Although any notebook manufacturer will try its hardest to differentiate its products from the competition, much of the individual design tends to be cosmetic. Making the chassis an unusual colour or reducing the dimensions will hopefully convince a potential buyer to look at that product rather than the others out there. It is however very rare to see a design feature that is both different and offers a practical advantage over the competition.
When you open up the Acer TravelMate 661LMi it instantly looks different from any other notebook. Lifting the lid reveals a keyboard that is literally smiling at you. The keyboard is slightly curved in order to position your hands more ergonomically when you're typing. Now, having been in the business for a very long time I'm well aware of the lengths that companies will go to in order to sell more products, and often that involves creating gimmicks that are of no real use to the customer. However, I have to say that the keyboard on the Acer is superb and does feel more comfortable to use for extended periods than a conventionally shaped unit.
Besides being slightly curved the keyboard also exhibits excellent characteristics in other areas. The keys are a decent size and the Return, Backspace and Shift keys are all larger as they should be. The cursor keys are dropped down from the main keyboard and in the correct positional configuration. The left and right cursor keys are slightly smaller than they should be however. The travel on the keys is deep enough to feel comfortable and the break is solid. The Spacebar looks a little small but because of the curved nature of the keyboard it's actually perfect and I didn't find myself missing it once.
The other half of the input device equation is also pretty good. The touchpad is located directly below the Spacebar, but far enough away not to be struck accidentally when typing. The touchpad is a high-quality unit and pointer manipulation is a breeze. Below the touchpad are two silver selector buttons that behave just like left and right mouse buttons, as you'd expect. A nice touch however, is the four-way rocker between the selector buttons that allows you to scroll both left and right as well as the more usual up and down.
But it's not just the input devices that are first rate with this notebook. The screen is a 15in TFT affair that exhibits a bright and vivid image with very even lighting across the surface. The resolution of 1,400 x 1,050 may be too small for some users but I found it perfect. For me, having the ability to display more on-sceen is the key to a good display and this one is ideal for anyone that works with multiple documents. Driving the screen is an integrated Intel graphics chipset, so you won't be playing any 3D games on this machine. That said, Acer is clearly aiming this product at the corporate executive or serious home user rather than a mobile gamer.
The TravelMate 661LMi uses the Intel Centrino platform and as such comes with all the benefits associated with it. The CPU is a 1.4GHz Pentium M, which is more than fast enough to run anything you'd need and will keep power consumption down to a minimum. The processor is backed up by a healthy 512MB of RAM and a 40GB hard disk. Also, since it's a Centrino machine you have a built-in Intel Pro/Wireless WiFi adapter, meaning you can use your office or home wireless networks, or get online whenever you find a WiFi hotspot.