Acer TravelMate 8215WLMi review
Despite some welcome additions and good components, this Acer notebook is left wanting
The 8215WLMi is the first notebook we've seen from Acer to use the mobile version of the Core 2 Duo, bringing desktop-class performance to the venerable TravelMate 8000 range. The chassis is largely unchanged, although that's no bad thing - it offers plenty of design features whether you're sat at a desk or on the move.
There's a 2GHz Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU inside, with 2GB of 533MHz RAM and a huge 160GB hard disk, which is split into two equal partitions. Acer also includes a dedicated mobile GPU in the form of ATi's Mobility Radeon X1600. This helps to earn the 8215WLMi a "Windows Vista Premium Ready" sticker, and the new OS won't cause it any trouble should you want to upgrade when the time comes.
In the here and now, it gives the option of unwinding with a 3D game after a hard day on the road, although you'll have to make image-quality sacrifices to get playable frame rates in more demanding games - our two test games were only just playable at 1,024 x 768. Less intensive games should be fine, but you'll likely need to tweak resolution and detail settings to get smoothly playable frame rates.
Acer is keen to play up the carbon-fibre chassis, but in reality only the lid is made of the lightweight yet tough material. Still, that means that the most fragile component - the screen - should be well protected when travelling. With even pressure applied (as it would be in a well-packed travel bag), we didn't see unacceptable amounts of pressure transferred to the rear of the liquid-crystal layer. The dense plastic of the main body isn't quite up to the same standard, however; it flexed under pressure, which isn't good news for the motherboard and other internal components. Perhaps of more concern to a regular traveller is the 3kg weight.
The TFT isn't the best we've seen, with images lacking impact and fast motion producing significant lag. The main problem is a lack of vividness, with whites looking distinctly grey even at maximum brightness. It also has a slightly irritating speckled finish. For undemanding work, it's adequate, though, and the backlight can dim to almost off to preserve battery life. This is a bonus, as we only saw 1hr 27mins of heavy use, although the three hours of light use was more acceptable.
We found the subtly curved keyboard to be mostly acceptable too, although our sample was supplied with a French keyset. As such, we can't make definitive judgements on key layout, but we were otherwise perfectly happy with the ergonomics: you'll get keys that are just firm enough to allow easy typing and large enough for even podgy fingers. And while the keyboard flexes a little, we've seen far worse and few better. The same can be said of the warranty, which may only give one year of return-to-base cover, but applies to any country with an Acer repair centre.
The chassis is well appointed, with a media card reader, Type II PC Card and ExpressCard/34 slots, plus mini-FireWire and four USB 2 ports. There are also DVI and S-Video outputs, and a webcam embedded in the screen bezel. Token-based security is offered by a smart card slot, although there's no fingerprint reader. The only other omissions are parallel and serial ports - no great loss.
Costing £100 less than the Sony VAIO VGN-SZ3WXP, it offers better gaming potential, a bigger and higher resolution screen, the same performance and those extra card slots. However, the Sony is more portable still, has a better keyboard and screen, and comes with an HSDPA ExpressCard, allowing you to get network access even when away from a convenient hotspot. As such, we'd plump for the Sony, as it's a better traveller and has that elusive feeling of quality this TravelMate lacks.