Acer TravelMate 3273WXMi review
Acer's aggressive pricing means you can buy a great laptop for less than £600.
With the laptop market in rude health, several companies are pushing the boundaries of what can be done on a tight budget. In the past, this might have meant noticeable compromises but, on paper at least, the TravelMate 3273WXMi makes you hunt for the compromises, offering a good specification, excellent screen and comparatively low weight.
The processing punch is supplied by an Intel Core 2 Duo T5500. It runs at 1.66GHz and the twin cores mean the TravelMate was consistently responsive, returning an overall score of 0.94 in our 2D benchmarks. It also worked well in everyday use once our technical tests were finished. 1GB of RAM is supplied and forms a practical baseline, and although Vista doesn't come installed on the TravelMate it will have no problem handling the OS should you upgrade.
Elsewhere, the 80GB hard disk is adequate for a system that won't be required for gaming. The Seagate Momentus drive has a spindle speed of 5,400rpm and an 8MB buffer to keep disk-intensive operations ticking over. The capacity is easily enough for an average gamut of office applications and a well-sized photo collection. The only thing beyond it will be serious video editing. The disk comes pre-partitioned into two equally sized portions - one arrives empty and the other holds Windows and any applications. The dual-layer DVD writer is a useful addition for offloading and distributing files, and we also appreciate the integrated card reader, which is compatible with SD, MMC, xD and Memory Stick media.
The screen is also impressive for the price. The 14.1in widescreen TFT is bright, and easily passed our tests. It offers good colour accuracy and clarity, besides having an even backlight. It also underlines the TravelMate's suitability for photo work, producing accurate colours from our range of test photos. The only problem is the resolution - 1,280 x 800 might be enough for office work, email and internet browsing, but for large images or niche applications a higher vertical resolution would be preferable.
There's no questioning Acer's commitment to keeping the design of its laptops consistent, but the styling of the TravelMate range is beginning to look tired: the silvery-green colouring and curved keyboard have been around for a couple of years now, and the thick bezel makes the 3273WXMi look rather plain compared to more upmarket efforts by the likes of Dell and Sony. Also, the keyboard feels hollow during fast typing and, because it's curved upwards at both sides, the keys are further apart than on most laptops and so take a little getting used to. An in-depth inspection of the screen assembly revealed an unwelcome amount of flexibility and, although the TravelMate will stand up to its fair share of abuse, it doesn't inspire as much confidence as the class-leading business laptops made by Lenovo and Dell.
But the hunt for major compromises runs dry here, and our other reservations are relatively minor, particularly when you look at the price tag. Business users may miss useful peripherals such as a fingerprint reader or TPM chip for hardware encryption, but it isn't a deal breaker for home users. Given the size of the TravelMate (it's 341mm wide), you could be forgiven for expecting it to be happy as a desktop replacement, but with just three USB ports (and no FireWire) it won't suit everyone straight off. It doesn't make the ideal traveller either, weighing 2.32kg without the power adapter (and 2.79kg with), which means you'll never be under any misapprehensions about whether you've remembered to bring it with you. Battery life is average, too, at just over an hour under intensive use and 3hrs 51mins under light use.