Gateway's ID series is proof that a company can make a budget notebook that looks and performs above its price. The ID49C07u, the 14-inch model in this line, costs $679, but has innovative styling, including a unique glowing touchpad. It also has enough muscle to satisfy its target audience. While it's not perfect, this laptop has the features and performance shoppers are looking for plus a little panache.
Both the lid and the deck of the ID49C07u is an aluminum alloy that not only gives the system a premium look, but will better protect it from occasional bumps. The bezel is a matte black, and, like the rest of the exterior, does not show fingerprints. The ID is a relatively sleek 13.5 x 9.6 x 0.9-1 inches, and at 4.8 pounds, is slightly lighter than the Dell Inspiron 14R (5 pounds) and the Toshiba Satellite E205 (5.2 pounds).
The ID's keyboard uses the same FineTip design that's now ubiquitous on all Acer and Gateway notebooks. Like the deck, it's also a silver color. The letters and numbers are black, but the font is very thin, making it a little difficult to see; we'd prefer something a little bolder. While we'd prefer a little more travel in the keys, they were nice and large, and easy to press. However, there was a bit of flex in the deck.
To the right of the keyboard are volume controls; above them is Gateway's new social networking button, which, when pressed, opens an app that provides quick access to Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. We'd be more impressed if we could add links to other social networking sites, such as Twitter.
Above and to the left of the keyboard are two buttons, one, a customizable quick-launch button for your favorite app; the other activates the notebook's Wi-Fi. On the right are touch buttons for media controls, and for opening the DVD drive.
The ID's Alps-powered touchpad is the most visually distinctive aspect of the notebook. It's set slightly lower than the rest of the deck, and is trimmed in chrome. When you put more than two fingers on the pad, it glows bluish-white, which is a neat effect, but may prove distracting to touch typists who are focusing on the screen. You can deactivate this feature, too, but we wish that you could customize when it activates.
Similar to Apple laptops and some HP systems, the Gateway's mouse buttons are built into the 3.4 x 2.3-inch touchpad itself, and are designated by two small horizontal lines. While the look is nice, the buttons require you to push them down much further than Apple's or HP's, and the action felt floppy, for lack of a better word. The ID49C07u's touchpad kind of reminds us of the SurePress screen on the first-generation BlackBerry Storm--a little too much give.
In an effort to avoid the multitouch issues that have been plaguing Dell and HP touchpads with integrated buttons, you can't initiate gestures in the button areas on the ID's touchpad. However, this means the effective area for gestures is much smaller, making it more difficult to actually perform them.
The ID stayed fairly cool during our testing. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the temperature between the G and H key was 87 degrees Fahrenheit, the touchpad was 85, and the middle of the underside was 91 degrees. Temperatures must reach at least 95 degrees before they start to concern us.
Display and Audio
The ID49C07u's 14-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel display has a glossy finish, which means it reflected bright lights, but colors on-screen were all the more crisp and vibrant. While watching an episode of Glee, the blues of Jane Lynch's track suit and the reds of the cheerleader's uniforms really popped, and action was smooth.
The Dolby Home Theater-branded speakers on the ID49 were decent; the bass line in Kool & the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging" came through, as did the higher guitar riffs, but it wasn't anything spectacular. The speakers were adequately loud for a few people clustered around the notebook, but not much more than that.
Ports and Webcam
On the left side is an Ethernet, HDMI, VGA, USB, and headphone and mic ports; on the right is the tray-loading DVD drive and three more USB ports. The front left lip conceals a 5-in-1 card reader.
Over Skype, a caller said that colors were decent, but the webcam had trouble adjusting to ambient light; at some times, our face would be too dark.
Despite packing the almost entry-level 2.26-GHz Intel Core i3-350M and 4GB of RAM, the Gateway ID did fairly well on our tests. Its PCMark Vantage score of 5,026 is about 1,000 points higher than the thin and light average, but it was well below more powerful systems such as the HP Pavilion dm4 (5,983), and Toshiba E205 (5,396), both of which have Core i5 processors. Still, we had no trouble performing everyday tasks, such as surfing the web, playing music, and watching movies.
The system booted in a sluggish 1 minute and 43 seconds, partially owing to the glut of trailware, including the Best Buy software installer. Removing this, as well as the Norton Internet Security trial dropped the startup time to 56 seconds. The other reason for the leisurely boot was the 5,400-rpm, 500GB hard drive, which took 5 minutes and 43 seconds to duplicate a 4.97GB folder of multimedia. That's a rate of 14.7 MBps, 9 MBps slower than the category average. Still, the system converted a 114MB AVI file to MPEG-4 in 1 minute and 4 seconds, which is 1 second faster than the average.
Not surprisingly, the integrated Intel GMA HD graphics provided the bare essentials. The system scored 1,735 on 3DMark06, than 500 points below average, and about 200 points below the dm4 and E205. We were able to play World of Warcraft at 33 fps when we set graphics to default, and the resolution to 1024 x 768. Bumping up effects to ultra and the resolution to native resulted in an unplayable 9 fps.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Considering it has an integrated GPU, we were a little disappointed that the ID49 lasted just 4 hours and 3 minutes on a charge. That's about 40 minutes less than the thin and light average, and nearly an hour less than the HP dv4 (4:56) and the Toshiba E205 (4:53).
Wireless was a bright spot: The ID's Atheros AR5B93 notched throughput of 54.2 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point, and a still-blazing 39 fps from 50 feet away. That's some of the best wireless scores we've seen from any notebook, ever.
The ID49 we reviewed was the base model. Gateway offers two other versions: The ID49C04u ($749) has the same processor, but a 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive. The $849 version (ID49C08u) has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-450M processor, a 500GB hard drive, and has an Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU and Nvidia's Optimus technology.
As mentioned, there's a bunch of software on the ID that's a necessary evil for keeping its price low: The Best Buy software installer, 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, and Norton Internet Security, However, there are some useful apps, including CyberLink PowerDVD 9, Microsoft Works, and Gateway's social networking app.
The ID49 comes with a 1-year warranty and toll-free technical support. See how Gateway fared in the Laptop Tech Support Showdown.
Consumers looking for an inexpensive notebook that still has a sense of style should check out the Gateway ID49C07u. Not only is its metallic lid classy, but the notebook has decent performance figures to back it up. While we wish battery life was a bit longer--and the boot time shorter--these faults are forgiveable in a system that costs less than $700. Ultimately, the ID's glowing touchpad seems a little gimmicky, but we like that Gateway tried something new on a system that isn't for the uber-rich.