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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  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure I have such a low opinion of the average consumer that I would assume they'd have to buy this thing just because it has a glowing touchpad. While I do like some of the styling (it's nice to see aluminum on a notebook at this price point), I take issue with the fact that rather than choosing to invest in putting together a more well-rounded machine, Gateway whiffed and just gave us a crappy screen and a touchpad that lights up.

    There was potential here. Dedicated volume controls are common from most manufacturers, they didn't need to replace useful document navigation keys with them. Instead, they somehow managed to make a bad keyboard worse (and a regular consumer checking out units on the shelf may very well test the keyboard), and again, burned their budget making the touchpad light up instead of improving something...ANYTHING else.
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Saturday, September 25, 2010 - link

    $849 for this POS? Negativity was not overzealous. Your 1st paragraph isn't supported by the rest. In the rapist rapper's voice, Welllll, obviously, most people won't notice the shitty screeeen, and the crappy keyboard. He's climbin in your windows...

    I would never pay $800 for 1366x768 and a crappy keyboard, even if there's a quantum CPU with data crystals inside.
    Reply
  • Minion4Hire - Monday, September 27, 2010 - link

    I wouldn't expect you to buy this. As I said, this model of laptop is not designed to target Anandtech readers in the least. But its target audience is known to lower their resolution (while remaining entirely ignorant of aspect ratio) in order to get larger text. As such 1366x768 isn't a problem in the least. As for the "crappy" keyboard, while it does flex when under pressure I think the key layout is acceptable, and unless you pound your keyboard while typing you'll never notice said flexing; it takes a decent amount of force (more than any typist would use) in order to cause the keyboard to bow.

    Even Dustin admitted that its "pricetag is justifiable". It's not a great laptop, but the flaws that we see often do not exist in the eyes of the consumer, either because they don't care (don't know better) or view said flaws as positives (ie. 1366x768 resolution) so it's all very relative.
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Monday, September 27, 2010 - link

    There's no question that this laptop, like any crappy product, is acceptable to the average consumer. When it comes to average/bad products, I'm sure you'd agree that AnandTech should lean zealously negative. When poor design choices are made that affect things that AnandTech readers care about, it should be a big deal. Reply
  • andrepang - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    Not too sure if you guys have noticed, this particular gateway notebook have very similar physical design compared to Acer's timelineX 4820TG....

    Looking at the side ports, DVD tray and even the back cover plus and the battery's shape looked the same.. And of course not forgetting the keyboard.......

    I wondered if its a design copy or are they sourcing the design from the same OEM...

    Just my thoughts...
    Reply
  • infodan - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    Acer owns gateway, so thats not a surprise, but in the US the gateway brand is more popular, unlike in europe (and especially the UK) where the gateway brand is all but dead. Reply
  • Roland00 - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    The big differences between the two (besides looks)

    Is the Acer TimelineX either uses intel i3/i5 integrated graphics or has an ATI HD5650. The Gateway ID series either uses intel i3/i5 integrated graphics on their cheaper models, on their more expensive models they use nvidia Optimus with the GT330m (this is what Dustin reviewed).

    Also the TimelineX comes with a Six-cell, 6000mAh (up to 8 hours in mobile mark with intetgrated graphics ) or a Nine-cell, 9000mAh (up to 11.5 hours in mobile mark with integrated graphics). The Gateway ID series comes with a Six-cell 4400mAH battery (up to 6 hours in mobile mark with integrated graphics).

    So Timeline X gives you bigger battery with ATI (and the faster video card) whilethe Gateway gives you a smaller batter with Nvidia Optimus.
    Reply
  • Roland00 - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    I have seen and operated one and it is a good laptop for the money.

    I just hate they keyboard, hate, hate, hate...

    One thing that wasn't mention by Dustin is that when you click the touchpad (which is one large button), the button actually lowers, it actually deepens. For a person who loathes touchpads and always carries a mouse, I found this option to be intuitive and better than most touchpads I have operated.
    Reply
  • zoxo - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    Seriously, how much extra would it cost to have a decent screen? Reply
  • Pirks - Saturday, September 25, 2010 - link

    judging by MacBook Pro prices - about a grand extra

    forget about it, PC user
    Reply

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