There are three versions of the TravelMate 8731: two whose primary difference is the processor (single-core or dual-core) and one that's like ours except with discrete graphics. We're looking at the dual-core, Intel integrated graphics version and provided you can stretch to it, it's definitely preferable to the single-core iteration. Our version, the TravelMate 8371-944G32N, comes with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 that runs at 1.4GHz on an 800MHz front-side bus and has a generous 3MB L2 Cache.
Any comparisons to Intel's Atom processors should be extinguished right away; not only is the architecture of this processor much faster, its L2 Cache is significantly larger, providing a noticeable speed bump. Acer has also been smart enough to couple this with a fast 7,200rpm, 320GB hard drive. This aids system responsiveness, though not quite as much as an SSD might! This drive is also shock protected, with motion sensors detecting falls in order to protect against data loss. There's an ample 4GB of RAM on-board, though this isn't entirely utilised by the 32-bit version of Vista Business installed.
Network connectivity can't be faulted. Both Gigabit Ethernet and Draft-N Wi-Fi are included and 3G enabled versions are to be sold at a later date. Also included is Bluetooth 2.1, so all the staple technologies of the mobile worker are accounted for.
Physical connectivity is fine, too, though not overwhelming - the price and size of the 8731 dictate this. In addition to the docking port connection mentioned earlier there are three USB ports, the Ethernet port, a memory card reader, a couple of audio jacks and a VGA output. All of which is fine, but we would have really liked at least one of the USB ports given 'sleep & charge' capabilities, since this would be invaluable to anyone needing to charge mobile devices on the go.
Still, at this price, it's hard to quibble with one or two compromises, which is true of the audio visual side of things as well. With a 1,366 x 768 native resolution, the 13.3in display provides ample desktop real-estate, while the bright LED backlighting and anti-glare finish make it useable outdoors. However, these positives aside, there isn't a great deal to shout about. Viewing angles are okay but not great, as is colour fidelity and sharpness.
As this is a business laptop, integrated audio comes pretty low down on the list of priorities. Audio is tinny and just about passable for online videos, but useless for anything else. Moreover, whereas the Aspire versions benefitted from Dolby Sound Room and thus improved headphone performance, the 8731 does not.