The ID49C is a Land of Confusion

It's important to consider all facets of a laptop design in evaluating the overall build. Gateway tried to go upscale with the ID49C and produce something classy and stylish, something you might not immediately link to the Gateway name at first glance. What they produced is something that achieves that purpose in some areas, but there are other aspects of the design that completely miss the mark.

We'll start at the lid, which is admittedly very attractive. Accentuating the generally slender build of the ID49C, Gateway opted to use an aluminum alloy on the lid. It's basically aluminum over a plastic frame, and feels cool to the touch. Credit where credit is due: there isn't a speck of glossy plastic to be found on it (and very little anywhere else on the notebook for that matter.) Flex is actually pretty good and it, along with the matte plastic frame of the glossy screen, feels pretty firm. The build quality here at least is a lot better than we're used to seeing on other Acer and Gateway laptops, and certinaly a step up from Clevo's candy shells designed solely to house high performance hardware and not melt in sunlight.

What's inside is a welcome change from the glossy fingerprint-magnet hells we've come to expect from most of the other manufacturers, with a similar aluminum (or at least aluminum-looking) material used for most of the surface of the body. What little glossy plastic there is exists tastefully under the speaker grille, where the wireless switch and touch-based media controls are located. If the ID49C can be accused of anything just by looking at the internal design, it's that it's almost too spare and almost too plain. I'd sooner chalk that up to "you can't please everyone" than anything else, though.

Before I get to the backlit touchpad (a phrase that will seem progressively sillier as this review wears on), a personal note to Acer/Gateway: your keyboard sucks. Seriously, this is a terrible design. It was bad when it was introduced, and has only gotten more terrible over time as you've continually foisted it on every single notebook and netbook you've released since its inception. If it were possible to hate something to the point of combustion, this notebook would be a flaming effigy on my front porch because of the sheer force of my disdain for this keyboard as it mangles every single Acer and Gateway review unit that comes across my desk, producing a point of compromise on otherwise reasonable value builds where none need exist. The aluminum shell is a nice change, but frankly we'd rather have a plastic case with a better keyboard first.

Of course, it only gets better on the ID49C, and by better I mean worse. While the silver key surfaces are at least mildly attractive, the keyboard bows in the middle whenever you type on it. The half-sized arrow keys are a little difficult to use, but the worst decision has to be switching the standard column of document navigation keys to "Fn" combos on the arrows and then using those keys to handle volume control and smiley faces. No, really, the key that would be "Home" on any sane keyboard has a trio of smiling people on it, and when you press it, it opens Gateway's "Social Networks" application. The others are volume up, volume down, and mute—functions that up until this point were really just fine being "Fn" combos. Acer keyboards, and the one on this unit in particular, cause me extreme existential duress. I can't sleep at night.

But I did mention backlit touchpad, didn't I? Why yes, yes I did. It's a unified touchpad (meaning it has the buttons built in instead of dedicated) similar to Apple's MacBook Pro line, but without the careful thought that went into the design. This is one of the better implementations I've seen, but it'll make you a tapper instead of a clicker in a hurry. The rubbery surface is actually pretty nice and easy to use, but the best part is the backlighting. Whenever you touch the "button areas", the touchpad lights up with a full-bodied white LED backlight. This functionality can be toggled on and off, but the pressing question is why was it included in the first place?

You can easily make a case for backlit keyboards; even touch typists periodically need to get their bearings in the dark—especially if you're looking for a function key or an Fn combo. But that's more than eighty individual keys. This is a single, big touchpad that operates as a single, big button. There's no practical purpose for it, and the instant the other cuts made to the design and configuration pop into your mind it only becomes more perplexing. Here's a thought: Gateway can't do keyboard backlighting with the silly "floating island" keys, and rather than giving us a better keyboard we get...this touchpad.

The rest of the build is an exercise in compromise as well. The port selection on the ID49C is paltry and behind the times. If you're not going to include USB 3.0, at least include eSATA. I'm the only person left in the world who cares about ExpressCard and FireWire, so I can live without those two on this machine, but not having any way to access external storage at a reasonable speed beyond USB 2.0 is ridiculous. Not even a combo port. The port placement is at least fairly sensible, but the row of three ports on the right hand side does run the risk of getting in the way of your mousing hand.

