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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  • HibyPrime1 - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    Looking at the spec sheet, the visual layout of the laptop, and the price, I was actually quite interested in this one. Ugh.

    Back-lit trackpad but no back-lit keyboard? I want what they are smoking.

    How much would it honestly cost to turn this into a usable keyboard? 5 cents worth of plastic under the keyboard to help a little with the flex, maybe a total of 2 engineering hours (come on, I could design that on a napkin), and a short conversation in a design meeting. That might increase the cost per laptop of a whole 10 cents. I'd be willing to let them charge me a 1000% percent profit on that.

    To the authors of Anandtech, don't give up on the LCD bashing (when needed). Manufacturers need to hear it from somewhere.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Sunday, September 26, 2010 - link

    I'm one of those people that don't need a backlit keyboard if it means cheaper.

    If necessary, the lighting from the screen should be enough; but mostly, I can't remember the last time I looked at a keyboard when typing. I don't even look at the iPhone on-screen keyboard anymore. My fingers are just used to the positioning and the second-nature of typing.

    There are a few things that make the perfect laptop for me:
    1) Price
    2) CPU
    3) GPU
    4) Battery
    5) Size

    The other, still important factors include memory/hd capacity/performance and ports, but But backlit keys and glossy vsmatte aren't on my top-10 list.
    Reply
  • xype - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    The more I read the reviews here, the more I think Apple's approach is smart on many levels—even though some people complain at the lack of diversity in their laptop lineup. If you have 3 models that differ in size mostly, "fixing" a keyboard means doing so once (especially since the keyboard is the same size/layout on all models). Fixing the screen on a, say, 13" means that, while some customers get screwed if they got an older model using a bad one, you're basically fixing the 13" model. No being left with a different model with a better screen, but perhaps a differently messed up keyboard.

    Sure, it doesn't please the geek in me to be able to choose the _optimal_ model, since with just 3 different ones (I'm buying MBPs) that are mostly the same, I'll have to compromise. But for Apple it's just so much more effective—and they can spend the time focusing on getting the 4 laptops they offer as "right" as they can.

    Now, before someone accusses me of Apple fanboiism—perhaps I am one, but I'll freely admit that I know little of the product palettes of other manufacturers. The biased view I have is that each of them produces a ton of different models, trying to differentiate them with color covers and what not, and often get much less things "right" than they could get if they focused on making less models.

    Also, I'd be interested to see the comparison tables include Apple laptops, where applicable, just because I'm interested in where other manufacturers do a better job so I can go compare them in the shop (I'm sometimes asked for buying advice and yapping "get a mac!" all the time is not something I want to do if there are better alternatives out for a budget/need).
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    Honestly, I know Anand and Brian both use MacBook Pros and having seen them in action I can understand why: the MBP has an excellent combination of form factor and screen quality. The screens on those are among the best I've seen on notebooks, high-resolution screens with great uniformity and viewing angles that are clearly designed for work.

    I'm not an Apple fan, I don't like their politics, and the desktop Macs are a rip-off in my opinion, but credit where credit is due...they make awesome notebooks.
    Reply
  • xype - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    I've been pretty happy with MacBook(Pro)s for the past 4.5 years, but without a relative comparison the comparison tables just draw a blank stare from me. So I've wondered how they compare—of all the colleagues and friends, there's not one using a PC laptop, since we're all in the same lame-hipster-web-app-and-design business... so if you say they're among the better/best screens, I'm gonna go with your experience on this. :) Reply
  • vol7ron - Sunday, September 26, 2010 - link

    Apple has historically only targeted the high-midend market, not cutting edge technology, but not the economy scale either.

    While this is good for Apple, if everyone had a business model like this, there wouldn't be anyone competing at the upper-and-lower end spectrums; the lower-lower and lower-middle end is where the majority of the market is.

    Because Apple focuses on a niche market, they charge more. More importantly, they focus more on aesthetics and emotional marketing - trying to sell you something beyond performance/options, which is generally meaningless.

    There are products that are less expensive and kick Apple's hind-side in almost everything except battery, which is partly due to the battery technology Apple uses, and the fact that Apple uses a Linux-based OS.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Sunday, September 26, 2010 - link

    In general, given the same $$, you can get better performance elsewhere when compared to Apple.

    What you can't get is that "elitist" social recognition. ... It used to be that you also bought that superior casing that Apple is known for, but many companies are now offering artsy, slim, and sleek packaging that competes nicely.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, September 27, 2010 - link

    While I agree that there's a certain "my computer's better because it's a Mac" mentality that's prevalent among Mac users, in the case of the MacBook Pro line...I still don't think you're going to find a more balanced design anywhere else. The screens on those notebooks are phenomenal. Someone else brought up HP's Envy line, and those can probably compete, but I can't think of anyone else who produces mainstream notebooks with quality, high-resolution screens.

    For what it's worth, I reviewed here the two laptops I use, and my desktop is a custom. I won't spend a dime on Apple technology. But I can see why some people would go for a MBP.
    Reply
  • Ivan Karkour - Monday, September 27, 2010 - link

    Dell competes perfectly with the XPS 16, and the Adamo, but Adamo is kinda pricey.
    The Studio XPS 16 has the exact same screen as the mac book pros have. --and guess what, it's a little less expensive :)
    Reply
  • seanleeforever - 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".
    go check out any lenovo tablet, any HP dreamcolor 2, or fujitsu T5013 tablet for that matter.. (they are all pretty expensive (1.6k~4k) and are never on display in BestBuy, so i won't be surprised that none of you guys actual saw it in your life, especially if you are student that are not targeted audience).

    just because you are in "lame-hipster-web-app-and-design business" doesn't mean you need a good screen. apples' screen is 6 bit TN for god sake, the same part that used in NUMEROUS windows PCs (Dell M4500, Lenovo T/W510, W701/ds, Dell Studio XPS 16)... your argument is akin to say the Core 2 Duo used in Mac Book Pro must be faster than i7-960 because it was in a apple package.
    Reply

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