The Acer TravelMate 4600 provides more than enough performance, battery life, and features to satisfy home and small-business users interested in simple tasks such as e-mailing, Web surfing, and document creation. We think its $1,149 price tag is pretty good, though you should know that Acer skimps on phone support. If 24/7 help is important to you, look to slightly more expensive laptops, such as the HP Compaq Presario V4000 or the Gateway M460S.
The TravelMate 4600 falls toward the lighter end of the midsize pack. It weighs 6.4 pounds and measures 13.2 inches wide, 11.2 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick. By comparison, the HP Compaq Presario V4000 weighs 6.5 pounds, while the Gateway M360X comes in at 6.2 pounds. The TravelMate 4600's three-prong, 0.8-pound AC adapter is about the size of a candy bar cell phone.
The laptop features Acer's signature ergonomically curved keyboard, which makes typing more comfortable. The touch pad is wide enough, but the mouse buttons are uncomfortably small; a large scroll button sits between them. Though the system lacks multimedia controls, it has a handy Wi-Fi on/off button and three configurable quick-launch buttons for applications. It operates quietly, except for the occasionally loud DVD burner and a few noisy spins of the internal fan at bootup.
We liked the TravelMate 4600's large, bright, 15-inch display, but we wish it had a higher native resolution than 1,024x768 (XGA). The system's two speakers on the front edge lacked bass and distorted at full volume.
The TravelMate 4600 includes one of the most complete collections of ports, jacks, and slots that we've seen in a $1,149 laptop. The right edge accommodates an infrared port, one Type II PC Card slot, and a 6-in-1 card reader that supports all of the major flash memory cards. The back edge features a Gigabit Ethernet jack plus ports for four-pin FireWire, S-Video out, docking, VGA, DVI, and USB 2.0. The left edge has headphone, microphone, and 56Kbps modem jacks, three more USB 2.0 ports, and the integrated single-layer DVD burner. This feature selection is slightly better than that of the HP Compaq Presario V4000, which costs $400 more than the TravelMate 4600.
Beyond the Windows XP Professional operating system, you don't get much software with the TravelMate 4600. Acer bundles CyberLink PowerDVD and NTI CD & DVD Maker for disc playback and burning, respectively. The only other application is an Acer utility for managing passwords, power management, and other basic settings. This package is typical for a low-cost laptop.
We tested the TravelMate 4600, one of two preconfigured systems in the TravelMate 4600 series. The TravelMate 4600 has a suggested retail price of $1,149, though we found that most online resellers have priced it at more than $1,200. Still, that's a pretty good deal, considering the system's respectable mix of components, including a fast 2GHz Pentium M 760 processor, 1GB of speedy 533MHz RAM, a huge 100GB hard drive rotating at a decent 5,400rpm, and an Intel 915GM chipset that borrows a maximum 128MB of main memory to use as VRAM.
In Labs' benchmark tests, the TravelMate 4600 took full advantage of its components. It ran 25 percent faster than the $1,579 HP Compaq Presario V4000, which has a slower 4,200rpm hard drive, and 26 percent faster than the $1,370 Gateway M360X, which has a slower 1.7GHz Pentium M 735 processor, just 512MB RAM, and a 4,200rpm hard drive. Though the speed difference might not be obvious when conducting such basic tasks as e-mail and word processing, multitaskers and people who like working with lots of windows open will probably benefit from the TravelMate's additional performance.
The TravelMate 4600 also proved a winner in our Labs' battery-drain tests: its battery lasted for a long 4 hours, 1 minute. Both the Presario V4000 and the M360X held out for about three hours.
We can live with the TravelMate 4600's average one-year warranty, which includes mail-in or carry-in service. But we're disappointed with the company's failure to fulfill its 24/7 phone-support claim. Acer claims that tech-support calls placed outside of "live" hours (Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT) will be returned within the hour. But we called and left a message at 3 p.m. PT on a Sunday, and a tech rep never returned our call. Worse, you can't turn to convenient electronic support features, such as real-time tech-support chats, since Acer doesn't offer them.
Power of Acer travelmate 4600