Finally, Gateway actually does a great job with the internals, with just a single panel and two screws giving you access to the hard disk, the wireless card, and the memory. Unfortunately, there's no notch for you to slip your fingernail into to pop the panel off: you have to wedge a flathead screwdriver between the panel and body of the notebook and then use some force to snap it off. I was actually worried the panel would snap in half when I was trying to remove it, so a measure of caution is required. Once you're in, though, it's well designed and easy to upgrade the individual components.

Introducing the Gateway ID49C General Performance with the ID49C
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  • xype - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    "MBP's screen are decent, but no where near the best in term of "high-res" and "uniformity" and "view angel"."

    Erm, ever heared of "context"? We're talking consumer laptops here, not $4k tablets or whatever. Obviously you could get a better panel if you spent $20k on a laptop...

    "just because you are in "lame-hipster-web-app-and-design business" doesn't mean you need a good screen."

    Actually it does mean that, at least if you're dealing with the design side of things (which I do).

    But, yeah, tablets are a different story—the iPad has an IPS screen, too. Doesn't mean anything in the context of consumer 13-17" laptops, though—which is what I am interested in.
    Reply
  • seanleeforever - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    i did not take it out of context. review your own post and think before posting.

    most would agree that MBP is not a cheap consumer laptop. it is their pro line and cost 1.8k to 4.1k. so exactly how did i take it out of context? (i did not consider the 13 inch because their screen is just as average as any panel in Dell/HP, their 15/17 are the only ones using 6-bit TN with 3 color LED backlit, as an apple PRO owner that does web design, you should at least know that, right?)

    out of the three examples i pointed out, the HP dreamcolor is NOT a tablet. it is on their elitebook and it is 10 bit IPS screen. it is on their 15 and 17 inch elitebooks, and that is exactly within the context of 13~17" laptop, which is what YOU interested in.

    allow me to say this: LCD screen, even regular TN screens look pretty damn nice under ideal condition. but what separately pro/business from consumer is 1: price tag 2: performance under all conditions.

    lastly, i did say Apple screens are noticeably better than average screen, but to say it is the BEST is simply a display of your ignorance. it is the same part used in other laptops and perform the same. i fail to see how screen is the reason for you to justify your choice.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    For the record, the 13.3" MBP has a good screen as well (just no matte option). The regular MacBook on the other hand has a crappy ~200:1 contrast ratio. We'll have something of a comparative review in the near future for some fun.... :-) Reply
  • xype - Friday, September 24, 2010 - link

    "most would agree that MBP is not a cheap consumer laptop. it is their pro line and cost 1.8k to 4.1k"

    Yeah, except that the standard configurations (which is what most people buy) are 1.2 to 2.3K. If a "pro line" starts at 1.2 then that means that the people's expectations of laptops and computers in general got pretty weird lately. And I guess the 3k HP EliteBook is, what, space technology?

    "lastly, i did say Apple screens are noticeably better than average screen, but to say it is the BEST is simply a display of your ignorance"

    Can you point me to where I claimed they were the best?

    " i fail to see how screen is the reason for you to justify your choice."

    It's not the sole reason, but a very important one none the less. If you fail to see how it might be a reason to justify a laptop, feel free to get the Gateway and enjoy the shitty screen.
    Reply
  • Ivan Karkour - Monday, September 27, 2010 - link

    What happened to reading what the person comments? Seanleefore mentions laptops too, and he mentions a good selection. Talk about disregarding what the person says..

    Seanleefore, although quite biased, mentioned the Dell Studio XPS line, along with the M4500. They all have the resembling screen as the mac book pros have. It's true.

    Look for yourself. You can grab the Studio XPS 16 for about 1,200 dollars, and recieve the Core i5 450, an ATI HD 5730, (which whoops the hell out of a MBP 13" graphics card), and all the rest of same specs with HD audio, and 2 year service---with the SAME screen.
    The only downfall---not as light as the 13" MBP, and not as battery efficient. Oh, and of course the sturdiness of that mac book is pretty much kick ass. --but there. Seanleefore called you out, and he was correct. Sorry.

