There aren't many thin-and-light notebooks that sell for under AU$3000, which has put them out of reach for many. Fortunately, Acer has come in to fill the hole with its TravelMate 3010. Don't be fooled by the price tag -- the 3010 is well-equipped to compete with the best of them.
As hinted by the product name, Acer's TravelMate 3010 is designed for use on your daily travels. It weighs just 1.5kg and, with dimensions of 297.5 by 210 by 24.5 mm, you'll hardly notice it in your backpack.
In an effort to keep manufacturing costs low, Acer has decided to build the 3010 using mostly plastic. Of course, this also detracts from its build quality and sturdiness. Although the type of plastic chosen is fairly solid and should handle the daily grind, the quality difference -- both physical and aesthetic -- between the 3010 and, for example, a Sony VAIO, is definitely noticeable.
We were for the most part impressed with the device's port layout -- two USB 2.0, LAN, modem and VGA-Out ports on the left; and one USB 2.0, one Firewire, PC Card and a memory card reader on the right. Down the front lie switches to disable the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips (for conserving battery life) and headphone/microphone jacks. One small qualm: it's easy to flick the switches accidentally, which soon becomes frustrating.
The rear of the device is bare save for an Acer ezDock connector. The optional ezDock will set you back AU$399; it's far from a necessity, but includes a number of handy ports. These include 6 USB 2.0, Express Card, PC Card, Firewire, DVI, VGA, TV-Out, digital audio and a load of legacy connectors for older peripherals.
The keyboard and trackpad are comfortable to use for extended periods, but we did find the trackpad's texture a little rough for our tastes.
The TravelMate 3010 is one of the first ultra-portable laptops to be based around the Intel Centrino Duo platform. It packs a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 512MB of DDR2-533 memory and an 80GB hard drive, which is fairly standard for a contemporary ultra-portable.
Its 12.1-inch screen offers up a widescreen pixel resolution of 1280x800, providing plenty of desktop space for working with multiple applications. It's great on paper, but in actual use we were disappointed with its lack of vibrancy and brightness. Colours appear dull, even with the brightness setting cranked up high.
Built into the screen is a 1.3-megapixel camera, which comes in handy when video conferencing.
Very impressive is the fact that the notebook comes with two batteries -- a six-cell and a three-cell. This ensures that you've got a backup should you run out of juice on the road, and greatly increases total battery life as discussed under "Performance".
Disappointingly, the DVD writer comes as an external unit, which connects to the laptop's only Firewire port. This decision was obviously made to reduce the size and weight of the unit, but if you're a frequent user of optical storage it also adds unnecessary bulk.
As far as wireless connectivity is concerned, the 3010 is fully-featured, offering up Bluetooth and Infra-red in addition to regular 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi.
The notebook comes with Acer's "Empowering Technology" software pre-installed. It's essentially a suite of applications designed to aid business users, and includes utilities such as power management, backup and recovery, presentation management and data encryption. Frankly, we found the software to be more annoying than useful, as it sits on top of the regular interface and can't be disabled.
Curiously, the power management utility included by Acer comes with questionable default settings. When the power cable is unplugged, the screen automatically becomes so dark that it's almost unreadable. We're not sure whether or not this was done to artificially increase reviewers' benchmark scores, but you'll certainly want to tweak these settings from the get-go.
The raw performance of the 3010 impressed us, particularly considering that it's an ultra-portable. We recorded a MobileMark2005 office productivity score of 227, which is on-par with the desktop replacement NEC VERSA P8210 notebook that scored 223. The fact that the P8210 uses a faster 1.83GHz processor makes this feat even more impressive.
Battery life is also stellar. The six-cell battery took 185 minutes to wind down, while the additional three-cell battery lasted for 99 minutes. All up, this gives a total battery life of just under five hours, which should keep you going for most of the time you're on the road each day.
The Acer TravelMate 3010 comes with a three-year pickup and return warranty.