- ✓Comprehensive set of ports
- ✓intelligent design
- ✓good ergonomics, decent performance and battery life
- ✓2-year warranty
- ✓good value for money.
- ✕A little heavy
- ✕plastic not alloy lid
- ✕no expansion bus or port replicator.
Every now and again a notebook arrives for review whose design suggests that those behind it haven't simply opted for the cheapest and easiest way of doing things. Usually, products like this are encumbered by an eye-watering price tag, so the arrival of Acer's TravelMate TM273X was something of a welcome surprise. Despite its air of above-average quality, the TM273X costs an unexpectedly reasonable £849 (ex. VAT).
Obviously, when the price is relatively modest, you expect cuts and compromises, so we set out to find them. The first place to look, of course, is the spec sheet, but apart from the relatively small 20GB hard disk -- still a perfectly practical amount of storage for most people – we found nothing untoward there. The system is powered by a 1.7GHz Mobile Pentium 4-M processor, although our review sample actually came with a 1.6GHz chip, which should be borne in mind when considering the benchmark results. You get a sensible 256MB of memory as standard, and fast PC2100 DDR SDRAM at that, although the graphics controller integrated into the SiS chipset helps itself to 16MB for its own ends. Integrated graphics is often the mark of the cheaper system, but with a decent allocation of memory to start with, and a clear understanding that this is primarily a business tool intended for 2D Windows applications, it needn't be a problem. The screen remains an important contributor to the overall cost, but again, there was nothing amiss here. You get the expected combination of a 14.1in. diagonal with native XGA (1,024 by 768) resolution, and the result is a very readable, well-lit display with an acceptable range of viewing angles. Another area where manufacturers are fond of cutting corners is drives. Although the TM273X comes with a plain 24X CD-ROM, it also incorporates a floppy drive, which is more than can be said of many newer systems. In fact both drives are fixed, which is convenient and tidy, but does nudge the weight up -- in this case to a relatively hefty 3kg.
The TM273X's build quality is above average. The body of the notebook is dense and inflexible, and there are tell-tale signs of intelligent crafting such as a locking button for the battery release catch, and the way the hard disk pops neatly out of its recess thanks to a properly designed interface socket. The lid surface is plastic, and ideally we'd like to have seen alloy used here. However, it's still moderately pressure resistant, and you can't expect everything for £849 (ex. VAT). The keyboard is somewhat out of the ordinary, each row of keys describing a gentle curve toward the user -- presumably to improve the overall ergonomics. Typing is certainly comfortable, aided by large Enter, Tab, BkSp and Shift keys, and a pleasantly solid baseplate. The rounded contours of the keypad as a whole make a welcome change from the usual rectangular format, and give the TM273X a distinctive appearance -- which again, you don't really expect on such an affordable system. We also like the four-way scroll button below the touchpad, which makes this task much easier than it can be using the slightly unpredictable edge-scrolling function of many touchpads. Ports often get left off cheaper notebooks, but here again, the TN273X buck the trend. In fact, it has one of the most complete arrays of ports we've seen for a while, including parallel, serial, FireWire (IEEE 1394), TV-out, 3 USB sockets and even PS/2. The only thing missing is an expansion bus and an optional port replicator to go with it. A 10/100Base-TX LAN adapter and V.90 modem are both built in as standard, but perhaps not unreasonably, Acer stops short of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. A pair of Type II PC Card slots provides the expansion capability to add either if you need them in the future.
Bearing in mind that our review sample was slightly slower than the 1.7GHz machine now available, the benchmark results were encouraging. The TM273X scored a respectable 34.5 under Business Winstone 2001 and a solid 22.8 on Content Creation Winstone 2002. Battery life is fair for a notebook of this class, with BatteryMark 4.01 returning a timing of 2 hours and 34 minutes. As with performance -- and pretty well everything else about this system -- this is very acceptable for what's almost a budget machine. The same goes for the 2-year collect and return warranty -- especially as it gives you additional international carry-in cover for the first year. We liked the TravelMate TM273X for a number of reasons, all of which revolved around the feeling that it was better designed, better made and -- in some areas -- better specified that the price led us to expect.