OK, so we’re finally ready to admit that Blu-ray looks like it’s here to stay for a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean that many people are ready to make a huge investment in a laptop with a Blu-ray player. The good news is, you may not have to worry about that. Prices have been dropping on Blu-ray laptops, and it’s being increasingly offered as an upgrade option on many machines. Still, even we were surprised at the price of the Gateway NV5933u, a 15-inch Core i3 laptop with Blu-ray that costs just $650.
To put that in perspective, just a few months ago we were excited about a new Core i3 laptop of any kind for that price. And, back in our spring 2010 retail roundup of laptops, the 17-inch Core i3 Gateway NV7915u cost $599, just $50 less.
Admittedly, you’re getting a 15.6-inch display at 1,366×768 pixels instead of a 17.3-inch at 1,600×900 pixels, and a smaller hard drive (320GB vs. the NV7915u’s 500GB). But, this is also a smaller, more manageably sized laptop that might appeal better to those who want to carry their computer around. And, with HDMI-out, you can always output to a larger TV or monitor.
Considering that CNET recently reviewed a $500 portable Blu-ray player with an even smaller screen, the Gateway makes an even better choice by comparison. For an extra $150 you’re not only getting a better Blu-ray player, but you’re getting a whole computer thrown in, too–and a pretty good one, at that.
Lookswise, the Gateway NV5933u is extremely similar to other recent Gateways we’ve reviewed in the NV line: solid, not too thick and not too thin, with a glossy plastic lid and a thick tube-style hinge that houses the power button on one side. The NV5933u has a bright cherry red outer lid highlighted with an abstract honeycomb pattern, which hides fingerprints better, and lends a nice contrast with the matte-black interior. In case you’re not into red, the NV59 series also comes in “coffee brown,” “midnight blue,” and “nightsky black.”
A matte-black keyboard deck surrounds the Gateway’s wide, flat keyboard, with a glossy black finish around the 15.6-inch display. It’s a clean look that we like better in the budget range than in higher-priced configs. Although the screen size is smaller than the recently reviewed Gateway NV7915u and the NV1901u, it actually results in a far more compact laptop with a more portable weight.
Recent Gateway keyboards stand out from the pack by having flat versus raised Chiclet-style keys, such as the ones seen on everything from MacBooks to Vaios. The wide, flat keys seem jarring by comparison at first, but the typing experience is actually surprisingly good. The key depressions are quiet yet retain a nice click with good travel, and the keys don’t wobble. An adjoining number pad is a nice add, but it’s a little too close to the main keyboard for comfort. To its credit, however, direction arrows and Shift/Return keys are kept discrete and properly sized. Above the keyboard is a small LED-backlit touch panel for controlling volume, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a few other small functions.
The slightly recessed multitouch-enabled pad has a smooth matte surface and is larger than average. It also controls really well, with two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom working better than normal for a Windows 7 touch pad. It’s a shame the mouse button bar beneath remains awkward. Thin, mirrored, and lacking discrete buttons, it’s oddly flush with the rest of the palm rest’s surface. Its positioning and design make it hard to click and use.
The LED-backlit 15.6-inch glossy display on the Gateway NV5933u has a 16×9 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 1,366×768 pixels, which is standard for most laptops up to 15 inches. At this size, we’ve seen higher-res displays–the lower resolution is a bit of a disconnect with the included Blu-ray drive–but for the price some compromises are to be expected. At least the screen is big and bright, although it’s not as crisp as others we’ve seen. Honestly, you might have a hard time recognizing the quality of a Blu-ray disc as opposed to a standard DVD.
Above the screen, a 0.3-megapixel Webcam offers video conferencing and picture-taking capabilities, but at a max resolution of 640×480 pixels. Color and definition were fine enough considering the low-res images the camera took, and video had a passable frame rate.
The integrated speakers, located above the keyboard and under thin grilles, have better-than-average volume and bass for movie watching. It’s not audiophile territory by any means, but will be good for Hulu or other video content. If you’re looking to get all you can out of your Blu-ray player, you’d better hook this up to a receiver.
Though the selection of ports on the NV5933u is fine for most, it lacks some of the bell-and-whistle features that set other laptops above the competition. No eSATA, ExpressCard, or Bluetooth functionality means you’ll have to accomplish most of your connectivity needs via USB 2.0 or Wi-Fi.
Compared with the value-priced Gateway NV7915u, this Gateway has a middle-of-the-road 320GB hard drive. That’s certainly above average and more than enough for most, but not the 500GB we’ve seen on other models. There is, however, 4GB of fast DDR3 RAM. The NV59 series of laptops starts at $629 for a Core i3 model without Blu-ray, and climbs up to $799 for a Core i5 processor, a 500GB hard drive, and ATI Radeon HD dedicated graphics, also oddly without Blu-ray. There’s also a $729 Core i5/Blu-ray model, but the value proposition of this particular Gateway line seems to dissolve at the higher price points compared with other offerings we’ve seen.
We’ve said before that we’re pleasantly surprised by the performance and value of the new Intel Core i3 CPUs, which are technically the low end of the new Core series of processors. Even at the low end, this Core i3 is still better than most Core 2 Duo CPUs, especially when it comes to multimedia and multitasking. We could achieve Blu-ray playback, Hulu streaming, and word processing simultaneously with no problem, and found that little slowed the processor down.
As far as graphics go, there aren’t any to speak of except for Intel’s integrated HD processor. This machine is perfect at handling any form of video playback, but it can’t handle games beyond casual or browser-based ones.
The Gateway NV5933u ran for 2 hours and 16 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. Anything less than 3 hours on a mainstream laptop is disappointing, even at this price. Apple’s recent MacBooks, by comparison, last well over 5 hours. Sure, this is a budget laptop, but its inability to last longer than the length of some movies is a serious drawback to an otherwise tempting package.