Work doesn't end just because you're in the sky or on the road, so a business laptop needs to be able to keep up with your travels. Acer's $1,164 ($957 to start) is built solidly and performs well, but it has a shallow keyboard and a somewhat dim screen. While you do get a discrete graphics card (which you don't usually get in a business notebook in this price range), Thunderbolt 3 and support for the new 802.11ad Wi-Fi standard, the other weaknesses are hard to ignore.
The TravelMate's design isn't exactly adventurous; it's a minimalist motif that you see on just about every business notebook. The glass-and-carbon-fiber lid is plain and black, with the exception of a silver Acer badge on the top-right corner and the words "Carbon Fiber Chassis" printed in gray on the top-left corner. The computer is built solidly and feels like it could take a fall.
Opening the lid reveals the 14-inch, 1080p display with minimal bezel on the sides; the backlit, island-style keyboard; and black magnesium deck.
Acer's laptop has a smaller footprint than some of its competitors. The 3.6-pound notebook measures 12.9 x 9.3 x 0.8 inches. The Lenovo ThinkPad T460 is smaller but heavier at (13.4 x 9.2 x 0.8 inches) is heavier, at 3.8 pounds. The Toshiba Tecra Z40-C (13.3 x 9.3 x 0.8 inches) and Dell Latitude E7470 (13.2 x 9.1 x 0.8 inches) are both larger but lighter, at 3.4 pounds.
Durability and Security
Acer couldn't name this laptop a TravelMate without making it tough enough to be taken on an airplane or on the road. Acer claims that the TravelMate P648 is MIL-STD-810G tested against vibrations, shocks and extreme temperatures, so it should be fine when you jam your laptop bag into an overhead compartment. In addition, the notebook features a spill-resistant keyboard.
There are some tools to keep your data safe, too. The TravelMate features a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) to protect biometric and sensitive data, as well as a fingerprint reader that supports Windows Hello. The included Acer Office Manager app lets IT departments deploy antivirus software and safety policies, while ProShield lets you manage security features such as TPM and drive encryption.
Ports and Connectivity
Whether your office is using the latest peripherals and monitors or holding onto relics of yesteryear, the TravelMate P648 has ports that will work. The left side of the notebook houses an Ethernet jack, a VGA port, HDMI output, a USB 3.0 port, a Thunderbolt 3 port and a headphone jack.
On the right are a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a lock slot and the power jack. An SD card slot is on the front of the deck, just under the palm rest.
The TravelMate is the first laptop that we've tested that supports 802.11ad Wi-Fi with wireless speeds up to 4.6 GBps over a 60-GHz band. There are very few wireless routers that support this standard right now, but if you can find one, you can get the fastest internet speeds around.
You'll want to turn up the brightness all the way when watching videos on the TravelMate's 14-inch, 1080p display, but when you do, you'll find the colors are bland and boring. I watched the Wonder Woman trailer and was disappointed to see that Diana's red, blue and gold armor didn't pop, even in bright scenes.
The TravelMate's display covered just 61 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is lower than the thin-and-light-notebook category average of 79 percent. Both the ThinkPad T460 (67 percent) and the Tecra Z40 (72 percent) were also below average, while the Latitude E7470 reproduced an excellent 118 percent.
Acer's display isn't the most accurate, either. Its Delta-E score of 1.2 (the closer to 0, the better). is better than the category average of 2.16 and the Tecra Z40's horrid score of 6, but the Latitude E7470 (0.5) and the ThinkPad T460 (0.2) were far more precise.
The TravelMate's screen has an average brightness of 230 nits, which is short of the 246-nit category average. The Tecra Z40 (208 nits) is dimmer, while the ThinkPad T460 just missed the average, with 242 nits. The Latitude E7470 was far brighter than the rest, at 338 nits.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I had a hard time getting work done on the TravelMate P648. With just 1.2 millimeters of travel (we prefer 1.5 to 2 mm), the keys are shallow. To make things worse, they bottomed out quickly when I applied the 61 grams of force required to press them.
On the10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 107 words per minute (just under my 110-wpm average), but my errors skyrocketed from an average of 2 percent to 7 percent on the TravelMate's keyboard. On the bright side, there was absolutely didn't flex at all while I typed.
The 3.8 x 2.1-inch Synaptics touchpad is large enough to navigate Windows, and its smooth texture was comfortable against my fingers. But it doesn't support all of Windows 10's gestures. While two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom worked as expected, I couldn't minimize windows or show all of my open programs with three- and four-finger swipes.
