If the Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371 were a bowl of porridge, it'd belong to baby bear. It's not so large that it'll break your back on a road trip, and not so small that you need the fingers of a four-year-old girl to operate it. It is, in principle, just right. Available in three main configurations, our mid-range review sample boasts the full product name Acer TravelMate Timeline TM8371-944G32 N, and retails for around £700.
The 8371 is a cool-looking customer. Consumer laptops often feature glossy panels and gaudy accoutrements, but this machine flies below the fashion radar. Some may argue its matte black finish gives it a very formal, almost boring, aesthetic, but we'd disagree. It's understated, yes, but it's also very attractive, and the fact that it isn't as shiny as some of its rivals means it's easier to keep it free of fingerprint smudges.
Open the lid and the no-nonsense trend continues. A large keyboard takes pride of place, and we're happy to report that it's a pleasure to use. The keys are of a good size, and there's adequate space between each, which helps to ensure typos are kept to a minimum. The grey mouse trackpad clashes slightly with the otherwise matte black laptop, but it is gesture-sensitive, allowing users to scroll through documents by tracing a circular pattern, or to zoom in and out of documents by making a pinching or stretching gesture.
The 8371 doesn't have a huge number or wide variety of ports. The left side is equipped with a D-Sub video output, as well as a single USB port and headphone and mic jacks. The right side houses a couple more USB ports, an Ethernet jack, and an Acer EasyPort IV connector, to which you can attach a port replicator or docking station. This may come in handy for those who require DVI video output or additional USB ports, but it's a clunky solution we'd rather do without.
Beneath the 8371's austere facade is a fashionable new CPU. The laptop uses an Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 chip, part of Intel's trendy 'consumer ultra-low-voltage' series. As the name implies, the CULV range is designed for users who value battery life over performance, although its dual-core architecture and relatively generous 4GB of accompanying RAM help ensure most applications launch quickly and run smoothly.
The 8371 is ostensibly a business laptop, so we weren't surprised to learn it lacks a gaming-capable graphics card. Its integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD should probably be called before a court of law for breaching the Trade Descriptions Act. It accelerates graphics alright, but only if the graphics in question are those generated by the card game Solitaire or a PowerPoint presentation. Those who require more 3D horsepower have the option of buying a version of the laptop that features the more capable ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330.
The laptop's 13.3-inch screen lends itself well to displaying multimedia content, or anything else for that matter. Its 1,366x768-pixel resolution gives you enough room to have a couple of application windows open side by side, and its matte coating means it can be used in a variety of lighting conditions, including, crucially, outdoors. As is the case with most laptops, its vertical viewing angle is limited but, on the whole, we've very few complaints about the display.