The TravelMate Spin B1 (or B118, to give it its full name) could be seen as a last hurrah in the battle to win over the hearts and minds of the classroom in the face of a tsunami of Chromebooks. Acer have a horse in both races (see the N11 Chromebook Hands On) but have put together an interesting entry level convertible Windows laptop in the B118.
The model I was given to play with was a pre-production version (availability is expected in Q2 2017) but hardware-wise it felt pretty solid. As it should – Acer state that the chassis can take 60kg of weight and the gorilla glass of the screen can withstand a drop to the floor. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an opportunity to try this out and tempting though it was, I also did not check out the spill-proof keyboard. Leaving the keys sticky from cola seemed an anti-social thing to do. All that aside, this felt like a sturdy piece of kit, not too heavy but also not flimsy. One feature of note for the classroom is an LED affixed to the back of the screen which can be used to indicate what the user is doing. In a classroom environment, bundled management software will allow it to light up and change colour to indicate, for example, if the student has completed a test or needs help.
In A Spin
Like its consumer Spin stablemates, the B118 sports a 360 degree hinge, allowing the laptop to be used as a tablet or stood up on a table. As with the rest of the chassis, the hinge felt strong with little sign of flex. Once in tablet mode, the Windows Ink-compatible stylus works well with the 10 point 11.6 inch touchscreen and is both responsive and comfortable to use. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be anywhere to attach the stylus to the chassis, which is a shame and I can imagine the biro-like pen going missing over time.
CPU And Video
The B118 is targeted fairly and squarely at the entry level, so will not be setting any performance tables alight. Gaming and CPU intensive tasks are not what this machine is all about. The hands-on model I used featured 4gb RAM, which is pretty much the minimum for a Windows 10 laptop these days, and the 1.1GHz N4200 CPU with integrated Intel HD graphics will handle older or less taxing games, but nothing more. Again, the specifications are more than acceptable for a laptop aimed at education and productivity, with Office applications running swiftly and smoothly. The laptop I used featured a 500gb HD which, while spacious, would be better replaced by a SSD and I was pleased to note that the disk bay is accessible should an upgrade be required. The display itself comes in HD (1366 x 768) or Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution and is bright, clear and easy on the eye.
Connectivity and Longevity
The B118 features USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, along with a HDMI port and a SD card reader. A claimed 13 hour battery life should see the little Acer make it through the day, although I didn’t have the laptop long enough to verify this.
The B118 is a worthy addition to Acer’s line of classroom-friendly laptops. Built from some high quality materials, and with features that put some higher-end laptops to shame, the TravelMate B118 looks to be a contender for the classroom crown. Whether it can slow the march of the Chromebook is going to be down to price (not announced) and Microsoft not dropping the ball with Windows 10.