The notebook that I'm going to be reviewing is the ACER TRAVELMATE 4402 Wlmi. From what I've read, this notebook, along with the MSI-1029 are two of the best value dollar for dollar for quality notebooks that you can get at the moment. the technical specs of the notebook for those who dont already know them off by heart are:
- AMD Turion ML-30 at 1.6 ghz
- 15.4 WXGA TFT LCD non-brite view
- ATI mobility Radeon X700 64mb
- 100 gb HD ( which is really 93 gb of usable space )
- DVD super multi drive
- 512 MB DDR RAM
- 802.11g onboard wireless LAN
- multi card reader
- 4 USB ports
- firewire port
- S-video, VGA-out
Alright, I'll start with listing off what my criteria for a notebook was before I bought it. I am a first year university student who would be replacing his desktop with a notebook, so I needed a notebook that was
1. relatively lightweight
2. power efficient/long battery life
3. very good specs; essentially powerful enough to..
- to replace my desktop
- play the latest games
- do some video editing
- run photoshop and flash very quickly
- do general desktop work
- multitasking winamp, several firefox windows, several msn convos, BSplayer, and maybe a few other background aps
5. aesthetically pleasing
6. high quality / brand name
So I will address all of these issues in the order presented, and how the notebook has held up in its first month of service.
Since I am a first year student in university, and I commute to school, I needed a notebook that was lightweight enough to be carried around from class to class, and would not be too heavy or cumbersome for my lap, and would not become an annoyance if I ended up not needing it that particular day and it just sat in my bag. The notebook itself weighs 6 and a half pounds. I always bring the power bar and that weights in at a pound, so together it comes in at around 7.5 pounds. I use a laptop backpack style bag instead of a messenger styled one, as it allows me to carry my books for classes more easilly. WIth just the notebook and the powerbar, the weight does not bother me at all, but once you start adding in one or two university textbooks, the weight does get a bit bothersome. However in terms of the notebook itself, it does not feel heavy.
2. BATTERY LIFE
In the last month and a half or so, I have used my notebook almost everyday on battery for extended periods of time. My classes last about an hour and a half each, and with real world in class use, I can get through over 2 classes ( almost 4 hours ) of lectures with the brightness set to lowest, and running only word processing. Once you turn on the wireless, with the brightness still at 40%, and word processing in the background, you can get about 3 hours and 15 minutes. If you start running multimedia aps, while word processing, using MSN, and going online, and bumping the brightness up to max, then I would estimate about just under 2 hours ( ~1:48 ). I usually do this if I know I will have a break between classes when I can charge ( charging is very fast, even when you are using the notebook while charghing. It will take about an hour and a half to charge from 8% to 95% ). I'm not a big fan of carrying around DVDs, as I just have all my media on the notebook in DIVX encoded avi. files, But I have tested it, and you can get through a 2 and a half hour movie no problem, as long as you turn off the wireless. All in all, this notebook is not a thin and light with mindblowing battery life, but if you conserve your energy and are smart with your use, then you should have absolutely no problems with the battery life. The Turion processor is awesome.
3. SPECS / POWER
Okay, so we are getting to the real meat of the review, and probably the part people are interested in the most. First let me say that as a university student, this laptop had to replace my desktop. Right off the bat, this notebook absolutely destroyed my obsolete HP pavillion with a 1.3 ghz celeron
processor, 512 mb of SD ram, a 16 mb integrated graphics card, and a 60 gb hd. The new AMD Turion absolutely blows my old computer out of the water. It also decimates most of my friends' notebooks, especially those with Pentium 4, Athlon, or Celeron (LOL...sorry) processors. The Turion is a real piece of work. Sure the Centrino *may* be slightly more efficient, but the premium you pay is not worth it. Add to the fact that it is a 64bit processor, and the money that is saved from going with the Turion instead of a Centrino goes to the graphic card ( in my mind anyway ), and the tradeoff in my opinion is VERY much worth it.
