Acer TravelMate 4262WLMi 3G

  • Editors' rating
    7.7 Very good

Pros

  • 3G/HSDPA performance is excellent
  • SIM stowed safely away under the battery
  • Peppered with useful ports and connectors
  • 15.4in. wide-aspect screen

Cons

  • Relatively large and heavy for frequent carrying
  • Battery life will suffer if data connections are used frequently

Mobile working these days requires plenty of communications options. Wireless networking is a standard feature of notebooks, with built-in Wi-Fi delivering email and Internet access in the office and on the road thanks to Wi-Fi hotspots. For more continuous over-the-air communications, SIM-based data cards for cellular networks (GPRS and 3G) have become popular. The next logical step is building SIM card support directly into notebooks, freeing up the system's PC Card slot for other duties.

Acer’s TravelMate 4262WLMi 3G is among a growing number of business notebooks to deliver such a feature. Our review unit came with a Vodafone 3G card with support for HSDPA, which is theoretically capable of delivering a download data transfer rate of up to 1.8Mbps. This is a significant land noticeable advance from the maximum download speed of 384Kbps supported by standard 3G networks.

Design
The TravelMate 4262WLMi 3G is a sturdy notebook measuring 35.8cm wide by 26.9cm deep by 2.98-3.38cm high. At 2.98kg it's perhaps a little weighty to carry every day, but the system is still eminently transportable. Its upper and lower sections are secured by a solid clasp, but there is room for foreign objects to get between the two sections if you carry the notebook without a protective case.

The 15.4in. TFT LCD screen is nice and bright, and its matt, non-reflective finish is welcome. The wide-aspect screen has a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels, which is enough to support two documents open side by side at sufficient size to allow them to be worked on.

The TravelMate 4262WLMi's overall size means there is plenty of space for a large keyboard. It sports Acer’s characteristic 5-degree curve with places the outer keys slightly higher than the central ones. Touch typists may find this takes a little getting used to as it requires a slight repositioning of the hands, but it's not a huge issue. The keyboard itself feels very solid. A row of two-thirds-size function keys sits above the number row, an inverted T provides for cursor movement if you prefer this to the touchpad. Our review unit sported a keyboard layout with two $ signs and a € (the € and a $ adjacent to the inverted T) but no £. The shipping version will presumably have fixed this.

A large touchpad sits beneath the screen, with left and right action buttons separated by a sizeable four way directional scroll button. Above the keyboard to the right is a panel of four buttons. One is configurable, while the others take you to Web browser, email and Acer’s Empowering Technology application launcher (a suite of utilities and tools).

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Features
The Acer TravelMate 4262WLMi 3G is powered by Intel’s Core Duo T2300E chip running at 1.66GHz. There is 2MB of Level 2 cache and a 667MHz frontside bus. It comes with 1GB of RAM, which is expandable to a maximum of 4GB. Graphics come courtesy of Nvidia’s GeForce Go 7300.

Intel’s PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter supports 802.11 a, b and g Wi-Fi connections. Bluetooth is also provided, as is infrared, while wired networking is handled by BroadCom’s NetLink Gigabit Ethernet. The system's 3G capability comes courtesy of Option’s GlobeTrotter 3G+ module. A standard 56Kbps V.92 modem completes the connectivity options.

As far as storage is concerned, you get an 80GB 5,400rpm hard drive with Acer’s anti-shock protection; our review unit also came with a DVD-Super Multi Double Layer optical drive.

Acer has spread the ports and connectors around the front, left and back edges of the TravelMate 4262WLMi, with the right edge dedicated to the optical drive and the battery. Should you ever need to get to the SIM card, it lives beneath the battery.

On the front are ports for speaker, headphones and an S/PDIF digital audio-out port. There are also two rocker switches one of which turns Wi-Fi on and off while the other turns Bluetooth and the 3G module on and off. It's possible to have all three wireless options on at once. The front of the system also houses the stereo speakers.

On the left edge are two USB 2.0 ports, the Ethernet (RJ-45) port and a Firewire (IEEE 1394) port. This edge also houses the infrared port, a single PC Card slot, an ExpressCard slot and a flash memory card reader that accepts SD, MMC, Sony Memory Stick, Sony Memory Stick Pro and xD media.

On the back of the system are two further USB 2.0 ports, the modem (RJ-11) port plus S-video, DVI-D and VGA connectors.

Acer provides a range of its own and third party software. Norton AntiVirus, Cyberlink PowerDVD and Adobe's Acrobat Reader are among the latter group, while Acer's bundle includes GridVista for multiple application window management and the Empowering Technology suite for performance and settings management.

Performance & battery life
Acer suggests a battery life of up to three hours from the provided 8-cell Li-ion battery. Unfortunately our MobileMark 2002 software refused to complete properly on this system, and so we were unable to complete our standard benchmarks, which include a battery rundown test. However, in our experience it typically lasted for a couple of hours with 3G turned on but not in constant use. Travellers would be advised to consider carrying a spare battery.

3G performance was very impressive. Anyone who has used Vodafone’s MobileConnect 3G data card will recognise the software interface, which offers neatly tabbed windows for managing SMS messaging as well as shortcuts to your email software and Web browser.

The software incorporates a Hotspot finder, enabling you to use it for communications via Wi-Fi when you're on the road. If you need to monitor 3G usage, the card also maintains an account of the previous and current month’s data throughput, displaying this graphically against your data limits.

You are automatically logged on at the highest speed available. Our test area has erratic HSDPA and 3G coverage, and the card switched in and out of GPRS as requierd. It did not seem any less reliable at finding 3G connections than other Vodafone 3G equipment we have used.

The TravelMate 4262WLMi 3G is relatively bulky and heavy for a constant travel companion, but its integrated 3G module works like a dream. Given its competitive price, it could prove a compelling proposition.

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