Acer TravelMate C312XMi review

Price when reviewed

Its sibling may have gained a Recommended award, but the C312XMi failed to inspire us this month. To start, the screen is a letdown. It’s unusual these days to see a 14.1in display on a notebook at this price with a native resolution of 1,024 x 768. It looks chunky and old-fashioned in comparison to most notebook TFTs.

That said, some people like the squint-free large text and Windows icons afforded by a moderate resolution, and the viewing angles, brightness, evenness of illumination and response times are perfectly respectable. While brightness drops off a little when the screen is viewed from either side, colours remain accurate all the way out to 90 degrees off-axis.

The C312 isn’t left wanting as far as specifications are concerned. With a 1.73GHz Pentium M processor, 512MB of RAM and an nVidia GeForce Go 6200 using up to 128MB of system RAM, it will run anything a desktop PC can aside from games at high resolution. You’ll only feel the pinch if you want to open multiple applications or edit more than a few high-resolution photos at once. Our multiple application tests took three times longer than you could expect from a highly specified desktop system with lots of RAM, but the single 2D graphics results are within 10 per cent of our reference desktop PC.

It’s not just a notebook, though – it’s a convertible tablet too. The C312’s swivelling tablet-conversion screen hinge is a well-engineered example of its type, with little slack in its motion. It doesn’t lock in place but springs firmly into either tablet or notebook position. The pen slides into the lid rather than the body – a minor design point but the best place for it – and it’s a friction holder rather than the irritating spring-loaded sort that ejects the pen onto the floor and soon breaks.

The keyboard is fine, but again lags behind its stablemate. Where the 2403’s keyboard is surprisingly solid and fast, the C312’s is more standard: firm and free of excessive rattle, but with some flex.

The rest of the machine features nothing out of the ordinary. The rear network, modem and VGA ports are covered by semi-rubberised flaps, which will go some way to protecting them, but the USB, S-Video, mini-FireWire and audio connectors aren’t similarly protected – it’s a bit haphazard. You get a dual-layer DVD writer, though, plus an SD card slot and extra USB port on one side for easy connection of a mouse or flash drive.

The built-in optical drive is an advantage the C312 holds over the A-Listed HP Compaq tc4200, but there’s one obvious drawback: the weight. You’ll certainly feel the Acer’s 3kg, both when travelling and when holding it in the crook of your arm; the HP only weighs 2.1kg. More decisively still, the HP’s battery life is an extra two hours under light use. For the single business user wanting something that ticks the specification boxes, other than the built-in optical drive, the HP Compaq TC4200 remains a better choice.

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