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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.
The 8371 has an adequately large 320GB hard drive. Should your documents contain sensitive information, the 8371's biometric security system -- a fingerprint reader between the mouse selector buttons -- should ensure they stay safe from unauthorised snoopers. The system isn't completely fool-proof -- we've heard stories of determined hackers lifting fingerprints from the surfaces of stolen laptops -- but it's far more convenient than remembering a lengthy password.
The 8371 proudly sports the Intel Centrino logo, a nod to the fact it has strong wireless capabilities. The machine is also fairly versatile in this regard, packing a Wi-Fi adaptor that's capable of connecting to high-speed 802.11n Wi-Fi networks in addition to the more common 802.11a/b/g networks used in most homes and public hotspots. Bluetooth 2.1+EDR also makes an appearance, and there's even an optional WWAN module. This allows users to insert a 3G SIM card into a slot beneath the battery to enable go-anywhere Internet access. That's a useful feature for anyone that doesn't want to use a bulky USB dongle.
We weren't expecting a great deal in terms of the 8371's performance, but it put in a relatively impressive showing. Its 1.4GHz SU9400 CPU scored 2,982 in the PCMark05 benchmark test, which is roughly 33 per cent more than we've seen from the Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500, a commonly used chip in laptops of this class. As a result, the laptop lends itself well to just about anything you can throw at it, barring hardcore video encoding. It scored an embarrassingly low 742 in 3DMark06, though.
Predictably, battery life proved more solid. The 8371 lasted an impressive 3 hours and 48 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test. It's not quite the 8 hours and 30 minutes that Acer claims it'll last, but it's not bad.
We like the Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371. It's attractive in an understated sort of way, offers strong performance and boasts good battery life. Laptops such as the MSI X340 might suit a more fashion-conscious crowd, but, all things considered, we'd rather spend our money on the 8371.
Edited by Charles Kloet