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Quite often products nowadays must have very clear definition of what they're trying to be. Failure to emphasize that in the marketing and design phase tends to lead to serious confusion on the part of the consumer, thus leading to tentative sales.
Acer really hit the nail on the head with this Laptop (Notebook?? - we'll get to that in a bit!). It's called the Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371-944G32 N, 'TravelMate' being the key word here.
What Acer have created is a harmonious merging of both portability and features, which from my point of view is most welcome.
First things first, this is really a Notebook, so don't be fooled by the term ultra-portable Laptop coined by many retailers. This doesn't have an optical drive of any kind and has limited graphics capability, therefore confirming it's status as a Notebook. Don't let that put you off though, read on and you'll see that, Laptop or not, this is definitely worthy of consideration.
You'll notice it's not the best looking Laptop / Notebook on the shelf, nor does it have the best screen, the fastest processor or even the cheapest pricetag...but I can assure you, this epitomises the term 'fit for purpose' and that purpose is playing the role of the all-rounder.
At 1.7kg and just over 32cm wide it's light and small enough to carry with you on long journeys / commutes without it becoming cumbersome. Despite it's diminutive stature, it feels very well made and has a decent 13.3" widescreen LED backlit screen with a pixel resolution of 1366 x 768. Other reviews have commented on the screen not being particularly bright, but over the past 10 months of ownership I haven't found this to be an issue. A major plus point of the screen is that it doesn't have that gloss coating that most Laptops seem to have. This means it is actually possible to still see the screen on the TravelMate when it's sunny! Okay those days are few and far between here, but when they do come it's always nice to be able to still see what you're doing, be it in the garden typing up a report / ordering your online shopping or watching streamed TV.
I mentioned the LED backlit screen above, which leads me onto the battery life. Acer quote a figure of 8.5 hours from the 6-cell Lithium Ion battery and surprisingly they're about right...maybe even understating the battery life a little. I've had mine last almost ten hours with reasonable use, internet / video etc. It's all achieved by utilizing low voltage components throughout in order to reduce the overall load and it works a treat.
Onto the processor, an Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 (1,4 GHz). It's low voltage to keep power down, but provides good performance and combined with the 4GB DDR3 RAM, allows for multi-tasking Office programs, lightning quick web page opening and streaming HD video, although I'm sure it would be found out when trying some video editing though!
This Notebook has a Wireless LAN aerial, supporting 802.11b/g/n and also has a Bluetooth aerial supporting Bluetooth 2.1 EDR. When I'm at home mine is always connected to the Wireless Network and I've experienced no problems with connectivity, even when streaming in HD. I've only tested the Bluetooth on one occasion and it was very quick to establish a connection.
Another excellent feature is the inclusion of a 5-in-1 integrated card reader, supporting SD/MS/MS-Pro/MMC/xD-Picture card which makes transferring media such as photos very easy.
There seem to be varying specs on this same model number. Mine came with a 320 GB 7200 RPM hard drive which is plenty big enough, the other option I'm aware of is a 250 GB hard drive. Another variation is with the graphics controller, as mine came with the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 which seems to work really well.
One question I get asked alot is 'can it play games?'...the answer, yes, but be realistic! You won't be able to play the latest, greatest, graphics intensive first person shooter, but it punches above it's weight and has no problem with Civilization IV and games of that nature.
Another question I'm asked regularly is about over-clocking. I've personally not tried it as I'm happy with the performance, but a quick check found many people showing some excellent gains by over-clocking both the CPU (processor) and the GPU (graphics), so if you're into that then rest assured there is scope there.
My one and only complaint isn't so much with the product, but the operating system. Mine shipped with Windows Vista Business and this seems to be the most common option. It makes sense for what is essentially a business 'Laptop', but my advice would be to wipe it and replace it with Windows 7. Some retailers do offer it with other options, so I'd shop around.
Don't be put of by the Notebook tag, as you can always purchase a slimline USB optical drive, these are now pretty cheap (£15 ish) and still very portable. If you plan on using it for watching films then I'd also recommend a set of USB speakers as the internal speakers are standard Laptop quality...sufficient, but not brilliant.
In conclusion I'd happily recommend this to anyone looking for a reasonably priced (I didn't buy mine personally, but the company it came from are charging approx £300), portable Notebook. It has excellent functionality, a decent screen and handles most tasks with ease.
Thanks for reading!