Thin, stylish, and a change from the company’s previous designs, the silvery Gateway ID49C series has a slim form factor paired with an optical drive and Core i3/i5 processors. When last we reviewed Gateway’s new thin laptop, it was in the form of the budget-price $629 ID49C07U in our 2010 retail laptop and desktop back-to-school roundup.The ID49C08U costs significantly more–$849–but has an Intel Core i5 processor and a Nvidia GeForce GT330M GPU with Optimus automatic-switching graphics. Though the specs are tempting and the price is good, many similar systems with higher-end touches don’t cost much more, including the HP Envy 14, which offers a similarly performing configuration for about $1,000. If, on the other hand, saving $150 is your greatest concern, this could be a thin gaming-capable laptop worth consideration.
Flat, silver, and surprisingly thin, the Gateway ID49C08U caught our eye right away among other midsize computers sitting on our Lab bench. The overall dimensions and wafer-thin lid closely match up with thin-and-light laptops such as the Asus UL80J-BBK5, as does its sub-5-pound weight.
An aluminum alloy cover and interior have a soft silver look that repels smudges but seems a little scuff-prone. Matte-black plastic surrounds the upper inset glossy screen, and a flat keyboard lies flush with the aluminum lower half, also colored the same dull silver. A curved, inset touch pad rounds out a look that’s both semiprofessional and, at times, reminiscent of the MacBook Pro, but cast in budget materials.
The flat-key design on the ID49C08U’s keyboard is identical to what we saw on the design-revamped Gateway NV59C09U, except in silver instead of black. The widely spaced keys are somewhat comfortable, but the keyboard flexes too much and the keys tilt a bit while typing. Additionally, the wide gaps and valleys underneath the keys seem to invite the annoying trapping of particles, dust, or hair, a problem that’s avoided with raised keys that fit tightly into the keyboard tray.
A few dedicated buttons sit above the keyboard: on the left there’s a Wi-Fi on/off toggle and a programmable quick-launch key; on the top right, a square power button stands alone. Between the two, a thin capacitive-touch media bar has play/pause, stop, forward/rewind, and eject functions. The DVD drive, tucked on the right side of the ID4907U’s chassis, has no physical button to eject, just this touch panel, and there was often a delay before registering our eject command. The fast-forward/rewind buttons only served to skip tracks on DVD playback, and couldn’t fast do shuttle-style forward or rewind.
Gateway has also included a few new wrinkles to the keyboard design. Running down the right side, a Social Media button adorned with odd smiling faces brings up a software widget with FaceBook, YouTube, and Flickr feeds, but it’s nothing we don’t already get in browser plug-ins and via software such as Digsby. New dedicated volume buttons are a great add.
As for the wide, inset, glossy touch pad, it’s a design misfire. The entire dark surface lights up in a glowing blue whenever contact is made with the click zones on the bottom of the pad. The whole multitouch pad clicks, as on an Apple MacBook or HP’s latest laptops such as the Pavilion dm4 or Envy series, but thanks to limited multitouch software supplied by ALPS, it can’t register any of these clicks outside the button-size click zones on the bottom. The distracting blue glow can thankfully be deactivated, but the gimmick seems to have come at a cost for ergonomics: the glossy transparent plastic that comprises the touch pad is horrible for registering finger gestures; we had to press firmly with a flat finger to get it to work, and found finger-tip gestures to be intermittently ignored. Multitouch was also finicky and often nonresponsive. Although we like the idea of a recessed touch pad, it makes no sense for the button area to be recessed, too; it makes clicks very hard to accomplish without long-term hand cramping, since our thumb tended to rest above the click area.
The 14-inch wide-screen LED-backlit display offers a 1,366×768-pixel native resolution, standard for 14-inch laptops, although some high-end laptops such as the HP Envy 14 exceed it. Brightness and sharpness are average, but we found that images looked washed out at maximum brightness settings. The image quality faded at wide viewing angles, too. For this price range, other laptops offer better screens.
Stereo speakers located above the keyboard offered decent volume and quality for movie playback, nothing stellar but better than other laptops in the budget range. Dolby Home Theater is advertised on the laptop’s exterior, but any theatrical audio effects don’t translate onto smaller speakers such as these. The included Webcam had below-average light sensitivity and contrast; we had a hard time getting our face to not look grainy and completely washed out.
There isn’t much room on the Gateway ID49C08U to cram many ports in, but to its credit there are four USB ports along the sides, one more than we would have expected. HDMI-out is also included, which is always useful in an era when HDTV connectivity is so easy. There’s no Bluetooth, which for this price is a bit of a letdown.
On the positive side, the CPU/GPU configuration for the ID49C08U is pretty good and makes for a great one-two punch of processing power and gaming performance. The Intel Core i5 M450 CPU is the same one we’ve seen in many mainstream laptops, and it’s a notable step up in single and multitasking speed compared with the Core i3 processor in the Gateway ID49C07U.
More impressive are the included Nvidia graphics. The included GeForce GT 330M processor produced very good results in our tests; our Unreal Tournament III benchmark performed at 1,280×768-pixel resolution at 80.4 frames per second. We also played some mainstream games including Transformers: War for Cybertron and got much better results than on laptops with the more common, lower-end GeForce 310M GPU.
In addition, the ID49C08U has Nvidia Optimus technology for automatic graphics switching and battery conservation. Optimus is really something that should work invisibly, paradoxically requiring no attention at all. It simply and automatically activates and deactivates the dedicated Nvidia graphics based on program usage, and it mostly works flawlessly. In some instances we had to add a program profile to Nvidia’s settings, an unintuitive process, but not that common. The chief advantage to Optimus is it theoretically allows a thin laptop such as this to run full-powered graphics when needed, without sacrificing much in terms of battery life.