The speakers on the TravelMate P648 produced sound loud enough to fill our midsize meeting room, but the audio wasn't balanced. When I listened to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," the vocals, guitar and percussion were crystal clear, but they drowned out the song's iconic bass line, which sounded tepid at best.
The TravelMate we reviewed came with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive and Nvidia GeForce 940M graphics with 2GB of VRAM. It's a fine multitasker; I had 25 tabs open in Google Chrome (one of which was streaming a 1080p episode of Last Week Tonight from YouTube), and there wasn't any lag.
On Geekbench 3, an overall performance test, the TravelMate earned a score of 7,014, which is higher than the thin-and-light-notebook category average of 6,644. The Tecra Z40 (Core i7-6660U; 6,835), the ThinkPad T460 (Core i5-6300U; 6,708) and the Latitude E7470 (Core i5-6200U; 6,059) all fared worse than Acer's laptop.
The TravelMate's SSD transferred 4.97GB of mixed media files in 29 seconds, for a transfer rate of 175.5 megabytes per second (the ThinkPad T460 transferred at the same rate), surpassing the 138.6-MBps average. The Latitude E7470's SSD was a tad slower, with a rate of 132.3 MBps, and the Tecra Z40's standard hard drive couldn't compete with the others, with a rate of 30.1 MBps.
It took 4 minutes and 5 seconds for the TravelMate to pair 20,000 names and addresses in our OpenOffice spreadsheet macro test. The category average is a longer 5:34. Both the ThinkPad T460 (4:14) and the Latitude E7470 (4:30) took longer than the TravelMate, while the Tecra Z40 (3:41) was faster.
The discrete graphics card in the TravelMate isn't powerful enough for heavy gaming, including our tests for Metro: Last Light and Rainbow 6 Siege. That extra graphical boost may be enough, however, to speed up your Photoshop macros and play lighter games like World of Warcraft.
The TravelMate notched a score of 87,876 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark. That's far higher than the category average of 58,330 and its competitors with integrated Intel HD Graphics 520: the ThinkPad T460 (64,981), Latitude E7470 (59,801) and Tecra Z40-C (58,445).
Get an airplane seat with an outlet -- the TravelMate may not make it through your cross-country flight. It lasted for 7 hours and 7 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuously browsing the web over 802.11ac Wi-Fi -- and that's with no other apps open. The thin-and-light category average is 8:10, and competitors lasted longer.
The Latitude E7470 endured for 9:16, the Tecra Z40-C survived for 9:21 and the ThinkPad T460 lasted 8:26 with its standard battery (17:04 with an extended battery).
The 720p webcam on the TravelMate takes grainy, pixelated photos. In a selfie I took with the camera, my shirt was the wrong shade of green, my beard looked like it was drawn onto my face and everything was blurry.
The TravelMate will stay nice and cool during your work and your travels. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the bottom of the laptop reached 92.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the center of the keyboard reached 93 degrees and the touchpad measured 80.5 degrees. All of these temperatures are below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Software and Warranty
For a business laptop, the TravelMate P648 comes with a lot of bloatware. Firefox, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Flipboard, Twitter and trials of Avast SecureLine (90 days) and Foxit PhantomPDF (30 days) come preinstalled.
Acer's software is more useful. ControlCenter lets you see your computer's health and hardware configuration, and DustDefender reverses system airflow to clean the vents. Portal lets you store documents in the cloud, Power Management lets you see what's consuming battery life, and Recovery Management helps you make and restore from backups. The least-useful piece of software from Acer is Explorer, which is for downloading software, games and antivirus software from its partners.
We reviewed a $1,164 model of the Acer TravelMate P648 with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, Nvidia GeForce 940M graphics with 2GB of VRAM, and a 1080p display.
The base model retails for $976 and includes an Intel Core i5-6200U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, no discrete graphics and a 1366 x 768 display. The $1,040 model upgrades to a Core i5-6300 CPU, and $1,122 gets you a Core i7-6500U CPU. If you want a 1080p display, you need to get the souped-up model we reviewed.
The Acer TravelMate P648 has the looks of a solid business laptop, and it has solid power, too. But its lackluster display and shallow keyboard are poor tools for work, and its battery won't last a full day at the office and maybe not through a long flight.
You'd be better off checking out the Lenovo ThinkPad T460 (starting at $674), our favorite business notebook on the market. It's powerful and durable, and has a first-rate keyboard. And if you buy an extended battery, you can get 17 hours on a charge. The ThinkPad's display isn't much of an improvement over the TravelMate, though. For a better display, take a look at the Dell Latitude E7470 (starting at $1,079).