The design of the five-pound, 14-inch screened Gateway ID49C07u (about $650) caught my attention, with its Mac-like look and feel.   If Windows is your choice, this is a fine laptop for most users. What it lacks may not be missed.  And the price is right!

A good multi-tasker, but the i3 processor shows its weakness under stress. Remember, though, this is really an entry-level mainstream piece ideal for students and others who just don’t need greater performance, which includes most users. Right?

 

What’s Hot?

• Attractive industrial design

• Screen tilts waaaaaaay back to nearly horizontal

• Priced right for included features – about $650

• Intel Core i3 processor is a fine entry-level chip along with 4GB RAM and generous 500GB HD

• FOUR USB ports (most others have up to three)

• Spacious keyboard, nice keyboard feel (if you like squishy keys)

• Built-in HDMI port

• Crisp LED backlit display

• Built-in webcam and dual microphones for echo cancellation using apps such as Skype

• Audio line out with S/PDIF support

• Mic and headphone jack

• Wireless b/g/n

• Gigabit Ethernet

• Multi-in-one media card reader – accepts all “small” card formats, not CF cards

 

What’s Not?

• No Bluetooth (Not an issue unless you plan to use it!)

• Quirky trackpad operation & not all trackpad “fancy” features operate as expected with all software

• Keyboard design with deep well and lots of spacing around keys a magnet for debris, hair, dust

• Dolby Home Theater Virtual Surround Sound – the name begs for performance, but don’t expect much here

• That’s about it – not much to not like

 

The trackpad garnered most of my (unwanted) attention beyond just enjoying using this laptop. The trackpad backlighting seems gimmicky and odd, fortunately easily switched off.

The Alps software-controlled trackpad features – pinch, zoom, rotate, horizontal and vertical scrolling work mostly well, not perfectly, with Microsoft software, such as what is included with the laptop; poorly with, for example, Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari browsers, as well as with OpenOffice. This is not a Gateway issue, but an Alps/3rd party software issue. Still, it is consumers that suffer from this “issue.” The trackpad also takes time to become accustomed to in its quirkiness. Generally, one must learn the sweet spots, which seem smaller than they ought to be. Not to dwell too much on this area, but the trackpad is a huge part of usability of any laptop. I’ll move on . . .

The keyboard feel, I think, is quite good. I like squishy, at least this squishiness; some don’t. Key spacing and kb design would be magnets for debris to get caught and reside in all the wells around the keys, so care (and a can of compressed air?) is needed to avoid calamity over time.

The dedicated button to a launch of social networks – Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr – is a nice touch.  Users can pre-sign in to these for constant updates.  As well, the Launch Manager’s dedicated “P” button to the left of the wireless on/off button (top left above keyboard) is a handy shortcut to a numerous user-selected apps, beyond the intent of the Start Menu’s capabilities.

I found the LED backlit screen to be quite nice.  No quibbles here.  Streaming Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and other videos of high quality look great.  I wish the touch-sensitive video controls offered fast-forward/reverse as well as chapter skip while playing DVDs. This omission seems odd, but cost cutting has to result in omissions, so this must be one of them.

Using the HDMI port to connect to a large flat panel was easy.  There’s not enough horsepower to fill the 50-inch 1080p screen natively, but running photo slideshows and watching videos proved pleasing.  For those with smaller HDMI-equipped desktop monitors, just plug in and go.

Sound level is adequate but nothing to brag about.  Users would rarely find the volume to be too loud.  The Dolby Home Theater Virtual Surround Sound was ineffectual through the tiny built-in speakers. This one baffles me. Why offer it?  There’s just not much benefit with those tiny drivers.  And there are no apparent controls to customize this feature.

As to battery life, my experience yielded about 2 hours, 53 minutes use on video playback.  Users will likely get significantly more if power management is set to optimal and the use is limited to, say, writing an essay or mild Internet surfing.

Webcam audio during video is good, but not the camera’s lowlight capability, which yields grainy images.  Under normal lighting, it’ll do the job just fine.

The laptop does not feel flimsy, nor does it feel as solid as, say, a unibody MacBook. It feels as sturdy as most other “good” Windows laptops.

The installed Windows 7 Home Premium worked well.  NOTHING crashed!  What a nice change from previous Windows operating systems.  HOWEVER, the laptop ships with installation of the 64-bit version of Windows 7. Not everything works with the 64-bit version. Most things, just not all things.  Occasionally, I had to also start Internet Explorer’s 32-bit version (included) if I wanted to use that browser, that is. Flash, for example, is not yet 64-bit Explorer friendly.  It’s better than before but it’s still Windows!

The laptop ships with a trial version of Norton Internet Security with Norton Online Backup.  I uninstalled it and, instead, installed the new Webroot Internet Security Complete that had been provided to me for evaluation and review.  The Gateway did not appear to slow from the Webroot software, though it did pop up with occasional annoying windows asking my permission for things no consumer could possibly know to approve or not, but this is no different from other Windows security suites.  This has NOTHING whatever to do with Gateway nor did it affect my Gateway review.

Also included is Microsoft Works, which is likely inadequate for most students – get the real thing, Microsoft Office Home and Student edition. With careful shopping, perhaps at the student’s college computer store or online, the cost should be about $100 for one computer and about $25 more to cover three computers.  For my testing, I fired up the included 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007 that came pre-installed.  If you don’t know if you need the Microsoft Office suite, don’t get it. Try Microsoft Works.  Also download and try the FREE OpenOffice suite.  You’ve nothing to lose!

Getting onto the Internet wirelessly via our ‘N” router was a breeze as was finding and using available network printers here at Gadget Central.  And remember, this Gateway is equipped with Gigabit Ethernet so the only slowdown on wired connections is NOT going to be in the Gateway.

In summary, and in consideration of the price, features (and lack thereof), design, look and feel, plus daily operation for a few weeks, Gateway is on mostly the right track with this unit.  In its price class, it is a fine choice for the users for which it is intended.  Yes, it’s a good choice for parents buying Windows laptops for their college-bound students.  Good value for the price!  This is also a good choice for the average home consumer, not gamers, who will spend time on social networks, doing email, Web surfing and watching videos. Another likely good candidate for this model would be the traveling businessperson who wants a full-size laptop and its apps for on-the-road communication with home base.  Even for me, this would be fine for my own travel needs, in most cases.  Would I prefer something a bit speedier?  Yes, however, in consideration of budgets, this Gateway would do all that I generally must do while on the road, and nothing much extra.

This is NOT a good choice for power users who would be better off with an i5-equipped laptop, such as Gateway’s ID59C Series at about a buck 20 more. The extra cost brings not only the fine Intel Core i5 processor but also a 15-inch display and better graphics capability.  Isn’t it always about the cost?  I say power users are those who need to use processor-intensive operations in software for photo and video editing as well as music creation and gaming.

Please, Alps, get on the ball with 3rd party mainstream software makers for better integration of trackpad features so they work as consumers have a right to expect.  Then, push updates to this computer!

I recommend this Gateway ID49C07U with qualifiers that are not so serious as to suggest you look elsewhere.

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