    You speak of apple as if they are affordable. Maybe to you, but 1,300 dollar laptops, ( excluding tax), that rise all the way to 2,000 dollars isn't technically consumer friendly for the majority of people either. Although, you are right about 4,000 dollars being a bit steep. ha ha
    Reply
  • Aircraft123 - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    The notebooks that come the closest to competing with the MBPs would have to be the HP ENVY series. I have the Envy 15 and it has the best LCD panel I have ever seen on a notebook. 1920x1080 AND an anti glare coating.

    They get much flak for running hot, however, the MBPs do too.

    I also get a Mobility Radeon 5830 graphics card, a Core i5, 4GB RAM and a very well designed and built magnesium/aluminum chassis for much less than the MBP.

    Don't get me wrong, Apple makes some very impressive hardware and the Envys are not without their faults.

    If you are looking for a PC that has a chance of competing with Apple for less money, they are worth taking a look at.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, September 24, 2010 - link

    I had a look at the Envy 15. Seems nice, except that there is no internal optical drive, which is kind of odd for a 15" laptop.

    You can get a slot load DVD with the Dell Studio 15, along with a 1080P true-life display, 6 GB of RAM, back-lit keyboard for $1025, which is less than the ENVY, although the video card is not as good. So I'd recommend the Dell studio line also as a good overall laptop.
    Reply
  • Roland00 - Friday, September 24, 2010 - link

    while you can still order these products from the HP website, the HP envy 15 and 13 inch are winding down. Pretty much from suppliers that aren't HP you will only find clearance models or refurbished options.

    The HP envy 14 and 17 inch have replaced the 13 and 15 inch. The HP envy 14 and 17 inch have dvd/blu ray options.

    The HP envy uses a metal case and has a much better video card.
    Reply
  • Ivan Karkour - Monday, September 27, 2010 - link

    Your definitely right about the Envy, but no slot loading drive :( Kinda lame for a 15", huh? Although I think there are the newer lines that came out. I believe they have slot loading.
    Hey, don't forget about the Dell Studio XPS 16. That's a kick ass piece of machinery. --and hey, a slot loading drive. ha ha
    Although, it doesn't compare to the Envy with the 5830. The XPS has the 5730. You can get a higher grade one, but more money is needed of course.
    Reply
  • Minion4Hire - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    Okay. I'm not going to come in here and sing Gateway's praises or pretend that this is a fantastic laptop, but I think your negativity is a little overzealous Dustin. I have used both the ID49 and ID59 series and did not view it nearly as negatively as yourself (certainly not so emphatically anyhow)

    This is a mainstream laptop. You yourself make note of this fact. This is a laptop being produced for the masses. MOST people want a computer that performs well (even if they don't quite know where said performance comes from or what they're paying for) but at the same time a lot of people want something stylish. Gateway is clearly trying to meet the consumer halfway; they're offering an above-entry-level product with a higher-end STYLE at a reasonable price. Their product page reeks of this: "Metal-like keys match the slender and stylish profile of the arctic silver cover and make typing an experience of ultimate smoothness. A cool-blue illuminated touchpad creates an inviting effect that draws your fingers". Sorry, but the average consumer will eat that up.

    Speaking of the average consumer, most are not very picky about their keyboard, they haven't the slightest clue about screen quality, and do not use navigation keys of any kind. The AVERAGE consumer deletes highlighted text before typing, are confused and/or are barely aware of Fn keys, and wildly whirl their mouse cursor around the screen in an attempt to click "Google Search" instead of just pressing enter. So for these people dedicated volume keys are a good thing, and anorexic arrow keys which double as navigation aren't a detriment. The keyboard flex could and should definitely be improved, but at least it doesn't have a more annoying layout; small backspace key, the left Fn key on the outside of the Ctrl key, etc...

    I'm not saying that the average consumer doesn't deserve a better product, but at the higher pricepoint required to offer those consumers that better product they will invariably end up looking at a different, cheaper model of laptop. I think it's hard to offer an "inbetween" laptop when the lower and higher ends of the market seem to be alienating each other more and more, so in some ways I think Gateway has hit their target audience beautifully; it's just not the Anandtech audience. If I want a well built laptop I'll buy Lenovo. If I want an inexpensive not-complete-piece-of-crap for my parents, or their parents, then I would look at mainstream offerings like this Gateway.
    Reply

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