Moving on to what most peole want to know about the most; the graphic card. Many people ask about the real world performance of the ATI Mobility Radeon X700 64mb. This is an EXCELLENT card, and far exceeds my needs. I play Counter Strike 1.6 at absolute max settings at a constant 99 fps. Half Life 2 can be run at the recommended settings of 1024x768 with two or three settings on high and the rest on medium, or 800x600 with almost everything on high. With these settings for HL2, I get 50-70 fps, which is very very playable. Far Cry can also be played at relatively the same settings with the same results. These games run beautifully, and if you want to increase the detail or resolution, then you most certainly can, although the framerate will drop to a still very playable 29-30 something fps. Do not however, fool yourself into hoping that the graphics will exceed a comparatively priced desktop system, because it wll not and you will just be letting yourself down. For the price, the fact that you are running the games on a notebook, and the visual quality that you get, the price to value ratio is very, very, very high. Before I bought the notebook, I was worried about the fact that it was not an X700 128 mb. It would be nice if it was, but for my gaming needs, I have now come to realize that for real-world gaming, the 64 mb version is perfectly fine. For those wondering, the 64mb X700 *IS* better than the 128mb X600.
In my opinion, good graphics mean little if the display that you are running it on looks like crap. Three of my biggest worries while considering purchasing the notebook were with the display. I was worried that 1280x800 would simply be insufficient real-estate for me. Secondly, I was worried that the non-briteview reflective screen would disappoint me. Thirdly, I was very concerned that the display would not be bright enough or display colours vividly enough. Let me just say that my worries were COMPLETELY unfounded. 1280x800 is perfectly adequate unless you are willing to pay the premium for a higher resolution screen. I would say for 90% of people, you have nothing to worry about. I am also completely satisfied with the non-reflective screen as it prevents excessive reflections especially when I am using the computer in the daytime. Briteview would be nice if it was offered, but I am *NOT AT ALL* bothered without it. And lastly, the screen is beautifully vivid and very bright. It is brighter and clearer than my old 17 inch CRT monitor, and stays very cool. Granted, it does not compare to a super high contrast high brightness reflective screen from a 3000 dollar SONY VAIO, but in this case, I would say you get more than you pay for. I have absolutely no problems with the screen. Sure it could be a bit brighter, but if I were to choose between paying an extra 150 dollars, and keeping the screen, I would keep the screen and spend the extra 150 upgrading the RAM, buying a USB memory key, and a bunch of other goodies.
In my sparetime, I like to make short martial art films with my friends, and so needed a computer powerful enough for video editing. The notebook is more than powerful enough to work with Adobe Premiere, and can encode a 700 mb project in about 2 hours. The firewire port is a must if you want to edit video.
The notebook also makes quickwork of photoshop and flash work. In terms of general deskwork, It's not even a question of power. Any computer in the last two years should sufice just fine. However that said, I can run 8 msn conversations, 6 firefox tabs, winamp, BSplayer, an emulator, Azereus bittorent client, limewire, and photoshop very comfortably at the same time. Ofcourse there is some lag when you are running this many aps, but it never comes close to becoming an annoyance.
100 gb of harddrive space is excess for most people, but for me i consider it a ba re minimum. I store several movies, several series of anime, over 4000 mp3 files, many aps and programs, and many, many videoclips. I still have about 30 gb left, so I am very happy with the size of the harddrive. It is also a very fast harddrive. When shopping for your new notebook, make sure that the harddrive is at least 5400 RPM. I have tested 4200 RPM notebooks, and they are simply so slow that they become the bottleneck of an otherwise fast system. Make sure you convert to NTFS, because it is simply superior to FAT32, and takes about 5 minutes.
One nice surprise was that my notebook came with one stick of 512 mb ram, instead of two sticks of 256! I <3 Acer.
In terms of general power, this notebook is very powerful, and far more powerful than any other computer that I have owned. Bootup is very fast, and everything loads very quickly. Multitasking is no problem, and for all but the most demanding users, this notebook should be more than powerful enough. For those who just crave speed, there is always the Acer Ferrari.
