Editors' note: This review is part of our 2010 retail laptop and desktop back-to-school roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
"Low-cost" and "eye-catching" don't often go hand in hand, so it's with some surprise that we found the Gateway ID49C07u in our back-to-school retail roundup, satisfying both aspects amply. A thin, silvery 14-inch laptop, the $629 ID49C07u is practically a budget machine, eking its way into our mainstream back-to-school retail roundup category by falling over $599. With a Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive, it doesn't skimp. It even manages to fit a DVD-burning drive into its thin case. There are few Core i3 laptops this portable and this good-looking for this little money, but the good looks aren't completely matched by great-feeling construction.
|Price as reviewed||$629|
|Processor||2.27 GHz Intel Core i3 M350|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1,333 MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.5 x 9.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.8/5.6 pounds|
Flat, silver, and surprisingly thin, the Gateway ID49C07u caught our eye right away among other computers in our retail laptop stack. The overall dimensions and wafer-thin lid closely match up with the Asus UL80J-BBK5, as does its sub-5-pound weight. An aluminum alloy cover and interior have a soft silver look, which repels smudges but seems a little scuff-prone. Matte-black plastic surrounds the upper inset glossy screen, and a flat keyboard lies flush with the aluminum lower half, also colored the same dull silver. A curved, inset semimirrored touch pad rounds out a look that's both semiprofessional and, at times, reminiscent of the MacBook Pro cast in budget materials.
The flat-key design on the ID49C07u's keyboard is identical to what we saw on the design-revamped Gateway NV59C09U, except in silver instead of black. The widely spaced keys are somewhat comfortable, but the keyboard flexes too much and the keys tilt a bit, both not to our taste. Additionally, the wide gaps and valleys underneath the keys seem to invite the annoying trapping of particles, dust, or hair, a problem that's avoided with raised keys.
A few dedicated buttons sit above the keyboard: on the left, a Wi-Fi on/off toggle and a quick-launch key that can launch a program of your choice. On the top right, a square power button stands alone. Between the two, a thin capacitive-touch media bar has play/pause, stop, fast-forward/rewind, and eject functions. The DVD drive, tucked on the right side of the ID4907U's chassis, has no physical button to eject, just this touch panel, and there was often a delay before registering our eject command. The fast-forward/rewind buttons only served to skip tracks on DVD playback, and couldn't fast do shuttle-style forward or rewind.
Gateway has also included a few new wrinkles to its keyboard design, which we also found on the NV59C09U. Running down the right side, a Social Media button adorned with odd smiling faces brings up a software widget with Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr feeds, but it's nothing we don't already get in browser plug-ins and via software like Digsby. Dedicated volume buttons, though, are greatly appreciated.
As for the wide, inset, glossy touch pad, we're a bit speechless. The entire dark surface lights up in a glowing blue-white whenever contact is made with the click zones on the bottom of the pad. The whole multitouch pad is clickable, as on an Apple MacBook or HP's latest laptops such as the Pavilion dm4 or Envy series. However, the pad can't register any clicks outside the button-size click zones on the bottom, which feels a little silly, and its customization software, provided by Alps instead of Synaptics, is limited.
The distracting blue glow can thankfully be deactivated, but the gimmick seems to have come at a cost for ergonomics: the glossy transparent plastic that makes up the touch pad is horrible for registering finger gestures; we had to press firmly with a flat finger to get it to work, and found finger-tip gestures to be intermittently ignored. Multitouch was also finicky and often unresponsive. Although we like the idea of a recessed touch pad, it makes no sense for a button area to be recessed, too: it makes clicks very hard to accomplish without long-term hand cramping, since our thumb tended to rest above the click area.
The 14-inch wide-screen LED-backlit display offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, standard for 14-inch laptops. Brightness and sharpness are average, but we found that images looked washed out at maximum brightness settings. The image quality faded at wide viewing angles, too.
Stereo speakers located above the keyboard offered decent volume and quality for movie playback, nothing stellar but better than other laptops in the budget range. Dolby Home Theater is advertised on the laptop's exterior, but any theatrical audio effects don't translate onto smaller speakers such as these. The included Webcam had below-average light sensitivity and contrast; we had a hard time getting our face to not look grainy and completely washed out.