When it comes to Blu-ray, Sony may be the evangelist selling it to the masses, but in order for it to reach mass appeal the drive will need to appear in more than just Vaio notebooks. Which is why we're happy to see that Acer is the second company to put its support for the hi-def format on the shelves, with the introduction of its TravelMate 8215WLMi.
When it comes to new formats, Acer is fairly agnostic - it's already introduced a notebook featuring Blu-ray's rival format, HD DVD, so it was only a matter of time before we got our hands on this desktop replacement.
The look of the 8215WLMi is functional, rather than svelte. For the price, people may be expecting something more from their notebook, but it's sturdy to the touch and will certainly stand up to being knocked about on the daily commute.
Acer is the only notebook manufacturer that we know of who supplies its business machines with a curved keyboard. The keys are pitched at a five-degree angle, which matches the position of a typist's hands far more naturally. The keys are well mounted and the action is smooth, so once you've grown accustomed to the angle, this is a great keyboard to use.
It may be billed as a desktop replacement but you'll be able to take it with you on a semi-regular basis. Weighing in at 3.1Kg, and coming with a battery life - under test - of 271 minutes, there's a surprising amount to recommend here. The reason for the weight is the use of a 15.4-inch panel, rather than the 17-inch panels that usually feature on desktop alternatives.
The screen scene
The screen's a standard TFT, so you won't find the glossy coating common with Super-TFT panels. It's a bright screen but we found there was a slight haze, which stops it from having a genuinely white appearance when viewing spreadsheets and the like.
Thankfully, this didn't prove a problem when watching media, because the Blu-ray drive allows for high-definition movies. The TravelMate series is aimed at business users, which seems a little odd for a format that's being squarely aimed at the consumer market.
After all, Blu-ray isn't just about being able to get 50GB of information on one disc; it supports hi-def movies and the host of new features developed to work along side them, such as picture-in-picture as well as in-movie interactive menus.
One feature that's definitely for the business user is the inclusion of a SmartCard reader, along with two cards - one acting as the emergency key, the second as the primary. If the SmartCard is not inserted, the laptop will not boot, so unauthorised users won't gain access.
When it comes to getting the day-to-day accomplished, this is a capable notebook. Powered by Intel's latest Core 2 Duo T7200 - in this instance the 2GHz variant - this isn't a machine for those simply looking to write emails. Paired with 2048MB of DDR2 memory, you can easily use the 8215WLMi for editing audio and video, without placing too much stress on the system.
The system is rounded out by a 160GB hard drive, which runs at 5,400rpm - this isn't ideal if you're used to the faster speeds of a desktop, but for the mobile user, it's quick enough for editing tasks. At this price, we were expecting a high-end graphics solution but the ATi Mobility Radeon X1600 is something of a mainstream offering that will handle most needs, though it lacks the flair of more recent GPU releases.
With 512MB of DDR3 memory onboard, it handled our tests with aplomb and in use we found it ran smoothly, handling online gaming with ease. You won't get the highest resolutions out of most games and it's worth bearing in mind that the X1600 is about to be superseded by the X1700, and so it may be worth waiting for this adaptor instead.
You'll find a 1.3 megapixel camera, as well as 5-in-1 Card Reader fitted. A Bluetooth VoIP phone is included in the box, which slots neatly into the ExpressCard slot, and you'll find a Vista upgrade redemption card included, so you needn't worry about buying a laptop with an OS that's about to become obsolete.
Acer has created something of a mixed machine in the TravelMate 8215WLMi. It's certainly powerful enough to be used as a desktop replacement and the inclusion of a Blu-ray drive adds to the high-end specification, but the screen and ageing GPU simply detract from its aims. That said, it has a great battery life, so if you do need to do labour intensive tasks on the move, the TravelMate will get the job done. Michael Browne