Tablets are typically ultra-mobile systems that can be held easily in the crook of an arm, but that's not the case with the C-142XL. This update to Gateway's 14.1-inch convertible is intended for the education market and consumers looking for a pen-capable notebook. And it's designed for those who like the idea of taking digital notes and don't mind leaning the system against a desk while working. With a fast dual-core processor, 3GB of RAM, and discrete graphics, it's best to think of the C-142XL as a full-featured notebook with tablet functionality as a bonus.
Bulky, Yet Durable Design
At 13.6 x 10.5 x 1.3 inches, the C-142XL is too chunky for our tastes and better suited for a desk than a tray table. Weighing nearly 7 pounds--twice the weight of most tablet PCs--the all-matte, black Gateway C-142XL is as heavy as it appears and requires two hands to port it around. The system gets most of its girth from its protruding rubberized, eight-cell battery; the hump-shaped battery props up the system for more ergonomic typing but at the expense of adding another pound. According to Gateway, the hump came at the request of students who were using books to prop up tablets in the classroom.
To the system's credit, we were impressed by its rugged features: Its magnesium lid feels solid and was designed to take a beating. Additionally, the dual-alloy hinge is firmly bolted down to the magnesium chassis; the system securely converts to tablet mode and lacks any wobble. Reversible magnetic latches on the top of the screen keep the screen firmly in place when it's closed or in tablet mode.
A broad keyboard with matte keys proved comfortable for long typing stints. The system's large touchpad was responsive and includes an integrated scroll bar for scanning long Web pages. However, the right and left click buttons were a bit stiff despite their large size. We preferred using an external mouse, which paired easily with the C-142XL's integrated Bluetooth 2.0 connection.
The C-142XL doesn't lack for ports: FireWire, a 7-in-1 media card reader, Type II PC Card, VGA, docking port, Ethernet, and modem ports surround the system.We like that it has three USB 2.0 ports, but they're all clustered together on the left, which makes plugging in multiple peripherals difficult. You'll also find an 8X DVD burner on the right.
Sweet Display, Disappointing Audio
The 14.1-inch (1280 x 800-pixel resolution) glossy display was bright and colorful; the green grass of the baseball field popped while watching The Sandlot on DVD. We experienced some minor glare when holding the tablet at certain vertical angles, but it wasn't too distracting.
We were disappointed at the system's lack of an external volume control and the poor speaker performance. The dual speakers, located on the front edge, were weak; we struggled to hear the narrator's voice when watching The Sandlot. Sound levels were higher when playing MP3s, but Coldplay's "Clocks" still sounded quiet even with the volume at full blast. Audio quality was fine for making a call over Skype, but even with the volume maxed out, we had a tough time hearing our callers from just a few feet away; we preferred wearing a Bluetooth VoIP headset. The system lacks a webcam for making video calls.
C-142XL Tablet Functionality
The C-142XL has a resistive (passive) touchscreen display that recognizes only the input of a stylus. The screen had no problem responding to the included Wacom plastic stylus, or to other plastic styli for that matter. We appreciated the screen orientation button on the bezel, since the orientation doesn't automatically rotate when you swivel the screen, as well as the three other configurable quick-launch buttons and a four-way d-pad. We just wish the C-142XL had a scroll wheel for moving through long documents or Web sites.
The advanced stylus, which includes a left click button on it, was easy to write with and smoothly displayed our writing. Taking notes using Windows Journal was analogous to writing in regular ink, and we didn't have to press hard to have our writing appear. However, we don't like that you have to reach under the system to eject the pen and that the stylus itself has no eraser button.
The question is if you'll use the C-142XL in Tablet mode very often since it's unwieldy as a slate. Your best bet is either to place it on top of a desk or to lean it against the edge of one to get a bit more comfortable.
Strong Performance, Solid Graphics
A powerful 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 processor and 3GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB) make the C-142XL a very capable Vista noteobook. The system's MobileMark 2007 score of 162 is about 15 points above the average for a mainstream system, and its PCMark Vantage score of 3,401 is about 150 points above average. We should note that because it has only a 14.1-inch screen but still weighs more than 6 pounds, it straddles the mainstream and thin-and-light categories.
The C-142XL was plenty capable for day-to-day productivity chores. It handled multitasking extremely well: Watching a DVD while surfing on Firefox and running Skype didn't slow down the system enough to affect playback. Thanks in part to the 5,400-rpm 250GB hard drive, the system booted in a quick 45 seconds.
The C-142XL' ATI Mobility Radeon X2300 graphics card managed a score of 4,163 on our 3DMark03 test, which is well below the average (5,429) for a mainstream system but nearly double what you'd typically find on other 14.1-inch notebooks. We didn't notice any lag walking around in Second Life, but playing this game did slow down the system and the launch of other applications. The C-142XL turned in a respectable 56 frames per second in F.E.A.R., albeit at a low 640 x 480 resolution. That means you'll have to do without most of the cool effects of 3D games.
Good Endurance, Weak Wireless
Thanks to the C-142XL's eight-cell battery, we rarely found ourselves reaching for the power cord. The system lasted 4 hours and 21 minutes with Wi-Fi on and 4 hours and 34 minutes with wireless turned off. The C-142XL's 802.11a/b/g connection moved data along at a pokey 12.7 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point and 10.5 Mbps at 50 feet. Web pages loaded at decent rates but weren't blazing: It took 6 seconds for the NYTimes.com home page to fully load. We didn't have a problem streaming episodes of 30 Rock via Hulu.com service, however; video and audio played with relatively few pauses.
Software and Support
The C-142XL comes preinstalled with some useful programs, including Spare Backup software, Google Desktop, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007, and Norton Internet Security. We weren't bothered much by the AOL and Napster promotions. Gateway covers the system with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7, toll-free tech support, though you can opt for three years of coverage for $159.
For $1,299, the Gateway C-142XL provides good tablet performance and everything you would expect from an all-purpose notebook, including a DVD burner, plenty of ports, solid processing power, and long battery life. Consumers looking for a more mobile convertible should consider the HP Pavilion tx2000, which has a smaller 12.1-inch display but is responsive to finger touch. Nevertheless, if you're in the small camp of those who want tablet functionality but don't need to tote it everywhere, the Gateway C-142XL is a solid choice.