- Review Price: £1184.00
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.
This is a very feature rich notebook and with the exception of Bluetooth, it offers pretty much everything you could want. That said, there is a button to switch on Bluetooth, but the 661LMi doesn’t support integrated Bluetooth. You can purchase a Bluetooth dongle from Acer, but an integrated option to accompany the button would have been better. At the front of the chassis are the buttons to activate Bluetooth and WiFi as well as an IrDA port. A very welcome addition here is a memory card reader that can accept SD, Memory Stick and Smart Media cards.
The right hand side of the case is taken up by the optical drive, and again Acer has really pushed the boat out. What you get is a DVD writer which will write DVD-R/RW and CD-R/RW discs. So, if you ever find yourself running out of space on the hard disk, or if you just want to back up some data from the notebook, you’re well taken care of.
The left side of the chassis is stacked full of features. There are mini-jack sockets for headphone, mic and line-out. There’s a single Type II PC Card slot above a Smat Card Reader. Acer has always been ahead of the game when it comes to notebook security, and the Smart Card reader will be a very attractive feature for users who have reason to be paranoid about their data. There are also four USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire port. The inclusion of the FireWire port coupled with the DVD writer makes the TravelMate a decent mobile video editing station.
Finally, at the rear of the case things are no less impressive. Here you’ll find a parallel port, a D-SUB port, a modem connector, a 10/100 Ethernet port, an S-Video output and a docking station connector.
Performance wise the Acer is up there with the fastest Centrino based notebooks we’ve seen so far. With a SYSmark score of 161, it’s just one point behind the HP Compaq Evo N620c which also used a Pentium M CPU. Battery life was a very respectable four hours and seven minutes, although the HP Compaq Evo N620c managed a staggering five hours and fifteen minutes. That said, the HP wasn’t a Centrino notebook and lacked the wireless networking capability.
With a notebook like this you’re going to expect to pay a premium for all the features and build quality, not to mention the solid performance. However, I was amazed when I checked the pricing and found that the TravelMate 661LMi is available for as little as £1,183.82 inc VAT. At that price it’s hard to imagine that you could find a better Centrino based notebook than this one.
The Acer TravelMate 661LMi is a truly impressive notebook. The input devices and screen are superb, and it’s got almost every feature you could ask for. Performance is strong and battery life is in excess of four hours. Add to this an incredibly low price and it all adds up to an Editor’s Choice Award for Acer.
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