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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  • Akv - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    Thank you for adding the page about noise and heat. Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    $800 dollars is not a bad price for the hardware but not if is going to pain you to use it. Keep letting those manufactures know we care about the screen and keyboard layouts. Thanks again. Reply
  • HHCosmin - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    i use a acer 3820tg, featuring i5 430m, 4gb ram, 640gb of hdd, bluetooth etc. this is the little brother having a 13,3" screen. it lacks the optical drive... and this a good thing. the keyboard is aceptable for me as i'm not too picky, the runtime is ok. i care very little about the ati graphics... they lappie would be at least 200grams lighter without it. the screen is ok and it does not really mater how precise it is since i mostly code and surf on it. it has performance, it's light enough (1,8kilos), has enough runtime (up to 6,5hours).

    i'd like to have the install disk, more control to undervolt the cpu (but this is not possible with nehalem), maybe an integrated sim slot, windows 7 pro instead of home premium, less crapware installed.

    i really boils down to want you from a laptop. some could be really ok with some configs, others would not. i apreciate your review... but you could be less radical as some don't care too much about some things even if they know what makes their pc tick.
    Reply
  • rwei - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    Something about the seething, over-the-top anger towards helpless gadgets that permeates this review tells me that you must be a Penny-Arcade reader.

    Also second the point on HP Envys. Given your penchant for quality/backlit keyboards, nice high resolution screens with good colors and black levels, solid build quality, non-glossy aluminum materials and USB 3.0/eSATA, a 14/17 review would be a rare and blessed opportunity for you to write a happy review full of rainbows and unicorns.

    Is the 14 STILL on its way?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 24, 2010 - link

    Honestly, who knows? It was supposed to be coming about six weeks back, so I'm not counting on anything now. Maybe they're doing a Fall revision and we'll get that. Here's hoping! Reply
  • blackrook - Saturday, September 25, 2010 - link

    LOL...silly HP. Reply
  • fabarati - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    I would like to point out that the first generation of 500 GB 7200 RPM (ST9500420AS) drives from Seagate weren't all that good. The WD 500 GB 5400 RPM (WD5000BEVT) that came out at the same time was often as fast or faster. Which Is why I bought one of those. Granted, this was about a year ago, so the market has changed. Knowing Seagate, they probably have had 2 or 3 new generations of HDDs released. Just because. Reply
  • tspin46 - Friday, September 24, 2010 - link

    We get it you hate the keyboard. You could have said that in four words, why use four fairly long paragraphs? You then make fun of anyone who may actually like the keyboard. What possible reason to insult an interested participant in anandtech who bothered to read your review.

    I must be that idiot since I actually like the keyboard considerably more than I like several other laptop keyboards. I also learned to touch type and find no need to pound the keyboard so no flex problems, if in fact there is a problem.

    The entire tone of your review reminds me of a movie criticism found in a school newspaper. You have a bully pulpit and by god you are going to pound your personal opinion into every reader.

    Chill, say what you like and don't like but don't pound the pulpit with four paragraphs of keyboard hate with very little data other than YOU HATE IT.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 24, 2010 - link

    It's not that we're making fun of the people that like the keyboard, it's that we're curious if anyone actually does like it. Maybe you like the glowing touchpad as well, which we feel is a complete waste. But even if you're okay with the keyboard, you can't tell me there aren't better designs out there. The reason I let Dustin go off on this one is because this has been a problem with Acer/Gateway laptops for so long, and they just don't seem to care. Well, fine, if you're selling a $500-$600 budget system I get that. But when you upgrade the chassis to aluminum, add in a decent mobile GPU, and have enough budget left over for a glowing touchpad... yeah, the keyboard absolutely needs to be fixed. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Saturday, September 25, 2010 - link

    I for one enjoyed reading the bit about combusting keyboards due to hating it that badly. The keyboard is one of the most important aspects of a laptop, and 4 paragraphs of informal writing is absolutely deserved. If you want 4 words on the keyboard, go read a Cnet review.

    You would think, here in 2010, good keyboards would have been mastered long ago. Just looking at the picture of it I can tell it probably sucks; the keys lack depth and it looks like there's not enough spacing.
    Reply

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