If you're the sort of super-busy business person who wants a slim laptop with absolutely no style or flare, the Acer TravelMate 8481T may be for you.
It packs an Intel Core i5 processor and 3GB of RAM into a sturdy, metal-shelled body. We're not keen on the way the battery pokes out, but many of you will appreciate the typing comfort offered by the tilted angle.
It's available now from SaveOnLaptops for £750
Design and build quality
When it's just sat on your desk, the 8481T seems to have its little heart set on taking the prize as the most boring looking laptop currently on sale. The lid is simply a piece of plain matte black that goes to show just how dull a laptop can be made. Bravo, Acer, we don't think we've yawned that hard at a laptop before.
This model is designed for the business chap though, so it's understandable that it hasn't been slathered in bright colours or pretty patterns. Still, a bit of style wouldn't be too frowned upon in the boardroom would it?
The shell is made from a magnesium-aluminium alloy that feels like it could withstand a few bumps and knocks. Slightly annoyingly, the lid is extremely thin and can be easily bent, which we weren't too keen on. It's not a major issue though as laptops generally don't receive damage when sat open on desks -- it's much more likely that they'll receive the heavy blows while in transit.
Thankfully then, when it's closed up it feels a lot more secure. The metal shell acts rather like a frightened armadillo, balling itself up to protect its fragile interior. It didn't offer much in the way of flex so we're pretty confident it could take the sort of punishment it would likely get on an average business trip -- including being used as a coffee-table in meeting room B.
At 22mm thick, the 8481T is particularly slim for a business-orientated laptop so it will be slightly easier to carry around than some of the chunky beasts out there. Sadly, the battery sticks out at the back an extra 20mm, meaning that the thickness is not uniform all the way along.
In some ways that's quite annoying as the lump stops you from sliding it into a slim sleeve, as well as making it look as though it has a terrible hump. However, when your laptop is on your desk, the hump tilts the machine towards you which provides a very comfortable typing experience when you're sat working for hours on end.
You could also potentially hold onto the battery and use it as a handle, but we wouldn't really want to trust the plastic clips keeping it in place for too long.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard uses isolated keys, but they are the type that float above the keyboard base, rather then poking through it, as you'd find on laptops such as Acer's own Aspire Timeline X. We're much less keen on this 'floaty' type as it makes the keys feel very rattly and fragile. Worse still, there's a massive gap beneath each key which is just begging to be filled by cake crumbs, fluff and any other detritus that happens to be in the local vicinity.
The keyboard's base also doesn't fill us with confidence due to the fairly large amount of flex it offers while you're typing -- it's somewhat disconcerting when you press down on one key and see all the surrounding keys flex inwards. You'd certainly want to avoid smashing your fists down on it in rage if you just missed those quarterly projections.
As the keys 'float' above the surface, it's sometimes quite difficult to differentiate between each key when typing at speed, which may result in a few errors until you get used to it. Thanks to the battery bump, the keyboard angle makes typing much more comfortable when you're sat upright at your desk.
The keyboard takes up most of the width of the machine, so you're getting a full-sized keyboard rather than a cramped thing designed for people with needles for fingers. There's no separate numeric keypad though so if you plan on inputting a load of figures into spreadsheets then you may want to get an external keypad. And a coffee.
The trackpad is large and responsive, supporting multi-touch gestures for two-finger scrolling and pinch to zoom. The buttons are wide and very easy to press, which makes web browsing that bit smoother.
There's also a fingerprint reader sat in between the buttons which will cause no end of delight for your IT department who'll no doubt be very keen on beefing up your security and passwords with your fingers.
The size of the 8481T's body would normally only allow a 13-inch screen, but Acer has done some jiggery-pokery and managed to fit in a 14-inch display.
It's done this by minimising the bezel to make use of all available space. Annoyingly, although the physical bezel is only a few millimetres thick, the screen doesn't reach the edge but instead has its own border underneath the screen coating.
This dual bezel makes the visible display look as though it's been zoomed out and so isn't taking up the whole screen. It's really quite a shame as it would have been excellent to see the screen going right up to the edges.
The screen itself has a resolution of 1,366x768 which is very standard for a laptop of this size. Again, we would have liked to have seen Acer push the boat out a little and get a few more pixels in. The 13.3-inch screen on the Asus UX31 Ultrabook offers a great 1,600x900-pixel resolution which is great for viewing big web pages and long documents.
It's pretty bright though and does a fair job of dealing with colours, so whatever you're choosing to look at will look pretty good. It's got a matte coating too which means that reflections are cut down to a minimum -- perfect for avoiding staring at your own face all night as the visible effects of insomnia begin to show.
Stuck inside the 8481T you'll find a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-2467M processor backed up by 3GB of RAM.
We took it for a spin and weren't exactly blown away by its performance. Operation was certainly fast enough with fairly quick start up times and programmes being loaded without too much delay. It didn't do quite so well when we fired up lots of things at once for some multi-tasking mayhem.
We opened up numerous tabs in a web browser including a couple of high-definition video streams and also played some locally stored video and found that some of our streamed video started to become a bit jumpy. It's only packing 3GB of RAM though, so we can't expect too much more.
For around £150 less you can get the Acer Aspire Timeline X which comes with a more meaty 6GB of RAM which will handle all kinds of multitasking duties without question, although it comes with a slightly lesser Intel Core i3 processor.
We ran the PCMark05 benchmark test and were given a score of 6,325 which is pretty underwhelming. The Timeline X managed 6,569 on the same test even with its less powerful processor so you're really not getting a massive dollop of performance for the money.
It will easily handle most office tasks though, so you can plough through word processing and Powerpoint presentations about financial results without a second thought. If you start filling it up with a load of bloatware, you can expect quite a reduction in performance -- as well as a stern ticking off from your head of IT.
There's no dedicated graphics card in the 8481T and the Intel Core i5-2467M processor doesn't include the in-built Intel HD3000 graphics, so if you're hoping to play a bit of Crysis 2 on your downtime, you're going to be out of luck. We ran the 3DMark06 benchmark test and were given a score of 3,385, which really isn't good enough for decent 3D gaming.
There's a 320GB hard disk drive stuffed inside too which is probably just about big enough for your office documents and the odd episode of Friends, but if you plan on storing a lot of media then you'll want to get yourself a decent external drive. There's a USB 3.0 socket on the side so you can benefit from super-fast transfer speeds if you get a compatible device.
If the 8481T is going to be at all useful as a mobile business tool, it's going to have to have the battery power to keep you going away from the plug. We were hoping for a decent performance from the battery, considering how big the thing is.
We ran our battery benchmark test and it was able to keep going for around 3 hours 35 minutes which is really rather impressive. The test is extremely brutal and represents an absolutely worse-case scenario, so you'll be able to get much better performance with sensible usage.
If you're mostly doing office tasks on the go -- and you don't use much in the way of wireless connections -- you should be able to get a very healthy time out of the battery. We reckon that's at least some consolation for the massive lump it creates on the back.
The Acer TravelMate Timeline 8481T offers an average performance for the money but makes up for it with a slim and fairly sturdy shell. If you can put up with that awkward battery and don't mind the seriously dull looks, it's worth checking out.