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Acer TravelMate C202TMi review

Verdict

An original and effective tablet design coupled with a solid specification make this a very welcome addition to the tablet PC

Review Date: 15 Dec 2005

Reviewed By: David Fearon

Price when reviewed: (£1,303 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

We were a little underwhelmed by Acer's C312XMi convertible tablet a couple of months ago, but with the C202TMi Acer once again displays its ingenuity.

Far from the seen-it-before swivelling-screen convertible design of the C312XMi, the C202TMi demonstrates a new method. When you want to use the machine in notebook mode, the screen simply slides back and upwards rather than swivelling; it's an arrangement that feels slick and sturdy.

With the screen raised, the C202TMi actually looks more like an all-in-one compact desktop PC than a notebook. It's neat and business-like, and won't be out of place as a permanent office fixture that only slips into tablet mode for the occasional meeting. And for those on the move, the top of the screen extends just a couple of inches over the back edge of the body, which will prevent it bashing on the back of the seat in front in economy class.

The downside to the novel design is that the bottom edge of the screen only slides around two-thirds of the way back along the body in notebook mode, meaning the keyboard has to be placed well forward, with the consequent loss of a wrist-rest area. In use, the position of the keyboard and its restricted depth of 85mm front to back - about 10mm shallower than, for instance, the already shallow ThinkPad Z60t - mean it takes some getting used to. It isn't as comfortable as a machine with a full wristrest, but still fine for typing on for a couple of hours.

Natural fears of being unable to protect the screen by closing the lid like a standard notebook proved largely unfounded in use - the 12.1in TFT monitor is incredibly strong and we were barely able to make the display distort. Acer tells us the production model will come with a screen protector, but not a full case, which at this price does seem a bit miserly. The screen itself, although just 12.1in and with only a 1,024 x 768 resolution, is bright and has good viewing angles.

Both three- and six-cell batteries come in the box: the three-cell is best viewed as emergency backup, since it gives a paltry 29 minutes of heavy use, but the six-cell unit managed one hour, 17 minutes under heavy use and three hours, 52 minutes with lighter duties. A nine-cell battery is an option, plus you can replace the optical drive with a supplemental battery - Acer claims battery life of up to eight-and-a-half hours with the second battery installed.

The weight of the machine with the six-cell battery and optical drive is 2.5kg; fine for a notebook but a little heavy for a tablet in slate mode. However, you can remove the optical drive and replace it with the 'weight-saver module' - a blanking plate to cover the empty hole - reducing the weight by 300g.

In tablet mode, the C202TMi's features are sensibly minimal, avoiding the over-complex array of buttons on every side of the bezel that was the hallmark of earlier tablet designs. In slate-tablet mode, there are just four buttons: keylock, screen rotation, Fn and Escape. The pen itself is stowed at the front of the case using a friction holder - much better than the easily broken push-in, push-out affairs that fire the pen down the side of your train seat. The pen itself is a double-ended device too - flip it round and you can use the top as an eraser in applications such as OneNote that support it. Biometric devices are fast becoming a standard component for new mobile designs, and the Acer incorporates a fingerprint reader into the short side of the screen bezel. Acer's Protector Suite software is by default active at all times, so to lock the machine just swipe your previously enrolled finger and click Lock in the pop-up menu.

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