- ✓Excellent value for money
- ✓Large hard drive
- ✓802.11a/b/g and Draft-N Wi-Fi, plus Bluetooth 2.0
- ✓Built-in fingerprint recognition
- ✕Two of the three USB ports are stacked, and so may not always be usable simultaneously
- ✕No lid clasp
- ✕Integrated webcam is fixed rather than on a swivel hinge
Acer has completely revamped its notebook range, coming up with new designs for both its TravelMate business systems and the Aspire consumer-focused notebooks. There are several TravelMates in the new line-up, ranging from our ultraportable review model, the 6292 up to a massive 17in. desktop replacement system, the 7720. Like all of the new range, our review model sports Intel’s recently released Santa Rosa architecture.
Although it's the smallest notebook in the new Santa Rosa lineup, the TravelMate 6292 (302G16N configuration) does not share the slick, sleek and slim outline of genuine ultraportables like Sony’s VAIO VGN-TX5XN/B; nor can it match that machine for size or weight. Acer claims the TravelMate 6292 weighs less than 2kg with its 6-cell battery in place: in fact, it tipped our scales at a few grams over 2kg — but not by enough for us to quibble.
The system's footprint on the desk is 30.6cm by 22.7cm, which is a touch bigger than a sheet of A4 paper.; it stands 3.45cm high at the back, tapering to 2.75cm at the front.
Acer says it has put a lot of effort into the general design of its new TravelMate range in order to provide better ergonomics, improved build quality and enhance overall durability. It has even given its new industrial design a name — ProFile. One of the elements of this new design is the incorporation of magnesium alloy into the TravelMate chassis for enhanced robustness. We were pleased to find that the display, in particular, is protected by a very solid lid section.
Unfortunately, the design enhancements have not extended to providing a clasp to hold the two sections of the TravelMate 6292 together when it's in transit. The lid section is slightly smaller than the main system unit, and around the side and back edges there's definitely room for foreign objects to encroach. A clasp would have held the two sections together firmly, protecting against pens and other detritus that easily find their way into notebook bags.
The slate-grey and black colour scheme, with one or two silver highlights, may not be the most original, but it's inoffensive and well suited to the TravelMate range's target business market.
The TravelMate 6292 has a 12.1in. wide-screen display with a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. This makes it wide enough for two document windows to be open at the same time, although the 800-pixel height can make things a little cramped.
The 12.1in. LCD incorporates Acer’s CrystalBrite technology which is designed to make the display clear and sharp, with good colour saturation. Although the image quality was good, we didn't find the TravelMate 6292's screen as bright as some of the — admittedly more reflective — examples we've seen from other vendors.
The 84-key keyboard is fine for touch typing, sporting large keys with plenty of travel. The full-sized number row is topped by a row of half-height function keys, while the right of the keyboard houses a vertically stacked row of ‘EasyLaunch’ buttons. There are separate buttons for turning Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off, which can’t be customised. The remaining three buttons are user-configurable, the default settings being to launch Internet Explorer, Outlook and the Acer button configuration utility. There's another shortcut button, at the top left of the keyboard; this is Acer’s Empowering Technology button, which by default brings up a range of system utilities on-screen. This you can also configure to your own liking.
Beneath the keyboard is the two-button touchpad. You can use its right side to scroll vertically through documents by holding a finger on it and then dragging upwards and downwards; horizontal scrolling is achieved by the same method using the bottom edge of the touchpad.
Beneath the touchpad, nestling between the left and right mouse buttons is a fingerprint sensor., while above the screen is Acer’s VGA-resolution Crystal Eye webcam. This is in a fixed position rather than on a swivel, which means that you need to adjust the whole screen to get a good angle for videoconferencing. The webcam lacks automatic face-tracking or zoom features, so you'll need to sit pretty still while you're on camera. The image quality is good, though.
Our review sample of the TravelMate 6292 ran Windows Vista Business. However, early shipping models will have Windows XP Professional SP2 installed, with Vista Business making an appearance further down the line. The quoted price of £875 (ex. VAT) is the price for the Windows XP Professional configuration.
The processor is Intel’s Core 2 Duo T7300 running at 2GHz, with 4MB of Level 2 cache and an 800MHz frontside bus (FSB). Our review sample had 2GB of RAM, which is a good fit for Vista. Graphics are handled by the Mobile Intel 965GM Express chipset — or more specifically the integrated GMA X3100 GPU, which has 8MB of dedicated video memory and can dynamically use up to 350MB of system memory.