Other little things are that the wireless has a very long range. I am able to get 5 or 6 wireless signals anywhere I go and most of them are unprotected =). I have no qualms with the wireless, it is very good. The DVD burner is very quick. I have never used a DVD burner before, but now would not consider a notebook without one. 4 USB ports are also something that I've come to take for granted. My friend's notebook has 3, and I could not function with anything less than 4, since when I am at home, I hook up my keyboard, wireless mouse, scanner, and printer or camera. I also never realized how much faster USB 2.0 is than 1.0. It is about as fast as firewire!
I live in Canada, and it was a bit difficult to find this notebook for the price you can supposedly find it in the states. Also, I did not want to order online, and so spent several weeks looking for a good place to purchase it. I finally found a very good price actually at my school bookstore. I got it for $1520 CAN before taxes, or about $1280 US with current conversion rates. I do know however, that many places in the US are selling it for about a hundred
dollars US less, but this was the best price I could get here, and it STILL beats out every other notebook I can find dollar for dollar value. I seriously
considered the MSI-1029, but as MSI is a relatively unknown company, and I did not want to purchase online (since I can have the notebook serviced right at my school), I decided against it. However for many people, it may be a good option to consider.
This is a very clean looking notebook. I find that Dells look very boring, or just plain old or ugly looking ( no offense Dell owners! ), and most of the Toshibas just look fat. I would compare the way this notebook looks to a sony VIAO. As I'm sure many are well aware, the keyboard has a 5 degree
curve. I have really warmed to this keyboard as typing feels very natural. Not only that it looks cool too. In terms of feel, the keyboard feels very good,
and in class during a lecture, I can listen and type without looking at the keyboard very comfortably as fast as I can making mistakes less frequently than on a normal keyboard.
The lid and around the keyboard of the notebook are a pleasing shade of silver and contrast very well with the black keyboard, touchpad, and border of the screen. One good thing about having the area around the screen black is that it makes the screen appear to be much larger than it actually is.
The notebook is also very thin at 1.3 inches. Most of my friends' notebooks are almost 2 inches or more. My notebook definitely stands out as being very elegant looking and business like ( definitely a plus since I am in my school's business administration program ).
6. Build quality/brand quality
Let's get this out of the way very quickly. This notebook is very well made and feels very high quality and expensive. Acer is a company that I have come to trust. Several of my friends have Acers, and when they ran into a problem, the Acer service factory where I live treated them very well. A friend of mine had one dead pixel in the middle left of his screen, and they replaced his notebook for him. I am also anti-dell, and anti-HP, so this leaves me with the world's soon to be third largest notebook producer; ACER =).
However, there are two things that I do not like about the build. The first is that the CPU and GPU are located right under the left palm rest, and
so after extended use, this area gets quite hot. Not unbearably hot, but uncomfortably hot. The second thing that I do not like is that when opening or closing the lid, the whole lid flexes a little bit. It worries me a little that over several years, the screen may warp or the hinges may break, but I am
relatively confident that it will be fine. The build quality is very high, and I notice the lid thing in most notebooks I use, so its probably just one of my
In terms of the bad things about the notebook, probably the most annoying aspect is the heat the notebook builds up. If I am not running a heavy load, then the notebook runs at a comfortable 49-53 degrees. If I'm running photoshop, burning dvds, or running a lot of programs at once, the notebook runs at a slightly uncomfortable 60 degrees. If I am running Half Life 2, then the notebook will sometimes reach a hot 70 degrees. It's not unbearably hot, but it makes your palms sweat a little bit. However, if I want to use the notebook for intense work, I use it as a desktop, and simply plug in my wireless mouse and my media keyboard into the USB ports. the problem is completely solved, and I am not bothered at all.
In terms of sound, the onboard soundcard is very good. Make sure you get the updated drivers, because the stock drivers have annoying rattles and hisses when headphones or earphones are plugged into the headphone jack. The speakers, like any notebook speakers sound very tiny, however they are more than adequate if you just feel like putting on some light music while you do homework. I personally carry a pair of earphones around when I'm at university, and just plug in my desktop speakers into the headphone jack when I'm at home. The notebook is the perfect combination of a desktop replacement and a mobile warrior. It's also great for impromptu lan parties.
