Budget-minded business users will find a lot to like in Acer's TravelMate P246. The 14-inch business laptop boasts a sharp 14-inch display, a really comfy keyboard and, most importantly, a superaffordable price. Plus, workers who need to install legacy software will appreciate the optical DVD drive. I just wish the $500 laptop lasted longer on a charge. A distinct lack of security options, and a hefty design, are two additional marks against it.
The TravelMate P246 isn't much to look at. The system sports a boxy, unassuming design, with gently rounded corners. The black, plastic lid is smooth to the touch, but I tried to keep my hands off it because it's a fingerprint magnet.
You'd expect it would be easier to travel with a laptop called the TravelMate. However, the P246 tips the scales at 5.1 lbs. (plus an extra half-pound for the charger), making this machine noticeably heavier than comparable systems we've reviewed. Dell's Latitude 14 3470 weighs 4.4 lbs., and Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 is a lot lighter, at 3.14 lbs., though that system sports a slightly smaller, 13.3-inch display.
The TravelMate P246 is pretty chunky, too, measuring 1.18 inches thick. That's thicker than the Latitude (0.9 inches) and ThinkPad (0.78 inches). Most of that extra thickness can probably be chalked up to the optical DVD drive in the TravelMate P246, which isn't something you'll find in many modern laptops. The extra thickness is still something to keep in mind for workers who have limited space in their travel bags.
The DVD drive, which pops out of the system's right edge, is potentially a handy feature for office workers who might use it to install older software. The trade-off is that this drive makes the system thicker and heavier than it would otherwise be.
Otherwise, you get a generous array of ports on the TravelMate P246. The right edge has two USB 2.0 ports, while the left edge adds a USB 3.0 port, VGA and HDMI video-out ports, and an Ethernet port. Finally, the front edge has an SD card reader to expand the system's 500GB of onboard storage.
The TravelMate P246 sports a 14-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display that cranks out crisp text and clear images, though colors look washed out. When I watched the HD trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming on the P246, the web-slinger's bright red suit appeared dull, though I could make out tons of detail in the flying debris in several action scenes.
The screen is nice and bright, too, topping out at 243 nits. That slightly outshines the ThinkPad 13 and Latitude 14 3470, making the TravelMate's screen easier to see outdoors or in direct sunlight. Plus, the display comes with a nice anti-glare coating that wards off distracting reflections. Viewing angles could be better, though; the screen starts to wash out when viewed slightly from the side.
The TravelMate's best feature is probably its comfortable keyboard. Typing on the system just feels great. It offers a generous 1.51 millimeters of travel, which is right on par with what we look for in a great laptop keyboard. Deep key travel provides a comfortable, desktop-like typing experience, since your fingers don't "bottom out" with each key strike.
The keys also feel snappy, with plenty of tactile feedback. I typed this entire review on the TravelMate's keyboard and never once found myself wishing for the mechanical keyboard on my desk, and that's all I can ask for in a laptop keyboard.
Because this is a computer marketed as a business-class system, it's disappointing to see that Acer's TravelMate P246 lacks business-class security features altogether.
For starters, there's no fingerprint reader, though that's typical for a budget-priced PC like this. Worse is the lack of a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), a feature that enables hardware-based encryption on other business laptops. You'll find a TPM in both the ThinkPad 13 and Dell Inspiron 14 3470, though it's worth pointing out that both those systems cost slightly more than the TravelMate. The sole security feature on Acer's system is a lock slot on the system's left edge, which allows you to physically chain the notebook to your desk to deter thieves.
Acer's more-premium TravelMate P4 and P6 lines offer much better security options than the budget-priced P2 line.
TravelMate's short battery life will hold mobile workers back. The system ran for just 5 hours and 2 minutes on our battery-life test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. Competing systems last far, far longer. The Latitude 14 ran for twice as long (10:35), and the ThinkPad offers pretty good longevity as well (9:13). Considering that the laptop category average is around 8 hours, the TravelMate's anemic battery life just doesn't measure up.
My TravelMate P246 review unit was speedy enough to tackle moderate multitasking without any slowdown. The system is outfitted with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-4210 processor with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. I did notice a few seconds of occasional lag while switching between editing a larger spreadsheet and browsing through a dozen tabs in my Chrome web browser, though.
The TravelMate racked up a mediocre score of 4,039 on the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, which measures overall performance. That's good enough for daily productivity tasks, but it's squarely below the laptop category average of 5,570, as well as the Core i3-6100U-powered ThinkPad 13 (5,230) and the Core i7-6500U-powered Latitude 14 3470 (6,446).
Acer's laptop fared better on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 6 minutes and 20 seconds, which is just a few seconds slower than average. Still, the Latitude 14 finished in a much speedier 4 minutes and 3 seconds. The ThinkPad 13, meanwhile, finished in 5 minutes and 13 seconds.
The TravelMate P246's top selling point is its low price. For just $499, you get a sharp, 14-inch display and a better keyboard than you'll find in other budget-priced systems. Evaluating the optical DVD is more complicated; some office workers will love the ability to use the drive to install older software, while others will lament that the rarely used drive makes their laptops thicker and heavier than they need to be.
But workers can get a better laptop for just a little more money. Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 costs $584 when similarly equipped and offers stronger security options to boot, though it also has a smaller, 13.3-inch display. Dell's Latitude 14 3470 is another strong option that also boasts better security credentials and much better battery life than the TravelMate, and it costs $589.
The TravelMate is worth a look for cash-strapped workers who want a DVD drive and don't plan to work away from a power outlet for long. But most workers will find they have better options in the same price range.