This week Australian Business Traveller is scoping out the best Windows notebooks for frequent business travellers. These high-flying laptops deliver just the right mix of maximum computing power and long battery life in a slim, light yet robust package.
Acer's latest Travelmate is among the lightest and thinnest laptops on the market, but it still manages to pack a bigger than average screen.
Due to be released in August, it's built into a carbon-fibre chassis (like the ultra-high-end Sony Vaio Z) to achieve nearly best-in-class size and weight.
One thing that's very noticeable about this laptop is its extremely thin screen, which apparently has no bezel around it. It's a LG Shuriken display, also known as a "LG Super Thin Bezel Display". This picture from Japanese tech news blog Akihabaranews.com shows just how thin.
What's really exceptional, though, is that Acer has managed to shoehorn a 14" screen into this machine, without making it any thicker or heavier than competing machines with 13.3" displays.
It still uses the same resolution of 1366x768 pixels that other laptops in this category have, so you won't fit more on the screen, but if you like slightly bigger screens, this is the notebook for you.
It's also a 16:9 ratio display, which makes it great for watching widescreen movies on.
Size and weight
Acer advertises this model as weighing 1.5 kg. However, this weight is only with an optional extra four-cell battery, rather than the six cell battery as standard. In other notebooks this generally adds about another 160 grams or so, so we would guess the standard weight of it is more likely to be around 1.66 kg.
At its thickest point, the Timeline 8481 is 2.2cm, but this tapers down to 1.8cm. Given the thinnest notebook on the market (the $4,000 Sony Vaio Z) is only 1.67cm, this is impressive.
What you get
Acer has built the latest "Sandy Bridge" generation Core i3, i5 and i7 chips into the Timeline 8481, for speed and battery life.
However, unlike the Sony Vaio Z, ASUS U36SD, Toshiba Portege R700 and Lenovo Thinkpad X220 notebooks we've looked at this week, these are the ultra-low voltage versions of the chips, which means they will be slower than the full power versions.
These low voltage chips will provide better battery life than their full-power brethren, but at the cost of slower computing performance. As there have been very few notebooks released based on ultra-low voltage Intel Sandy Bridge-class chips so far, we'll have to wait and see whether performance is up to scratch.
Storage is at least 320GB, with options to upgrade from there, and memory will be 4GB standard, with the option to upgrade to 8GB.
There's also an option to order the notebook with a super-fast solid state disk drive based on high-end flash memory -- similar to what's used in a camera memory card, but much faster. Acer's specifications say that SSDs "128GB and larger" will be available.
The machine comes with the fastest form of Wi-Fi ("N") and Acer says it provides better-than-average reception because the laptop has been built with multiple antennae (MIMO).
There's also a "Trusted Platform Module" (TPM) chip inside which will be useful for business users particularly, as it provides the best hard-drive encryption system possible, and coupled with the fingerprint-scanner beneath the trackpad (pictured above), this makes the computer very secure.
The webcam built into the lid is a high-resolution 1280x1024 pixel one, for good quality Skype Video conferencing.
In terms of connectivity, the Timeline 8481 bristles with ports -- it has two USB 2.0 ports and one high-speed USB 3.0 port for faster data transfer to compatible memory keys and external hard drives. (The USB 3.0 port also has power-off USB charging, so you can charge devices from the laptop even when it's fully switched off.)
There's even an e-SATA port for direct connection of hard drives at the same speed as an internally-connected drive would have. This is not a common way of connecting external hard drives, but it's a handy option to have.
A full-size HDMI port provides easy connectivity with big-screen plasma and LCD TVs, but if you want to connect to a monitor that only has a DVI port, you'll need to get an HDMI-DVI adaptor (they're pretty common and cheap).
A standard VGA port allows for connection to old conference room projectors that haven't yet entered the digital age.
As you'd expect, there's an Ethernet port for high speed wired connection to office networks, and an SD slot for reading memory cards.
One disappointing omission is the absence of inbuilt 3G mobile broadband, which means if you want to connect to the net while you're travelling, you'll either need to use smartphone tethering, a 3G USB modem, or a pocket 3G/Wi-Fi device.
There is no docking option for the Timeline 8481, so you'll have to plug your accessories in manually each time you want to use them. It does have Bluetooth built in, though, so you'll be able to use a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard.
What it costs
There's no official word from Acer Australia on the cost of the Timeline 8481, but we'd expect it not to be cheap given its carbon fibre chassis and super-slim display.