Combining the svelteness of an ultraportable with the screen size of a larger laptop, the Acer TravelMate TimelineX 8481T attempts to deliver the best of both worlds for business users. This sleek system crams a 14-inch display into a 13.3-inch chassis, offers seriously long battery life, and weighs just 4 pounds. Small-business users will also appreciate this Core i5 notebook's solid performance and host of security features. Read on to find out if Acer has what it takes to take on the best small-business notebooks.
The Acer TravelMate 8481T-6440 has a modern, minimalist design. Aside from the gray brushed-metal Acer logo, the black matte metallic lid is bare, unless you count the scores of fingerprint smudges it gathered as soon as we touched it. The only other accents are the chrome-plated hinges.
The TravelMate's interior has the same black metallic motif as the exterior. A chiclet-style keyboard sits in a slightly recessed keyboard deck, while the display is surrounded by an impressively slim bezel. A row of buttons for the Launch Manager, InstantView Manager, Acer Backup Manager, Microphone audio control, and power sit above the keyboard in the top right-hand corner.
As with Acer's other TimelineX notebooks, the TravelMate 8481T is defined by its slim profile. At 4 pounds, it's lighter than competitors such as the 4.6-pound pound Toshiba Tecra R840 and the 4.4-pound Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s. The 8481T's petite 13 x 9.4 x 0.9-inch frame is only slightly smaller than the Tecra R840 (13.4 x 9.4 x 0.8-1.1 inches) as well as the E420s (13.7 x 9.3 x 1.2 inches).
The only thing that mars the 8481T's slimness is its battery, which protrudes about an inch out the back of the notebook. However, it tilts the keyboard toward the user, which some may find more comfortable for typing.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Acer 8481T's island-style keyboard has a generous amount of spacing between the flat keys, which provided solid feedback. We scored 50 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test with a one-percent error rate, which is comparable to our desktop keyboard score. We noticed that the deck exhibited a tiny amount of flex, but our bigger complaint is that this Timeline lacks a backlit keyboard. A $999 notebook should have one.
The relatively large 3.5 x 2.1-inch Synaptics touchpad allowed us to navigate around the desktop with ease. Gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolling, and rotation worked well. Highlighting and copying text was a breeze, as was starting and ending slideshows with a three-finger flick or launching Google Chrome with three-finger flick.
The two discrete mouse buttons on the Timeline X 8481T felt slightly mushy, but they still managed to be responsive. While we would have preferred that the fingerprint reader was placed somewhere on the palm rest instead of between the mouse buttons, we found it unobtrusive.
After streaming videos on Hulu for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured a temperate 88 degrees Fahrenheit while the space between the G and H keys measured 87 degrees. The 8481T's underside was a reasonable 92 degrees; we consider temperatures below 95 degrees comfortable.
Display and Audio
The super-slim bezel on the TimelineX 8481T allowed Acer to cram a 14.1-inch display into a chassis that would normally hold a 13.3-inch panel. Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" video was bright and vivid on the LED-backlit display. Even though matte displays aren't traditionally as rich as glossy screens, the 1366 x 768 screen on the 8481T offered bright cotton-candy pinks and emerald greens; the blacklight scenes at the end of the video were a sassy ultraviolet playland. When we watched The Three Musketeers 1080p full-screen YouTube trailer, the rich reds and opulent golds popped against a crystal-blue sky.
The audio on the TimelineX 8481T left something to be desired. We found ourselves straining to hear movie dialogue. Listening to music was slightly better, but it was not until we enabled the Loudness Equalization feature in the Realtek High Definition Speakers Control Panel that we got respectable sound. While the bass in Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" wasn't exactly super, it was passable and loud enough to fill a small room. Since the speakers are located on the bottom of the laptop, the audio was severely muted when the system was on our lap.
Ports and Webcam
The right side of the TimelineX 8481T houses two USB 2.0 ports, a Kensington lock slot, and the power port. A combo USB 3.0/eSATA port can be found on the left side along with HDMI, a headphone jack, a microphone port, Gigabite Ethernet, and a VGA port. A 5-in-1 card reader resides on the front lip of the 8481T.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam can capture stills in 1280 x 1024, but video is restricted to 1280 x 720p using the Acer Crystal Eye Webcam software. In our office, we saw bright, crisp images with warm colors and sharp detail. Images were a bit darker in natural light, and it was very difficult to make ourselves out under low light. When we made a few video calls using Skype, our callers reported clear images with sharp detail but complained that the audio faded in and out. We noticed a small amount of pixelation on our end, but audio came through loud clear.
Thanks to a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-2557M CPU with 4GB of RAM, the TravelMate 8481T scored 6,522 on PCMark Vantage. That's well above the 5,845 thin-and-light category average, but the Toshiba Tecra R840's 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2520M topped the 8481T with a score of 7,728. The 2.3-GHz Core i5-2410M CPU in the Lenovo E420s trailed both business-friendly laptops with a score of 6,290.
The TimelineX 8481T's 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive booted Windows Professional 7 64-bit in 58 seconds--7 seconds faster than the 65-second average. Still, the ThinkPad Edge E420s and Tecra R840, which also have 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drives, posted times of 44 and 54 seconds respectively.
On the file transfer test, the Acer 8481T duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 3 minutes and 13 seconds for a transfer rate of 26.4 MBps, a hair below the 27.5-MBps thin-and-light average.
The TravelMate TimelineX 8481T's Intel HD 3000 GPU scored 3,054 on 3DMark06, about 1,100 points below the 4,225 thin-and-light average. The E420s, which has the same GPU, scored 3,627, and the Tecra R840's AMD Radeon HD 6450M GPU with 1GB of VRAM returned a much higher 4,369.
Gaming on the Acer TravelMate proved to be a less than stellar experience. Playing World of Warcraft at 1366 x 768 on Good, the notebook scored an unimpressive 16 fps, far below the 84 fps category average. The ThinkPad Edge E420s notched 30 fps, while the Toshiba Tecra averaged 41 fps.
Carrying around the TravelMate's bulky eight-cell battery pays off. During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing via Wi-Fi) the TimelineX 8481T lasted an impressive 9 hours and 59 minutes--nearly twice the 5:24 thin-and-light average. The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s and Toshiba Tecra R840 posted respectible times of 6:41 and 6:34, respectively.
Our $999 Acer TravelMate 8481T-6440 came equipped with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-2557M CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and an Intel HD 3000 GPU. The $799 TravelMate 8473T-6450 base model features a 2.3-GHz Intel i5-2410M CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, and Intel HD 3000 graphics card. The $919 TravelMate 8473T-6484 offers a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2530M processor with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and an Intel HD 3000 GPU.
Acer ProShield provides multiple layers of security for business users, including pre-boot authentication, fingerprint registration, and multiple user passwords. We were impressed with the intuitive set up process, which took approximately 7 minutes to complete.
In case we misplaced the TravelMate, we could immediately wipe all of our important files using Absolute Data Secure. Available as a 60-day free trial, it allows users to pinpoint their notebook's location via the location-tracking software.
The Acer TravelMate 8481T comes with a modest package of software and utilities. Acer Backup Manager allowed us to back up our files, create an image file of our files, and transfer them to another computer.
Pressing the InstantView button located above the keyboard launched a file manager that allowed us to get instant access to recently viewed documents, PDFs, screenshots, and exported Outlook information--a handy feature. We also liked the Launch Manager, which allowed us to launch any utility, app, file, or website by pressing the P button located above the keyboard.
The NewsXpresso newsreader was our favorite application to use. In addition to the pre-installed news feeds (Finance, Lifestyles, News, Technology, and Travel), we were able to import our Google Reader newsfeeds and read them in catalogue or newspaper form, both of which are more aesthetically pleasing than Google Reader's format.
Third-party software include Skype, Windows Live, Microsoft Office Starter, web portals to Netflix and EBay, Norton Online Backup, a 60-day free trial of Absolute Data Protect, and McAfee Internet Security Suite.
At $999, Acer TravelMate TimelineX 8481T-6440 is one sleek and long-lasting laptop for highly mobile users. It offers a large 14-inch screen in a 13-inch size package, solid performance, very long battery life, and welcome security features. While we wish Acer included a backlit keyboard, this notebook is a very good choice for business users on the go. If you're looking to save some money, the $749 Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s offers comparable performance and a more comfortable keyboard, but is heavier and doesn't last as long on a charge. But if portability is paramount, then the TimelineX 8481T is the notebook to take with you on the road.