The convertible-tablet trend that started off the year (and the Windows Vista era) seems to have quieted down following the high-profile January releases of HP's entertainment-focused Pavilion tx1000 tablet and Toshiba's slick and expensive Portege R400. Gateway's new, 12.1-inch E-155C convertible tablet isn't nearly as high concept as those other models; instead it focuses on small-business and industrial users, with a no-nonsense design and lack of any multimedia flash. At around $2,000, it's not the cheapest tablet around (or the most expensive), but we liked the ultralow-voltage CPU and the included optical drive, an extra missing from the otherwise excellent Lenovo ThinkPad X60.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$2,073/$1,849|
|Processor||1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7500|
|Memory||1GB of 533MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||80GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel Express 945GM (integrated)|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945GM|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Ultimate|
|Dimensions (LWH)||14.2x10.1x1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||12.1 inches|
|System weight/weight with AC adapter||4.9/5.7 pounds|
Physically, the Gateway E-155C is very close to the HP Pavilion tx1000; the two tablets are nearly identical in width and weight, although the Gateway is more than an inch deeper. At around five pounds, both systems are reasonably lightweight, although that's about the upper limit of what we'd carry around on a daily basis. The Toshiba Portege R400 manages to shave about a pound off of its similar-size chassis, but it will also leave your wallet an extra $1,600 lighter.
The E-155C offers none of the amenities consumers have become accustomed to, such as media transport controls or a physical switch to adjust volume. Instead, the system opts for a very clean, uncluttered look. The keyboard tray features only a compact-but-comfortable keyboard and a touch pad with twin mouse buttons.
The 12.1-inch screen has a 1,280x800 native resolution, the same as most 15.4-inch mainstream laptops. Tablets are often used in a wide variety of lighting conditions, and we found the matte screen to be readable in brightly lit situations. Our favorite display feature is something all tablets should have, a bidirectional hinge. The E-155C's screen can swivel 180 degrees in either direction, removing our longtime (if unrealized) fear of accidentally twisting a tablet's display the wrong way and having it snap off in our hands.
The display works well with the included stylus, as well as with a fingertip or other pointing device. Touch-sensitive screens can be tricky, giving you a lot of false-positive reactions, or else forcing you to really lean into the screen to register input, but we found the E-155C's default calibration to hit a good balance.
|Gateway E-155C||Average for thin-and-light tablet category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a mulitformat memory card reader||Three USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||PC Card slot||PC Card or ExpressCard slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi; Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Though only two USB ports may not be enough for some accessory junkies, we prefer the limited side-panel space be used for a built-in optical drive, a feature missing from some other thin-and-light tablets such as the Toshiba R400 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X60. Other than that, the Gateway E-155C offers fairly standard connections, as seen in the chart above.
Gateway offers a somewhat limited set of configuration options for the E-155C. You're stuck, for example, with a single processor choice, the ultralow-voltage Intel Core 2 Duo U7500. Jumping from 1GB of RAM to 2GB is a reasonable $160 upgrade, but going up to 3GB (which requires an ultra-expensive 2GB chip for one of the two RAM slots) is a steep increase, $885, which makes one wonder why it's listed as an option at all. Our review unit included an 80GB hard drive, at a $25 premium over the default 60GB version, and a 120GB drive would add $64 to the price.
While an ultralow-voltage CPU is great for reducing heat and extending battery life, it doesn't always make for the speediest system. In CNET Labs' multitasking, Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Office, and iTunes encoding tests, the Gateway E-155C lagged behind other recent tablets, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook S2210 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X60 Tablet, despite having a more advanced Core 2 Duo CPU, rather than a simple Core Duo. The differences weren't great, however, and aside from the occasional slowdown while wading through the Windows Vista option menus or waiting for the handwriting recognition to kick in, the system performed on par with our expectations. Doubling the memory to 2GB would have greatly aided its performance in the tests, particularly on our memory-intensive Photoshop CS2 image-processing benchmark.
The new breed of laptops with Intel's revamped Centrino Duo platform (code-named Santa Rosa) will offer better performance and battery life with low-voltage processors, and it seems likely to become the new standard, leaving these older parts out in the cold. The Gateway E-155C is based on the previous-generation Intel 945 chipset.
The Gateway E-155C ran for a respectable 1 hour, 54 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included four-cell battery. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use. A larger six-cell battery is available for an extra $40. Tablets are often used outdoors or in other nontraditional settings, so we expect battery life to be an important factor for users. Lenovo still holds the tablet crown in this area, getting three hours out of the X60 tablet.
Gateway backs the system with a three-year mail-in warranty. A variety of upgrades are available, including next-business-day on-site service for only $30. Upgrading to a three-year plan with accidental damage protection, however, costs $199 more than the default warranty. Gateway offers 24-7 toll-free technical support, and the company's support Web site includes the expected driver downloads and FAQs, as well as the capability to send e-mail to or chat live with a technician.