When you buy a £500 laptop, you can't expect perfection, but increasingly, you can get a pretty decent machine. A case in point: the Acer TravelMate 2355LCi. This inexpensive mainstream laptop delivers ample performance, a big screen and a comfortable keyboard and touch pad. Of course, it has some considerable drawbacks, particularly its extrashort battery life. But if you're content to stay close to a plug, the Acer TravelMate 2355LCi is hard to beat.
Weighing 2.7kg and measuring 335mm wide, 282mm deep, and 36mm thick, the TravelMate 2355LCi is an average size for a mainstream laptop. The £900 HP Compaq nc6000 and £650 Toshiba Tecra A5 weigh only a few hundred grammes less than the 2355LCi. The nc6000 is slightly shallower than the TravelMate 2355LCi, while the Tecra A5 is a couple of millimetres fatter. The TravelMate 2355LCi's AC adaptor adds 380g to its total travel weight.
The TravelMate 2355LCi's no-frills design matches its price: the case's sober, dark-silver-and-black plastics are a far cry from the sophisticated colours found in some other laptops, such as the HP Compaq Presario V4000. The TravelMate 2355LCi's large 15-inch display, with a standard 1,024x768 native resolution, provides more than enough room and resolution for average productivity tasks. The keyboard, the touch pad and the two mouse buttons are all agreeably wide, though we wish that the hollow-feeling keys were more solid. Aside from two handy programmable application-launch buttons that sit beneath the screen, the TravelMate 2355LCi lacks any external controls for disc play or volume. And while we appreciate the wireless on/off switch, it's not labelled with the words on and off -- you have to look at the status light on the front of the machine to tell which is which.
The TravelMate 2355LCi is merely adequate in the connector department: it squeaks by with three USB ports, one VGA port, one Type II PC Card slot and one jack each for 56K modem, Ethernet, headphone and microphone. More expensive laptops, such as the Apple PowerBook G4, often provide other cool connectors, such as FireWire ports and multiple video outputs.
Acer loads the Windows XP Professional operating system onto every TravelMate 2355LCi and includes a few standard multimedia programs: NTI CD & DVD Maker 6.7 for burning CDs, CyberLink PowerDVD for viewing the videos you've stored to disc and Acer eManager for adjusting system passwords, default presentation settings, power-management schemes and more system essentials.
You can buy the TravelMate 2355LCi through local computer shops and online resellers for a very low £550. But you get the components you pay for, including an economical 1.4GHz Celeron M 360 processor, 512MB of slow 266MHz RAM, a previous-generation Intel 852GM graphics chip that uses up to 64MB of main memory for VRAM, a midsize 60GB hard drive that spins at a lethargic 4,200rpm, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive that can burn and play CDs and play DVDs, and an Acer 802.11b/g wireless card.