One nice thing I've noticed is that in university, I have one of the most powerful notebooks around. People compliment me on my specs, and I dont come across as a spoiled rich boy, unlike many people with XPS2 or Ferraris. If someone sees a guy with an XPS2, they usually comment about how probably all he does is game, or if someone has a ferrari, then they are a "showoff". I find that people are surprised that my notebook is so much more powerful than theirs, when their HP or Toshiba cost about the same and are substantially less powerful due to a less powerful graphic card. Usually they have a smaller harddrive too. And they almost always have a slow 4200RPM drive =).
I have had this notebook for about a month and a half now, and I think it is a good thing that I have had time to use it in realworld situations before I wrote up a review. After a month and a half, I am loving my notebook very very much, and don't think I could ever go back to a desktop. I love being able to use my laptop as a desktop replacement, yet being able to take it anywhere around the house, or use it on my bed when I want to relax with it. The notebook has served me very well in my day to day adventures in university, from writing lecture notes, to watching my favourite shows during breaks, and playing networked counterstrike with some buddies in the middle of a study break. It makes short work of any app or program that I throw at it, and is a joy to own. One thing I have found while browsing forums, is that some people have the same problems with this laptop. My recommendations are to update all the drivers as soon as possible. There is also always the possiblity that you get a lemon, so when you purchase your notebook, MAKE SURE you have at least a 2 week grace period to at LEAST exchange the notebook. If you buy this model and get stuck with a lemon, dont give up on it, instead try to get another one and you will probably have better luck with it. Also make sure you have a good warranty. Everyone is good and happy the first week after they buy their notebook, but several months down the road when the problems start arising, and you will definitely start kicking yourself if you didn't buy that extended warranty.
I believe that If you are going to have the same notebook for several years, then it is important to buy one that is sufficiently powerful that a
year down the road you dont feel like you own a calculator. Overall I am extremely happy with my notebook, despite its flaws, and its pros definitely
outweight the cons. If you are in the market for the best value per dollar notebook, definitely give this notebook a look. If you are not considering gaming at all, then perhaps a notebook with an integrated card can be found for much cheaper. The X700, 100gb HD, and Turion processor do make quite a difference in price. Again, the value per dollar ratio depends very much on you're needs. If all you need is a notebook to do basic computer tasks, browse the internet, talk to your friends, play music, and online poker, then I'm sure Dell has some cheap alternatives for you . However if you are like me; a university student who loves technology, games occasionally but likes knowing he can play the latest games, has a LOT of digital content, and just likes to have a goodlooking, powerful notebook, then I give this notebook a hearty and well deserved reccomendation
FINAL SCORE: 9/10
SOME TIPS WHEN YOU FIRST BUY YOUR NOTEBOOK:
- right away, convert FAT32 to NTFS
- download some good anti virus programs. AVAST! is my personal choice
- download spybot search and destroy
- download some benchmarking programs to get a feel of the performance of your new notebook
- make sure your wireless network is protected
- TAKE CARE OF IT, IT IS YOUR NEW BABY!!!
- download the newest omega drivers for the videocard
- buy a wireless notebook mouse, it makes life much more convenient
- good battery life
- excellent graphic card
- huge, fast harddrive
- relatively light
- attractive, classy
- clear screen
- notebook gets hot, running heavy load for extended periods of time
- fan gets a bit loud
- some screen flex
- notebook speakers always suck compared to real speakers
If you got this far, then I congratulate you! This review turned out to be way longer than I intended, but I really think I got out everything I wanted to say. This is really my way of thanking the notebookreview community, as I frequented this site a LOT ( and still do ), and all of you guys seem awesome. For a first post, this is probably overkill, but I want to make a splash! Anyways, I hope that this review helps out a lot of people. Feel free to leave comments!
*note, these pictures were taken the very day I got my notebook. Since then, I have bought a wireless mouse, hooked up a logitech media keyboard for desk use, and moved the scanner to the shelf on top. If anyone wants to see, maybe I'll take a picture later on.