With its great looks, ample power, convenient touches, and affordable price, we wanted to love the new Gateway M-150XL, but we'll have to settle for just liking it. This platform has the promise to be a top-notch multimedia entry; however, a disappointing sound system, touchy controls, and the missing high-def optical option keep the current M-150XL from living up to its full potential.
The M-series is certainly the best-looking line Gateway offers, and the automotive-quality glossy clear-coat finish--available in Slate Grey, Pacific Blue, or our test unit's striking Garnet Red--promises to wear well. Gateway designers did a nice job carrying the handsome exterior under the lid, with a palm rest that matches the top of the machine and a brushed-aluminum bezel surrounding the black keyboard. We like the touchpad surface, which feels good to the touch with low friction, but it was sometimes slow to react; we found that we had more control with two fingers instead of one. At 7 pounds, the M-150XL is no bantamweight, but it's still reasonable given its 15.4-inch widescreen.
Finicky Multimedia Keys
Above the keyboard you'll find Gateway's multimedia control keys. Here, unfortunately, the design gets in the way of function. The "buttons" are merely icons on the aluminum trim, separated by thin razor cuts in the metal. Very cool, but it takes more pressure than it should to activate the switch below, so you'll find yourself pressing a button twice to get the desired result. More effective is the volume control; you can swipe your finger between the "-" and "+" signs to adjust the volume, or simply press and hold either symbol. Gateway offers a $60 Bluetooth remote control that slips into the ExpressCard slot.
You get a lot for a little over a grand: 1.3-megapixel webcam, fingerprint reader, 5-in-1 card reader, slot-loading 8X DVD burner, and ports for VGA, headphone, microphone, Ethernet, modem, and three USB. The HDMI connector for displaying content on a big screen is a plus, although there's no option for adding an HD-DVD or Blu-ray drive. One of the machine's chief competitors, the HP Pavilion dv6500z, offers an ExpressCard TV tuner option ($100) as well as an HD DVD-ROM/DVD burner drive (as a reasonable $200 upsell).
Display and Speakers Could be Better
The glossy screen was gorgeous at first sight, but it turned out to be a notch below those we've come to expect in this class. The 1280 x 800-pixel resolution panel was crisp enough, and colors were vivid, but it wasn't quite as bright as others on a side-by-side test. The vertical viewing angles were poor: Moving just slightly off axis caused a substantial brightness shift; moving to the right or left was better, though we wouldn't want to be stuck off to the side for any period of time.
A laptop with multimedia leanings should do a better job with DVD playback. Colors looked natural with good shadow detail, but motion blur was noticeable. Worse, the stereo speakers are right out of the bargain bin, delivering thin sound and inadequate volume.
M-150XL Peforms Well
Booting in just 45 seconds, the M-150XL was quick and astonishingly quiet, and though the M-150XL isn't a configure-to-order model, Gateway has done a good job selecting the right components. The 1.8-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 processor and 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB) delivered very good results on our benchmarks. The M-150XL scored 4,521 on PCMark05, which is above average among mainstream models we've tested lately. Its 3DMark03 score of 4,637 is also better than most, and the machine's 30-fps rate on F.E.A.R. (at 1024 x 768 pixels, with settings on autodetect) proves that the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2400 XT GPU is up for the occasional game.
Battery life from the standard 6-cell power pack (a 9-cell battery is available for $149) was good, at 3 hours and 10 minutes. The 802.11a/b/g/n wireless connection delivered above-average throughput at 15 feet from our router (18.8 Mbps) but a below-average 12.6 Mbps at 50 feet.
Too Much Trialware
As for software, you get a 90-day subscription to McAfee Internet Security Suite, Microsoft Works 8.5, and CyberLink Power2Go DVD suite, plus a bunch of preloaded offers (from America Online, eBay. Napster, and NetZero) that we would just as soon do without. Gateway backs the system for a year with 24/7 toll-free tech support (and online support, as well), and you can opt for the LoJack for Laptops theft-recovery software ($49 per year) and accidental-damage plan (a reasonable $99 for three years).
Gateway M-150XL Verdict
The Gateway M-150XL faces stiff competition from the likes of Dell's Inspiron 1520, HP's Pavilion dv6500 series, and Toshiba's Satellite line. It has the looks and computing power that users crave, and we like the prospect of discrete graphics for less than $1,200. However, little things such as the lackluster display and audio quality, as well as the finicky controls, are enough to keep the M-150XL in the "maybe" column of our shopping list.