Ultraportable laptops are popular with frequent travelers and aesthetic minimalists, but premium prices and low-end components often make them a tough sell. We've been happy to see a couple of lower-price 12-inch laptops of late, including the $899 Averatec 2371 and, for $150 more, this $1,049 model from Acer, the TravelMate 6291. While the Acer's Core 2 Duo CPU easily beats the AMD-based Averatec, this system isn't part of Intel's revamped Centrino Duo platform (its Centrino Duo sticker denotes the pre-Santa Rosa, dual-core platform; Intel really ought to hire someone to make clearer its platform marketing.) Still, it's a solid incremental upgrade from the cheaper Averatec, and a good choice for an inexpensive Intel-based ultraportable where your options are limited. If you're willing to spend more, high-end ultraportables such as the Lenovo X61s offer faster processors, more features, and better industrial design.
|Price as reviewed||$1,049|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500|
|Memory||1GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||120GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945GM|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel 945GM|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Business|
|Dimensions (WDH)||12.0 x 8.9 x 1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||12.1 inches|
|System weight / weight with AC adapter||4.5/5.3 pounds|
Slightly larger than other recent ultraportables, such as the Lenovo 3000 V200 and Averatec 2371, the Acer TravelMate 6291 is still a very portable package. The generic all-over black design won't turn any heads, but the solid hinges and stiff lid cover make us feel confident about taking it on extended road trips.
The keyboard makes the standard ultraportable sacrifices, such as doubling the page-up and page-down keys, but it feels comfortable and not too cramped overall. The touch pad includes a handy four-way directional button between the two mouse buttons. There's also a row of quick-launch buttons along the right side of the keyboard tray--a departure from the usual location above the keyboard. While the practical impact is minimal, it's a nice change of pace. The buttons can control the Wi-Fi antenna and Bluetooth, and launch a Web browser and e-mail program.
A separate button, marked "e" sits above the keyboard. Apparently the "e" stands for Empowering Technology, and pressing this button brings up Acer's proprietary widget toolbar, with tools for managing Internet connections, monitoring power options, and changing security settings. It's a useful suite of tools, but offers no new features that Windows Vista can't handle on its own.
The 12.1-inch display features a standard 1,280x800 native resolution, which offers an optimal balance of screen real estate and readability for this size display. The screen had a nonreflective matte coating, which we often prefer to glossy screens--particularly with smaller screens meant primarily for productivity. Overall, images appeared slightly sharper than on the similar Averatec 2371.
|Acer TravelMate 6291||Average for ultraportable category|
|Video||VGA, S-video out||VGA-out|
|Audio||Headphone/microphone/line-in jacks||Headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader||2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||Type I/II PC Card slot||Type I/II PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||None, or DVD burner|
The Acer TravelMate 6291 has a perfectly acceptable set of connections for a laptop of its size, but we're getting to the point where we generally expect a new laptop to include 802.11n support (via Draft N).
As a fixed-configuration system, you don't have any choice of processor, hard drive, or other components, and this is the first non-Santa Rosa Intel-based system we've seen since the Centrino Duo platform was overhauled in early May, placing it a little behind the curve. But for a little over $1,000, this 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500-based laptop performed well, falling slightly behind newer T7000-series laptops such as the Lenovo 3000 N200. Like any dual-core laptop, the TravelMate 6291 can handle common Web surfing, office applications and basic multitasking with little, if any, stuttering or slowdown. For heavy-duty tasks--encoding video files or working with large Photoshop files--we'd take the Acer over the AMD-based Averatec.
The Acer TravelMate 6291 ran for two hours and 10 minutes on our DVD battery drain test using the included six-cell battery, which is very good for an ultraportable laptop--especially considering that our DVD battery drain test is grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web-surfing and office use.
Acer backs the system with an industry-standard, one-year parts and labor warranty. Adding two years of additional coverage runs $99. Telephone support is toll-free, and runs Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST. We were pleased to see that Acer's support Web site, which is notoriously flaky, was actually up and running, and we were able to find an e-mail form, some basic FAQs, and driver downloads.