Acer TravelMate 3012WTMi review

Price when reviewed
If any evidence was needed of the Core Duo’s flexibility, the 3012WTMi delivers: in stark contrast to the Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi, a 3kg machine that had enough grunt in both everyday applications and 3D games to equal desktop PCs, this TravelMate is all about working on the move.

The Acer is exceptionally light and thin, and has a footprint almost exactly the size of an A4 sheet of paper. There are smaller notebooks around, but we’re hard pushed to think of a bag it won’t fit in, and at 1.5kg it’s not going to weigh you down much either.

Speed isn’t a crucial consideration in an ultraportable, but the extra performance of the Core Duo T2300 is definitely welcome. Our benchmarks returned a score of 0.94, which makes the 3012WTMi just 6 per cent slower overall than a desktop PC with a Pentium D 840 and 1GB of RAM. The 3012WTMi matches our reference PC in terms of RAM, but the Core Duo again showed its superb speed-to-power-consumption ratio. The T2300 at the heart of the Acer is only clocked at 1.67GHz, yet this tiny laptop will finish many tasks quicker than most desktop PCs.

It might be small on the outside, but the TravelMate offers plenty of internal storage. The hard disk is a 100GB Seagate model, giving you more than enough storage for applications and multimedia files and, combined with the speed of the processor, confers a reassuring degree of future-proofing. That doesn’t extend to the graphics chipset, though: the standard Intel GMA 950 graphics are at their best handling 2D applications, managing just 10fps in Far Cry at the screen’s native 1,280 x 800 resolution.

Most manufacturers cite space issues when we complain about the lack of ports on a system, but the TravelMate offers three USB ports and a full-size FireWire port, as well as an SD/MMC/Memory Stick card reader, plus a Type II PC Card slot, Gigabit Ethernet and 56K modem ports. On top of that, set into the lid is a webcam, able to swivel to face toward or away from the user. Quality and frame rate are perfectly adequate, and the Acer VisageON applet includes software face tracking, which attempts to pan and zoom the image so your face is kept central for videoconferencing. It works well as long as there isn’t too much backlighting.

Ergonomics are a hit-and-miss affair for ultraportable notebooks, as striking the right balance between usability, miniaturisation and cost can be tricky. This shows up in the Acer’s keyboard. We don’t consider ourselves particularly fat-fingered at PC Pro, but we did find ourselves making more typos than normal thanks to the small keys, and keystrokes sometimes didn’t register at all.

The screen also walks the line of acceptability. It’s readable, but on our review sample the 12.1in TFT wasn’t quite bright enough for complete viewing comfort, even in a well-lit office. Viewing angles are restricted, particularly in the vertical direction, with easily discernible variations in contrast from top to bottom. The widescreen 1,280 x 800 resolution makes it a natural choice for those working with word processors and standard spreadsheets, although the practicality of this is limited by the screen and keyboard size. The included external DVD writer isn’t a particularly elegant solution to the problem of optical storage on the move either. As the Panasonic Toughbook CF-W4 shows, it’s possible to shoehorn an optical drive into a very small notebook rather than having yet another piece of gear to cart around with you. But the Acer’s FireWire-attached drive is half the width of the notebook itself and bulkier than most external drives we’ve seen. It feels sturdy, but it makes the prospect of DVD viewing on the plane much less practical.

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