Acer's TravelMate P648 boasts solid performance, a durable design, strong security and surprisingly good graphics capabilities for a notebook in its price range. But the $1,164 laptop (starts at $957) is held back by some serious shortcomings, including a dim display, below-average battery life and a shallow keyboard that's not cut out for marathon typing sessions. It's a decent business laptop that's worth a look – but there are slightly better options for most workers.
To be blunt, the TravelMate's matte black carbon-fiber shell is boxy and boring. But, hey – a design that doesn't draw attention to itself isn't such a bad thing in a notebook meant for work. A pair of matte silver hinges add the only bit of visual interest.
It's a reasonably commuter-friendly computer, matching up very well against its closest rivals when it comes to portability. Measuring 12.9 x 9.3 x 0.8 inches and weighing in at 3.6 lbs., it's larger but lighter than the Lenovo's ThinkPad T460 (13.4 x 9.2 x 0.8 inches, 3.8 lbs.). Conversely, Dell's Latitude E7470 (13.3 x 9.3 x 0.8 inches, 3.4 lbs.) is slightly lighter but larger than the TravelMate.
The TravelMate boasts an impressive range of ports, which is good news for offices that haven't upgraded their monitors or laptop accessories in a while. The left side includes an Ethernet jack, HDMI and VGA video out ports, one USB 3.0 port, a Thunderbolt 3 port and a headphone jack.
The right edge, meanwhile, adds two USB 3.0 ports and a lock slot for physically securing the notebook at your desk. Finally, you'll find an SD card slot on the TravelMate's front edge, which can expand its storage capacity by 20GB, for a total of 276GB of internal storage.
The TravelMate's carbon-fiber chassis feels sturdy, but the design could be more rigid; I noticed some obvious flex on the laptop's upper half, though the keyboard deck feels rock-solid. According to Acer, the system is MIL-STD-810G certified, which means it was tested to withstand vibrations, shocks and extreme temperatures.
Plus, Acer says the keyboard is spill-resistant, so small amounts of water spilled into the keyboard are diverted away from the system's circuitry to prevent damage. Just remember that spill-resistant does not mean spill-proof, so you should still be careful about where you set your soda on that worksite.
The TravelMate's dim display might be its most disappointing feature. The system's 14-inch, 1080p screen looks washed out, with subdued colors. While watching the HD trailer for "Kong: Skull Island," what was supposed to be a lush green jungle looked exceedingly dull and lifeless.
Viewing angles are pretty limited, too – image clarity immediately starts to fade when the screen is tilted slightly up or down or is viewed from a slight angle. I could get a good view, but only if I turned the brightness all the way up. A brighter display would have been better for working in direct sunlight.
It's no fun to type on a keyboard that feels this flat. The TravelMate's keyboard offers 1.2 millimeters of key travel, which is less than the 1.5mm that we consider the acceptable minimum for most business laptops. I wrote this review using the TravelMate, and could feel its keys bottoming out as I struck them, which can get uncomfortable after a while. The keys provide a decent level of tactile feedback with each stroke, though, so workers who only need to type out the occasional email reply might be satisfied.
For all my complaining, here's one feature I absolutely love: The keyboard features an extra column of page navigation keys to the right of the standard QWERTY layout, including Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys. That makes it really easy to navigate around documents and web pages without a fuss. I wish every laptop came with those keys.
Of course, the TravelMate's touchpad is perfectly suitable for page navigation. The 3.8 x 2.1-inch pad proved accurate, with a nice matte finish that allowed my finger to glide easily over its surface. And gestures – such as a two-finger swipe for scrolling – felt responsive.
Corporate IT departments will be satisfied with the TravelMate's security options. For starters, the system provides a fingerprint reader – locked below the touchpad, between the left and right mouse buttons – so users can log in with a quick swipe of their finger.
Sadly, it's an old-school swipe-based reader that requires you to slowly slide your finger over the sensor, and it's not as quick or reliable as the one-touch sensors on some competing laptops, like the Lenovo's ThinkPad T460s (a slightly more premium – and pricier – version of the standard T460). When testing the TravelMate's reader, it occasionally failed to recognize my print, prompting me to swipe again.
The system included a Trusted Platform Module, which allows for hardware-based encryption. That ensures your private work files stay private.
Don't forget to charge up before boarding your next business flight. The TravelMate lasted just 7 hours and 7 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's a full hour shorter than the laptop average – and the TravelMate's closest competitors lasted even longer than that. The Latitude E7470 ran for 9 hours and 16 minutes on the same battery test.
But the ThinkPad T460 is the battery life champ in this category, running for an epic 17 hours and 4 minutes with its extended battery attached (8:26 with the standard battery; the extended battery costs $15 extra at checkout and adds a half pound of extra weight).
The TravelMate provides speedy enough performance to tackle tough multitasking; I didn't notice any slowdown at all while editing a larger spreadsheet with more than a dozen tabs open in my Chrome browser, including one streaming HD video. The system is equipped with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage
That configuration cranked out very solid scores on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. The system notched a score of 7,014, which easily beats the laptop category average of 6,644. Neither the Core i5-6300U-powered ThinkPad T460 (6,708) nor the Core i5-6200U-powered Latitude E7470 (6,059) could quite keep up with the Acer.
The TravelMate also fared well on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in just 4 minutes and 5 seconds. That far outpaces the category average of 5:34, and it also edges out the ThinkPad T460 and the Latitude E7470 by a few seconds each.
Here's one way that the TravelMate P648 stands out from the crowd: The system comes equipped with a discrete Nvidia GeForce 940M graphics card with 2GB of VRAM. That's not something you'll find in many laptops at this price range, as all of the TravelMate's closest rivals have weaker integrated graphics.
The TravelMate's 87,876 score on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test far outstrips the category average of 58,440, as well as the ThinkPad T460 (64,981) and the Latitude E7470 (59,801). But while the TravelMate's extra graphical oomph is good enough to help with graphically demanding tasks, like CAD modeling and video editing, don't expect to spend your lunch breaks playing the latest video games at high graphical settings; it's not powerful enough for that. And even so, the dim screen wouldn't make them look very good.
The TravelMate P468 comes in a handful of hardware configurations. The baseline model sells for $976 and comes equipped with an Intel Core i5-6200U processor with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, no discrete graphics and a low-res 1366 x 768 display. The reduced resolution for the screen should be enough to put that model out of consideration for most workers. And multitasking will feel really cramped.
A midrange model is also available with a faster Core i5-6300U processor for $1,040, but again, comes with a low-res 1366 x 768 display and no discrete graphics.
A better option for most workers is the $1,164 model featured in this review, which has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, discrete Nvidia GeForce 940M graphics with 2GB of VRAM, and – crucially – a 1920 x 1080-pixel (1080p) display.
Acer's TravelMate P648 is a solid midrange business laptop with one standout feature: its Nvidia graphics card provides some extra horsepower for graphically intensive tasks. Plus, the system offers fast multitasking, solid security and a durable design.
On the other hand, mobile workers won't like its shorter-than-average battery life, and its flat keyboard and dim display don't help matters much. Lenovo's ThinkPad T460 ($629 to start; $905 when similarly configured) offers a top-tier keyboard and much longer battery life, though it's heavier. Dell's Latitude E7470 is another very good option with a bright, colorful display (starting at $1079).
Still, workers looking for a well-rounded laptop for around $1,100 should give the TravelMate a look.