- ✓Very tough chassis
- ✓Thin and lightweight
- ✓Comparatively large screen
- ✓Fast-boot InstantView OS
- ✓Good battery life
- ✕Too much flex in the keyboard
- ✕No optical drive
Acer's new TravelMate Timeline 8481T is designed to deliver top-grade performance in a super-slim chassis. Its ultra-thin screen bezel fits a 14in. screen into what's more usually a 13in. footprint, and there are other features intended to attract professionals who need to carry a notebook regularly. The TravelMate Timeline 8481T has a starting price of £699 (ex. VAT). Our review sample came from Save on Laptops, and was the entry level model.
The TravelMate Timeline 8481T has a magnesium-aluminium chassis that's designed to combine thin-and-light dimensions with robustness. Given that this is a notebook designed for travel, we'd have liked to see a clasp between the lid and base sections to help prevent the ingress of dust and foreign objects in transit.
The lid section is very thin indeed — we measured it at just 5.5mm. We'd normally expect a lid this thin to bow significantly in the centre under pressure, but that's not the case here. The entire lid section does bend if forced, but that's unlikely to happen often. Pressure usually comes from things sitting on top of a notebook, or pushing into it during transit: against assaults like these, the TravelMate Timeline 8481T is well protected.
This notebook has a slightly unusual design, in that the battery pack is angular rather than flat. The battery forms a stand that raises the back of the notebook a fair distance from the desktop, and is largely why the 8481T's chassis does not get thicker towards the back. Its 32.8cm by 25.2cm footprint is unremarkable, but its maximum thickness of 2.2cm is impressive — as is the 1.75kg weight.
A notebook of this size would usually have a 13in. screen, but Acer has built a 14in. display into the TravelMate Timeline 8481T by using a frameless design that incorporates almost no screen bezel. The extra viewing area is appealing, but it's a shame that the screen resolution is only 1,366 by 768 pixels. A resolution of 1600 by 900 pixels would have sat very well here.
The screen itself is rather quaintly termed an 'Acer ComfyView LCD LED-backlit display'. It has a matte finish, so there are no reflectivity issues when working with a light source behind you, and colours are vibrant and sharp. Viewing angles are not the best, but are perfectly adequate.
The keyboard is an Acer FineTouch model. The chiclet-style design in which keys are separated rather than contiguous helps with typing accuracy, and the keys depress well and deliver good audible feedback. The enlarged Enter key is easy to hit, although we did sometimes hit the PgUp and PgDn keys, which are part of a vertical column to the right. Intuitively we make for the far right of the keyboard area when touch typing, and that leads to mishits.
The right-hand key column also contains media playback controls, invoked via the Fn key; the cursor keys offer Fn-key screen brightness and volume controls.
Typing at the slightly raised angle created by the protruding battery takes a little getting used to, but is no problem. However, we do have two big issues with the keyboard.
First, it exhibits a great deal of flex, which is more pronounced in the centre than at the edges. Heavy-handed typists may find this too much for them. Second, the keys themselves are well raised from the baseplate — it would have been easy to pull a key off, and we wonder how robust the keys will prove over time.
The touchpad is larger than usual and allows you to get the cursor across the entire screen in a single sweep. It incorporates multitouch for zooming and scrolling, and is one of the most responsive of its kind we've tried. Large buttons beneath the touchpad are separated by a fingerprint scanner.
Above the keyboard on the right is a row of buttons. The on/off switch is here, along with a programmable quick-launch button, a launcher for the Acer backup manager, a volume mute button and an InstantView button (of which more later). A webcam sits above the screen.
Our review sample of the TravelMate Timeline 8481T has a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor supported by 3GB of RAM, expandable to a maximum of 8GB. The operating system is Windows 7 Professional, 64-bit.
Graphics in our review sample are provided by Intel's CPU-integrated HD 3000 module, although you can opt for a Nvidia GPU. Storage in our review sample is provided by a shock-protected 320GB hard drive, with solid-state options up to 64GB also available.
For connectivity there's Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth (3.0+HS). The TravelMate Timeline 8481T also supports Intel Wireless Display, allowing you to deliver presentations and other content to HD displays or TVs without a cabled connection.
Acer says the TravelMate Timeline 8481T incorporates its Acer DustDefender technology, which allows the fan to reverse direction and push dust out of the system, helping prevent potentially harmful buildup.
There's a decent collection of connectors and ports. On the front is a reader for SD-compatible media and a physical switch for the Wi-Fi. The left side houses Ethernet (RJ-45), VGA-out, HDMI, eSATA and USB 3.0 ports, plus a pair of audio ports.
On the right edge are two further USB ports, close enough together that one could be obscured by a larger peripheral such as a mobile broadband dongle in the other. There is no optical drive.
The aforementioned InstantView is a Linux-based OS into which you can boot by pressing a button above the keyboard — next to the on/off switch. Acer says this boots in about eight seconds, although it took about ten seconds in our tests. InstantView provides a calendar, calculator, contacts, documents via a viewer for Word, PowerPoint and PDF, plus a web browser, and a note-taker applet.
You can jump into Windows proper via an on-screen icon, whereupon you'll have to wait for the usual Windows boot process to complete.
The TravelMate Timeline 8481T's Windows Experience Index (WEI) score of 5.4 (out of 7.9) is slightly lower than we might have expected in a Core i5 notebook. Variance around that score is not very great, with the highest component score of 6.3 for Processor (calculations per second).
Next is 6.0 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance), followed by 5.9 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), 5.5 for RAM (Memory operations per second) and finally 5.4 for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero).
Acer says the TravelMate Timeline 8481T's battery can deliver up to 13 hours of life, although our experience suggests that you may require unfeasibly stringent power management to achieve this.
We tested the battery by playing movie footage from a USB drive, having selected the 'balanced' power scheme. We got playback for a very impressive 7 hours 31 minutes. On this basis, we suspect a fair proportion of users could get through a full working day on battery power alone.
The slimline TravelMate Timeline 8481T is a robust notebook with impressive battery life. Its 14in. screen is large given the available space, although we'd have liked a higher resolution, and the keyboard has too much flex for our taste. The fast-boot InstantView OS has some value, but we found ourselves hankering for full-on Windows every time we used it.