Wireless connectivity is provided by Intel’s Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN. This is a key element of the Santa Rosa platform, adding Draft-N Wi-Fi support to 802.11a, b and g. To use the faster draft 802.11n wireless, you'll need a Draft-N router — but beware that such kit, even if 'certified', may not necessarily be upgradable to equipment that conforms to the final standard (not due until 2009).
As in previous TravelMate notebooks, Acer’s dual PIFAs (Planar Inverted-F Antennae) sit in the top of the screen lid — flagged by the SignalUp logo. This arrangement is designed to maximise both wireless range and performance. Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) is also present, and there's an infrared port on the fascia. Wired Ethernet connection comes courtesy of Broadcom’s NetLink Gigabit adapter.
Although the three core elements of Intel's Santa Rosa platform — processor, chipset and wireless — are present, there's no sign of the Turbo Memory (a.k.a. Robson) NAND flash hard disk cache or AMT 2.5 management technology in this notebook. This would make it a Centrino Duo system rather than a Centrino Pro — although our review sample didn't carry an Intel sticker.
The TravelMate 6292 is well equipped as far as storage is concerned. The hard drive is a capacious 160GB Hitachi unit, which spins at a respectable 5,400rpm. This benefits from Acer's DASP (Disk Anti-Shock Protection) technology, which helps to cushion the drive from accidental bumps and shocks.
The TravelMate 6292's chassis is large enough to accommodate an optical drive, in the shape of an 8X DVD-Super Multi double-layer drive on the right-hand side. In front of this is a flash card reader that supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO and xD media. Towards the back of the right-had edge are two USB 2.0 ports and the modem (RJ-11) connector.
The left-hand side houses the third USB 2.0 port, the Ethernet (RJ-45) connector and a Type II PC Card slot. Much of the back of the system is occupied by the removable 4,800mAh Li-ion battery, but there's space here for the mains power connector, plus VGA and S-Video ports. The infrared port sits on the fascia, alongside a four-pin FireWire (IEEE 1394) port and the audio connectors (line in, microphone and headphone). The stereo speakers are also on the front of the system.
One of Acer’s goals for the new ProFile design was 'optimised port placement', and for the most part the engineers have done a good job on this front. However, we would have preferred it if the pair of USB ports on the right-hand side were not vertically stacked, as the size and bulk of some periperals may make it difficult to use both at once.
Acer bundles a good range of software with the TravelMate 6292, including software for use with the fingerprint sensor and GridVista, which can be used to automatically tile open windows for maximum visibility. We have found that this is useful on notebooks with larger screens, but the TravelMate 6292's relatively small 12.1in. screen means you will rarely want more than two application windows opened at once.
Performance & battery life
Acer suggests that you'll get up to 5 hours of life from the standard 6-cell 4,800mAh battery, while the optional 9-cell 7,200mAh battery should deliver a claimed 7 hours. Unfortunately we were unable to test either battery life or performance as the industry-standard Vista-compatible benchmarks MobileMark 2007 and SysMark 2007 are not yet available in their final form. Even so, Acer's estimates seem reasonable, and although the precise mains-free longevity will depend on your usage pattern and power management settings, it would seem wise for anyone who requires a full working day on battery power to purchase the optional 9-cell battery.
As far as performance is concerned, the system's 2GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 processor, 2GB of RAM and GMA X3100 integrated graphics rendered it well capable of handling Vista and its fancy Aero graphics — especially if all you're contemplating is running mainstream business applications. However, Vista's internal benchmark, the Windows Experience Index, identified graphics as the lowest-performing subsystem with a score of 3.4 (out of maximum of 5.9). This suggests that the TravelMate 6292 could struggle with graphically demanding applications or configurations.
Service & support
The TravelMate 6292 comes with a one-year International Travellers' warranty, which is on the short side for a business system. Telephone support for out-of-warranty products is only available between 9am and 5.30pm on weekdays, and costs 50p per minute. The company's online support offering could stand some sprucing up; it does offer easy driver and manual downloads plus email support, but lacks such helpful features as forums and real-time chat with a tech-support representative.
The TravelMate 6292 packs in a solid range of features and although it stretches the definition of 'ultraportable', it does represent excellent value for money. We have some issues, though: ideally there would be more USB ports — or failing that, the two vertically stacked ones would be separated; we’d also prefer the webcam to swivel and the lid to have a catch mechanism.