We’re going to go out on a limb here and say it: from a consumer standpoint, a large-screened “thin-and-light” laptop has little appeal over a regular mainstream system. That is to say, thin doesn’t matter all that much when a computer has a large footprint anyway.
That hasn’t stopped manufacturers from releasing “big and thin” laptops, which generally tend to be 15-inch machines with bodies under an inch thick, most of them using an Intel Core 2 Duo ultra-low-voltage (ULV) processor. The Acer Timeline and Asus UL50VTare prime examples of these types of machines, which are attractively compact and well-built but sacrifice performance for longer battery life.
The Gateway EC5809u is nearly identical to an Acer Timeline, which isn’t incredibly surprising: Acer and Gateway are, after all, two brands from the same company. While this laptop does have a sturdy frame and decent specs for the price, it offers nothing new to the equation and runs last-gen ULV processors that can’t compare to a Core i3 or i5. It also lacks any dedicated graphics outside of the underpowered Intel integrated processor, unlike the more gaming-friendly Asus UL50VT, which costs less than $100 more.
For $649, you can get more for your money–the Gateway NV7915u being a great case in point. If a thinner frame and longer battery life matter, then look into this, but you’re paying for that slightly slimmer size.
The first impression this thin 15-incher gives is of being a near lookalike to the Acer Timeline series, and that’s not a bad thing. While wide and flat, this notebook’s most definitely thin. A denim blue brushed-metal lid (red and silver are also available) with its signature off-center chrome Gateway logo opens neatly to reveal a clean interior: matte black around the flat keyboard and large inset off-center trackpad, glossy black plastic around the inset glossy screen.
The battery is well-integrated underneath, so the EC5809u rests flat and packs cleanly in a backpack with no bulge. The EC5809u manages to include an optical drive in its narrow chassis, much like the Asus UL50VT. On a slightly annoying note, though, the L-shaped AC adapter tip plugs right next to the drive door, and can block the door from opening depending on the angle that it’s facing.
Gateway’s keyboards are all wide and flat across its product line, and despite not always being a fan of flat keyboard designs, we found the matte, slightly textured keys easy to press and comfortable to use. An adjoining number pad along the right side is convenient to have, and thankfully the direction-arrow keys are positioned to neither intrude on the number keys or the right-side Return and Shift keys. A single power button on the top right is the only non-keyboard button on the laptop: narrow function keys across the top offer the rest of the controls, with additional volume and brightness attached to the arrow keys.
The wider-than-normal multitouch touchpad is comfortable, easy to locate, and responded decently to multitouch scrolling, although the mirrored single-bar rocker button beneath, lying nearly flush with the track pad, was awkward to use.
The Gateway EC5809u’s 15.6-inch LED-backlit 16×9 screen has a native resolution of 1,366×768 pixels, which is common in screens below 16 inches. However, at a size approaching 16 inches, we’d expect a higher resolution–text and icons sometimes appeared a little soft. While the screen was clear from a variety of horizontal angles, the image quality dropped off more quickly at vertical angles. Blacks came across slightly washed out to our eyes.
Built-in stereo speakers are embedded above the keyboard, with tiny vented grilles on both sides. Included Dolby Sound Room settings control bass boost and add a “sound space expander” option for a simulated surround feel. The volume’s softer than we’d prefer and has tinny treble, but isn’t bad for basic movie watching and TV viewing.
A built-in HD Webcam took decent snapshots and recorded smooth video at lower settings, with lower-frame-rate HD videos using the included Web camera software.
A rather ordinary array of ports are available on the EC5809u, befitting a thin ultraportable more than a serious mainstream machine. Just three USB ports, no Bluetooth or ExpressCard–only an HDMI port distinguishes this machine. The DVD burner is a welcome touch, but more of a security blanket for those who want to treat this laptop as a true primary computer for their home.
At the heart of the EC5809u is a very familiar CPU: the Intel SU7300, a Core 2 Duo ULV processor, is what we’ve seen in most “thin” laptops for the better part of a year. This processor is one we’ve liked, and approaches a Core 2 Duo-type performance, but its speed in both single apps and multitasking isn’t as good as what you’d get in a newer Core i3 or i5 processor from Intel. The SU7300 does, however, provide perfectly good full-screen HD streaming of video and handles other media-viewing tasks well, making this Gateway a good but not great media-viewing laptop. For media creation or for gaming, you’ll have a harder time–this laptop sacrifices speed for battery life, and it has no dedicated graphics at all, only Intel’s integrated GPU, which doesn’t offer much beyond video playback.
The closest system that we’ve recently reviewed which matches what this Gateway has under the hood is the 13-inch ThinkPad Edge, which also had an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor. Hybrid laptops with dedicated switching graphics and the same Intel processor, such as the Asus UL50VT and Alienware M11x, obviously performed a little better with media-oriented tasks and in particularly in multimedia multitasking. The EC5809u is a very capable computer that can handle all basic mainstream needs short of heavy-duty media creation or gaming, but the story performance-wise is no different than when we reviewed the Asus UL30A last year. We like multicore ULV processors, but in systems 13 inches and smaller; at 15.6 inches, you might as well just get a fuller, standard-voltage, Core i3/i5 machine.
The Gateway EC5809u ran for 5 hours and 43 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. Our battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use. That’s a satisfying number, especially for a 15-inch laptop, but it’s no longer an eye-popping statistic. Apple’s MacBook Pros have been getting better battery life despite having better graphics and processors, although they do have non-removable and far larger batteries inside. Over six hours is our goal for a “full day” of laptop usage, and this machine nearly makes it there.
Gateway includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible via chat or e-mail as well as by toll-free 24-7 phone line, although there’s no clear indication of any phone number on its Web site (it’s 800-846-2301). An online knowledge base and driver downloads, by comparison, are relatively easy to find.