Overview and specs
Acer’s TravelMate B115 laptop ($379, £243, AU$466) features a 11.6-inch touch-screen display, measures to 11.5” x 8.3” x .83” (W x D x H; 292.1 mm x 211 mm x 21 mm), and runs Windows 8.1 in 64 bits. Breaking from tradition when it comes to smaller PC laptops, it makes no attempt to ape any other designs in the industry, unlike the Chromebook market, which are all aesthetic descendants of Apple’s MacBook Air, which costs $1,299 (about £1,129/AU$1,449. Lightweight, a mere 2.91 lbs (1.32 kg), the B115 comes with a roomy 500GB hard drive. It’s of a solid build, and while I wouldn’t call it rugged, it does feel built for the traveller.
The B115 is dramatically cheaper than our recently reviewed Lenovo Z40, a 14” model that costs $599 (£399, AU$799). You can reason out that one is saving money on the B115 thanks to a lack of screen real estate. Comparing it with Acer’s laptop/tablet hybrid Aspire Switch 10, ($467, £299, AU$574), you’ll miss the Switch 10’s form factor, which was made for its touch screen.
Looking out at the world of affordable smaller laptops, it’s hard to ignore the Chromebook 2 models recently released by Toshiba and Samsung. Samsung’s sold at $249 (about £154, AU$282), while the Toshiba’s unit bumped the price to $329 (about £205, AU$382) on account of a 1080p display. If the ability to use Windows applications is not a must for your needs, those units need to be included in your search for an affordable laptop.
Specs and design
While the B115 has an unassuming design, those always on the go will be thankful for a slim PC that can run the Windows applications their office demands.
Featuring three USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0, HDMI-out, Bluetooth 4.0, and an SD memory slot, it can work in most situations. The trackpad, one feature PC vendors are notorious for cheaping out on is impressive, and just as good as those on Apple laptops.
When you walk into any room with many laptops these days, you’re greeted with a sea of silver/aluminum. That doesn’t distinguish anybody, and emphasizes how nobody’s really done much to innovate outside of Microsoft’s Surface line, which I haven’t spotted anywhere in the wild. The B115, though, thanks to it’s almost-squared edges and black-with-touches-of-chrome look, won’t be mistaken for anything else.
While most of its ports are located on the back of the machine, which keep them out of sight and mind, it does keep a USB port and a SD slot within reach on the left side of the body. While the B115 feels built for travel, the no-frills design signals to me that customers aren’t paying for design. In order to get a full-size keyboard onto an 11” frame, some keys feel a little shoved-in or too-tight, but it’s all in service of the small foot-print.
Testing the battery life, the B115 scored 6 hours 19 minutes and 7 seconds on PCMark 8’s Home battery life test. The machine also lasted a good amount during standard usage. I reproducing a traveller’s routine, running the unit unplugged during business hours. It lasted from 9am to 12:15pm, then I put it to sleep for lunch, and then the battery lasted from 3 to 6:30pm, for a total of 6 & 3/4 hours, against their advertised 7. That testing included email, office software, and streaming music and video from YouTube and Netflix. The quality of said streaming video on Netflix was especially sharp, which earned Acer the “HD” qualifier they apply to the display.
In benchmark testing, the B115 scored a 1636 on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test, including a video chat framerate of just fewer than 30 frames per second (FPS), which is definitely functional for work needs.
Running elemental gaming benchmark tests on 3DMark, the processor demonstrated some muscle on the low end, but buckling at anything more.
The Ice Storm test, built for low-end devices, would render around 70 FPS, netting a score of 16368. Cloud Gate, for “basic notebooks and home PCs” never broke above 7 FPS, and got a score of 1459.
Unfortunately, Fire Strike, the test “for high performance” gaming PCs crashed before it could finish and give a score, and seemed to render one frame per every few seconds. Those last two tests sure looked damning, but nobody ever said this was a gaming PC. The greatest red-flag in that regard is that instead of a graphics card, it lists on-board “Intel HD Graphics,” a sure sign that this isn’t made for gamers.
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 16,368 points; Cloud Gate: 1459 points
- PCMark 8 Home: 1,636 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 6 hours 19 minutes
The biggest obstacle with the B115 is coming to it after having used anything better or larger. I could see being given this unit by a company looking out for its bottom line, but I could never see wanting to have this in my day to day life.
The B115 fits a full-sized keyboard in a small-form computer, but it just doesn’t feel right. In a week’s testing, I could not get used to this keyboard. While its keys don’t feel cheap, I had numerous instances of clicks not registering. Often times this wasn’t a problem with the keyboard or screen, but in fact with the speed & RAM of the computer. I’d click on an icon to load an app, and thanks to no feedback, I thought I didn’t register the click. Unfortunately, the process took so much time that when I’d click again, two instances of the desired effect would run.
Something that was incredibly frustrating with this review unit was the amount of bloat that the machine came with. Booting into Windows 8.1, I was greeted with an avalanche of things nobody would have wanted. The built in Acer Explorer app store had prominent billing and it was the first thing I removed. The pre-installed McAffee virus protection seemed cute at first, but a never-ending series of notifications, including the warning that its one week trial was about to end quickly soured me. While most office teams should have their own comprehensive security solution in place already, and won’t care about this cruft, one week felt like a cheap move in an age when most products have free 30-day repair windows.
The biggest thumbs-in-the-eye came from off-brand synergy, which kept reminding me that I was working on a budget computer. Take for example, a preinstalled link on the desktop for a relatively unknown travel website that I won’t give free advertising by mentioning it by name. Sure, I guess there’s an argument to be made for that link being relevant to the travellers this machine is targeted towards, but it being pre-loaded made me feel like I was an Acer product, being sold as eyes to their advertisers.
Additionally, the pre-installed Foxit PhantomPDF application and Acer ProShield apps didn’t give me a feeling of added-value as much as they made me think “send to recycle bin.” If you have an IT department that can wipe the unit before handing it to you, I suggest they remove the garbage and add a specific set of applications. However, if you’re stuck with the machine as is, there’s a lot of Day 0 cleaning to be done. It even tried to install AOL on itself, which I had to decline as an offer.
The Acer TravelMate B115 dares to be different. In a market of 11” MacBook Air clones, this no-frills model succeeds thanks to modest goals. Sure, that sounds like an insult, but if you’re going to send your team out into the world, and they need a computer more capable than a Chromebook – but not especially fast – then the B115 is right for your squad.
The touch screen feels like a gigantic waste of time and money. Maybe Acer had a bunch of those screens left over from a production run for a different model, but they’re entirely out of place here. What good is a touch screen on a generic laptop that can’t fold over completely or detach? It had me reaching out much farther than feels comfortable, looking like a child who assumes all screens work like iPads.
I wanted to write this review entirely on the B115 unit, to replace my existing laptop with it for the duration of my testing. I took it through a series of tests and rigorous use, but I just could not stand using it for more than an hour at a time. It’s meant for a little usage here and there – editing a document, checking email, and anything else that isn’t completely hindered by its 11.6” screen. You get what you pay for, and it turns out $379 (about £243, AU$466) can only get you so far, even on Windows.