fans spinning. Very silent cooling solution we have there.

x349-cpu

After we switched on the GPU stress test as well, the chip’s temperatures rose and the CPU started throttling to give enough headroom for the GPU to perform. Everything went smooth throughout the test.

x349-gpu

Even the surface temperatures were pretty low as you can see on the heat map below.

Verdict

Acer has finally introduced ultra-portables under the TravelMate branding especially for business and we can honestly say it’s a step in the right direction. The TravelMate X349 is going to be affordable, portable, durable and with a sleek all-aluminum design delivering excellent input devices along the way. It’s also pairable with Acer’s USB-C dock that expands the port range and GPU performance with a GTX 960M on board suitable for some light gaming on the go. It’s really hard not to recommend this device since it has little drawbacks that the general business user won’t mind.

We mean the hardware configurations include only Skylake processors despite the fact that Kaby Lake chips are already hitting the end consumer next month. But our best guess is that the notebook has been planned for a release months before Intel even announced the new Kaby Lake generation. It’s likely that the refresh of the TravelMate X3 series will come in the following months.

But even without the Kaby Lake on board, the X349 shows excellent performance in all other areas – battery life, screen quality, and cooling. And all of this comes without the extra bulk on the price. In fact, the low-end model with Core i3-6100U and the mid-range variant with Core i5-6200U come at an exceptionally low price and will most likely appeal to most users. It’s good to see that Acer has kept its aggressive pricing for its TravelMate series. We only have concerns about the higher-end model with Core i7-6500U because it will have to compete against other well-known models like the ASUS ZenBook Ux303, which sports a more powerful GPU and better screen but still beats the hell out of the bulky Dell Inspiron 7359.

(laptopmedia.com, https://goo.gl/G1n3vc)

Comments

comments

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn