The TravelMate 4720 shows why Acer is keeping other notebook manufacturers up at night: It's a solid business portable at a very attractive price. Granted, this thin-and-light doesn't have every feature a buyer might want--there is no wireless broadband option or webcam, for instance--but it's got enough features and performance to make its $999 price very enticing.
Like the consumer-oriented Aspire 4710 we recently tested, the TravelMate 4720 employs an industrial design by BMW Group DesignworksUSA. At 5.6 pounds and 1.6 inches thick, the TravelMate 4720 isn't the sveltest thin-and-light, but the rounded edges and matte charcoal-and-black color scheme are an improvement over Acer's previous plasticky slabs, though the look still won't turn any heads (which is likely fine for a business box). One design choice we don't like is the number of ports and switches on the machine's front edge: FireWire, USB, headphone, mic, audio, and toggles for the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios. It's just too busy and not terribly practical (especially for use on an airplane tray table). You'll also find three more USB 2.0 ports, S-Video and VGA connectors, LAN, modem, a PC Card slot, and a memory card reader that supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick, and xD.
We have no issues with the 14.1-inch widescreen, however. The matte finish cuts down on glare from fluorescent lights, and its 1280 x 800-pixel resolution makes for sharp, legible text. The screen is notably bright, and colors are rich and vibrant, though the antiglare coating means images and DVD movies don't pop as much as they would on a glossy screen. The built-in speakers deliver decent sound: not as much bass as some multimedia laptops we've tested, but enough volume and clarity to make the machine usable as a presentation device around a conference table. And speaking of sound, the TravelMate 4720 is whisper-quiet. You'd have to lean in to hear the cooling fan when it kicks on.
This unit includes Acer's full-sized ergonomic keyboard, which has a slight smile-like curve to it. It's not so different from a standard keyboard as to throw off your typing, and Acer claims it's better for your wrists. The touchpad and its mouse buttons are smaller than they should be given keyboard's size, but we are happy to see the fingerprint reader nestled there. While Acer included dedicated buttons for its e-Tools utilities and launching your e-mail and browser, it neglected to carve out space for multimedia control keys--not even volume buttons.
The stock configuration of the TravelMate 4720 we tested delivers a good set of features for the price. You get a speedy 2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 processor, 1GB of RAM, 120GB hard drive, Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics, an 8X DVD+/-RW drive, and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi. That 1GB of RAM is sufficient for handling the preloaded Windows XP most businesses are still using, and you can upgrade the machine to 4GB of RAM should you switch to Vista down the road (the X3100 graphics engine can handle all Vista's visual effects). You also get NTI's CD/DVD creation suite and backup program.
The TravelMate 4720 was a decidedly mid-pack performer among thin-and-lights, but given its price, that's more than acceptable. It booted XP in a refreshingly quick 40 seconds and scored a respectable 175 on MobileMark 2007 and 3,395 on PCMark05, but its 3DMark03 score of 1,267 shows it's no gaming rig. The TravelMate's 802.11g wireless throughput was a little below average (16.5 Mbps 15 feet from our access point), but at 50 feet throughput was an above-average 17.4 Mbps. Battery life from the included extended battery was excellent, at just over five and a half hours.
Best suited for small and mid-sized businesses, the TravelMate 4720 lacks some of the IT-friendly extras you get with the corporate-focused notebooks from Dell's Latitude offerings, HP's Compaq division, and Lenovo's ThinkPad line. While Acer preloads its e-Tools suite of recovery and system programs, it lacks the management software and stable OS images promised by its competitors. Also, though it doesn't include an active protection system, it does have a shock-mounted hard drive. Also missing is embedded wireless broadband for go-anywhere high-speed connectivity. While enterprises often prefer the cards, small-business users would likely appreciate this option.
The Acer TravelMate 4720-6727 is an eminently capable business notebook for buyers who don't want to spend $1,500 or more on a portable companion. If you can live with its (very few) shortcomings, you'll get a powerful machine and save a few hundred dollars in the deal.
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