Acer's TravelMate series of business-orientated laptops sports a buttoned-down design and normally comes in suitably muted colours. With the ultraportable TravelMate 3020 series, though, the company has let its hair down a little and come up with a striking white system.
This Core Duo-based laptop (we reviewed the 1.66GHz TM 3022WTMi model) is a good performer and has a neat built-in digital camera. However, we'd prefer an integrated optical drive (even at the expense of a little extra weight).
Most passers-by in the office who saw the TravelMate 3022WTMi commented along the lines of: "it's trying to look like the Apple MacBook". In fact, it uses Acer's standard 'Folio' design, as seen in the 3012WTMi that we reviewed earlier this year, only with a white paint job. Like its conventionally liveried stablemate, the 3022WTMi weighs 1.5kg (with the standard 3-cell battery and minus the external optical drive) and measures 298mm wide by 210mm deep by 25-32mm high. With the bigger 6-cell battery, the system weighs 1.65kg.
Thanks to its A4 footprint, the TravelMate 3022WTMi can accommodate a decent-sized screen and keyboard -- always a key consideration with an ultraportable computer. The display is a 12.1-inch TFT with a wide-screen resolution of 1,280x800 pixels (16:10 aspect ratio). It delivers a decent picture, and isn't as reflective as those on many of today's more consumer-focused laptops. Acer's GridVista software lets you setup on-screen grids of two, three or four panes into which you can drag and drop the applications you're working on, helping you to keep your Windows desktop tidy.
The keyboard is an 85-key Acer FineTouch that includes a row of 12 function keys, four cursor keys and an embedded numeric keypad. The keys give decent feedback with their 2.5mm travel, although we found the keyboard itself slightly too flexible for our taste. Navigation is handled by a touchpad with a four-way scroll button nestling between the left and right mouse buttons.
There are four quick-access buttons between the keyboard and the screen, on the left-hand side: one launches Acer's Empowering Technology utility (see below), one is user-programmable, while the remaining two launch the email client and the Web browser. Apart from the power button, which is opposite the quick-access buttons on the right, the only remaining controls are on the front fascia, for turning the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios on and off.
Like its 3012WTMi stablemate, the 3022WTMi has a good set of ports and slots. The left-hand side, from front to back, carries a pair of USB 2.0 ports, RJ-11 (modem) and RJ-45 (Ethernet) connectors, and an (analogue) external monitor port. On the right-hand side you'll find a Type II PC Card slot with a 5-in-1 flash card reader (SD, MMC, Memory Stick, MS Pro, xD) beneath it, plus USB 2.0 and FireWire ports. The fascia carries microphone and headphone (with S/PDIF support) ports, plus a Fast infrared port -- the latter is an increasing rarity on laptops these days.
One reason there's plenty of room for connectors is the lack of an integrated optical drive: the external DVD recorder connects to the FireWire port on the right-hand side. Obviously if you don't need to carry an optical drive, this arrangement helps to keep the system's weight down. However, the optical drive is an awkward item to plug in and arrange on a surface if you want to load up software or run a DVD movie when on the road.
The TravelMate 3022WTMi's other noteworthy design feature is the 1.3-megapixel OrbiCam camera built into the top of the screen. This can rotate through 225 degrees, in order to either face outwards or towards the user for video-conferencing. When in the latter mode, the included face-tracking software is reasonably effective.
The Acer TravelMate 3022WTMi uses Intel's latest Core Duo processor, in this case the T2300 chip running at 1.66GHz. The Intel 945GM Express chipset includes integrated GMA950 graphics, which can dynamically grab up to 224MB of the system's 1GB of DDR2 RAM (expandable to a maximum of 4GB via dual SoDIMM slots).
The hard drive is a capacious 100GB Serial ATA Seagate unit with a fast 5,400rpm spin speed. As mentioned above, optical storage is handled by an external FireWire drive -- an Initio SSM-8515S multi-format dual-layer DVD rewriter.
Wireless connectivity is catered for by both Wi-Fi (Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG) and Bluetooth (2.0+EDR), while a Broadcom NetLink Gigabit Ethernet chip takes care of wired networking.
Two battery packs are included as standard: a 3-cell, 2,000mAh unit and a bigger 6-cell, 4,800mAh battery that protrudes about 20mm from the back of the system. Apart from the mains power input and the battery pack, the rear of the system houses the 124-pin connector for the optional ezDock, which provides six USB 2.0 ports, an ExpressCard slot, a Type II PC Card slot, 6-pin and 4-pin FireWire ports, digital (DVI-D) and analogue (VGA) monitor ports, an S-Video port, a digital audio (S/PDIF) port plus microphone and headphone ports, RJ-11 (modem) and RJ-45 (Ethernet) connectors, two PS/2 ports and a parallel port. The ezDock costs £152. Other options include Acer's PC Card-format Bluetooth VoIP phone (£34).
Acer provides its customary bundle of system management software under the Empowering Technology banner, along with the GridVista utility mentioned above. You also get Acrobat Reader, Cyberlink PowerDVD, NTI CD Maker and Norton AntiVirus.
Based on other Intel Core Duo systems that we've tested, we expected very good performance from the 1.66GHz T2300-based TravelMate 3022WTMi with 1GB of RAM. Although the system seemed very responsive in general use, we were unable to quantify this impression using our normal MobileMark 2002 benchmark, as this refused to complete on our test system in the time available. Acer claims 5.5 hours of life from the 3-cell and 6-cell batteries, but again we were unable to test this using MobileMark 2002.
Overall, Acer's TravelMate 3022WTMi is small, light and highly portable. Its wide-screen format, built-in camera and (optional) Bluetooth VoIP phone should all appeal to business users -- especially those who use the Internet for voice calls and video-conferencing. The new white livery is smart, although some business travellers may wish to carry a less eye-catching laptop, lest it catch the wrong sort of eye.
If you need an optical drive while on the move, you may want to look for a system with a built-in unit (such as Fujitsu Siemens' LifeBook P7120), as lugging the supplied external drive and its cable around will quickly become tiresome.
Additional editing by Nick Hide