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I remember looking at a prototype of the Acer TravelMate 3200 series back in the summer and thinking that it looked pretty good. In profile it resembled a Sony VAIO PCG-ZR1P, but that was no bad thing since the Sony was a good looking machine. I’m happy to say that Acer has carried the design over from the prototype pretty much exactly, and the resulting TravelMate 3201XMi is a slim and stylish notebook, that hasn’t sacrificed too much in terms of features. So, this latest TravelMate definitely looks the part, but there’s more to a good notebook than design alone.
Well there’s definitely nothing wrong with the basic specification of the 3201XMi. Being a Centrino branded machine, it comes as no surprise to find an Intel Pentium M chip inside. This particular processor is running at 1.5GHz and sports 2MB of Level 2 cache to keep things ticking over smoothly. There’s 512MB of memory which should be enough for most users, but if you do need more memory, you better specify it at the point of purchase, because there were no free SODIM sockets in the review sample.
There’s a capacious 80GB hard disk to store all your data, while Acer has been kind enough to include a DVD writer in case you want to backup or transfer important files. The DVD writer is also a SuperMulti drive, so it will write to DVD+/-R DVD+/-RW and DVD-RAM, as well as burning CD-R and CD-RW media. Rounding off the base specification is an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics chipset with 64MB of RAM. Although the MR 9700 is no longer at the cutting edge of mobile graphics, this is still a great inclusion and means that you’ll be able to play the odd game on this TravelMate as well as crunch numbers and word process.
Acer has really pushed the boat out when it comes to connectivity. There’s a 56K modem in case you have to use a dial-up connection, while the Gigabit Ethernet controller will get you connected to your office network at lightning speed. There’s also an 802.11b/g wireless network adapter as part of the Centrino spec, while the integrated Bluetooth adapter means that you can get connected via your mobile phone as well. A great touch is that both the WiFi and Bluetooth adapters have hard switches, making it easy to turn them on and off.
But of course notebooks need to have good ergonomics as well as solid specifications. One of the most important aspects of any notebook computer is the keyboard, and I’m pleased to say that Acer has done a pretty good job with the 3201XMi. The keyboard is slightly raised from the casing, and this gives the keys slightly more travel. When typing at speed there’s no hint of flex in the keyboard and each key feels completely separate from the next. The layout of the keys is also excellent – the Shift, Return, Backspace, Tab and Caps Lock keys all have extended dimensions, while the Spacebar is reassuringly large, making it very easy to strike. Acer has even ensured that the Ctrl key is located at the bottom left corner, making it easily accessible for anyone that uses a lot of keyboard shortcuts. Anyone who’s read previous notebook reviews that I’ve written will know that I rate the keyboards in IBM ThinkPads as best in breed, but I have to say that the keyboard in the TravelMate 3201XMi is not far off those seen in IBM’s little black boxes.