PCWorld (USA)

Gateway 15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook: Big screen on a budget

Getting a 15.6-inch display at this price is nice, but there are trade-offs.

- BY JARED NEWMAN

The Gateway 15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook is a classic budget PC. At $399 from Walmart ( go. pcworld.com/w399), the price is hard to beat, especially considerin­g its solid performanc­e, decent storage space, and roomy screen size.

The trade-offs come from all the things that don’t show up on a spec sheet. The display is harshly lit, with subpar viewing angles. The trackpad is abrasive. The plastic enclosure is creaky and wobbly, and battery life is woefully brief.

None of these compromise­s are new to the budget price range. Basic productivi­ty is the realistic expectatio­n here, and this laptop does have some strong points. If you’re undeterred by the downsides, and you really

can’t spend more, Gateway’s 15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook might fit your bill.

TECH SPECS

Our Gateway 15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook review unit includes the following features:

Display: 15.6-inch 1920x1080 IPS matte display

CPU: Intel Core i3-1115g4 processor

Memory: 8GB DDR4 RAM

Storage: 256GB SSD (W800SH)

Webcam: 720p

Biometrics: Fingerprin­t scanner

Left side: HDMI, USB-C, USB-A 3.0, barrel charger

Right side: USB-A 3.0, headphone jack, Microsd slot (up to 512 GB)

Dimensions: 14.75 x 9.5 x 0.77 inches

Weight: 4.2 pounds (4.7 with power adapter)

Walmart, Acer’s exclusive partner in resurrecti­ng the Gateway brand ( go.pcworld. com/gwbr), offers several other configurat­ions. A version with AMD’S Ryzen 5 3450U CPU sells for the same $399 ( go. pcworld.com/g349), while a version with an Intel Core i5-1135g7 CPU, 512GB of storage, and 16GB of RAM sells for $579 ( go.pcworld. com/g499). There’s no 512GB storage option with the Core i3 processor, but the

Microsd card slot—an increasing­ly rare feature on any laptop—provides an easy way to add more storage.

For those who like to tinker, this laptop is delightful­ly upgradable. A small hatch on the underside lets you throw in more memory. All you need is a Phillips-head screwdrive­r to pull off the entire rear panel, where you can access the battery and the M.2 SSD.

Sadly, the laptop’s sole USB-C port doesn’t support charging. That means you always have to use the included barrel charger, which charges slowly and comes with a space-hogging power adapter.

DESIGN AND DISPLAY

If not for the appealing, ocean-blue finish on this particular review unit, Gateway’s 15.6inch Ultra Slim Notebook would look much like any other low-cost, all-plastic laptop. It has thick bezels surroundin­g its matte display. The chassis will creak and crunch under your hands from the moment you pick it up.

Display quality is usually the first thing to go downhill in budget laptops. The 15.6-inch screen on this model is roomy but a little dim. It also emits an unnaturall­y bluish hue that puts a strain on the eyes. Although the display’s IPS technology is supposed to enable a steady image from wide angles, you’ll notice the screen darken and brighten as you tilt it. The screen’s matte finish does have one advantage, though: It’s easy to read outside, even on a sunny day.

KEYBOARD AND TRACKPAD

Keyboard and trackpad quality are another area where the Gateway Ultra Slim laptop compromise­s to hit a lower price. While the keys themselves offer decent travel, they feel mushy and wiggly. The plastic enclosure contribute­s to a hollow feeling under your fingers.

The trackpad is worse: Its rough plastic finish makes your fingers stick and hinders fine-grained cursor movements. Build quality is an issue here as well, as pressing down firmly on the trackpad produced two audible clicks

in a row. (Thankfully, only the first one registered as an actual mouse click.)

WEBCAM, AUDIO, AND SECURITY

The Gateway 15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook’s webcam offers the same 720p resolution as the vast majority of Windows laptops, most of which continue to treat camera quality as an afterthoug­ht. We wouldn’t expect a camera on a $399 laptop to support Windows Hello face recognitio­n, and this one doesn’t. However, a privacy shutter or kill switch for the camera would have been nice.

The fingerprin­t reader is a nice security touch on a sub-$500 laptop, despite its odd position in the top-right corner of the trackpad.

Like a lot of other PC makers, Gateway follows the trend of partnering with a big audio brand to fine-tune its laptop speakers. In this case, the partner is THX, and as expected, this kind of aural window dressing can only do so much within a laptop’s confined space. The upwardfiri­ng speakers are indeed well

balanced—you can listen to music or Youtube videos without feeling like you’re trapped in a tin can. But they’re on the quiet side, so you may strain to hear your video or conference call in noisy environmen­ts.

Microphone quality is sketchy. When I captured an audio sample, it made my voice sound somewhat nasal compared to what I’ve captured from other laptops. I could also detect its overly aggressive attempts at noise cancellati­on.

PERFORMANC­E

We seldom get a low-end Intel Core i3 processor to test here at Pcworld. Most vendors want to show off the fastest versions of their computers, which means we typically end up with Core i7 or Core i5 configurat­ions.

Using the Core i3-1115g4 processor in Gateway’s laptop was clarifying. For basic document editing and web browsing, the Core i3 chip was perfectly zippy, proving that you probably don’t need anything faster unless you’re getting into media creation or gaming.

Unfortunat­ely, that reality doesn’t show up in benchmark tests, so keep that in mind as you peruse the charts below.

Starting with Pcmark 10, which simulates a gamut of productivi­ty tasks, the 15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook’s 11th-generation Core i3 CPU did manage to outpace the 10th-gen Core i5 in Microsoft’s Surface Go laptop. Not surprising­ly, it fell well behind the performanc­e of higher-end 11th-gen chips.

The Core i3-1115g4 is a dual-core processor, so as you might expect, multithrea­ded performanc­e in Cinebench is lackluster. Still, single-threaded performanc­e was impressive: Gateway’s laptop beat out several 10th-gen Core i5 chips and held its own against the 11th-gen Core i5 in HP’S Envy 14.

Handbrake is where that lack of multicore power really shows. This test involves encoding a large video file, as you might do if you were editing or converting personal videos. The task really benefits from availabili­ty of lots of computing cores. Gateway’s laptop completed the job at a glacial pace of 1 hour and 32 minutes.

The other big downside to Core i3 processors is the lack of Iris Xe graphics for gaming. No one should expect a $399 laptop to be a gaming machine. In case you were wondering, though, here are our findings, via the 3Dmark Wild Life benchmark (above) and some anecdotal gameplay: You might be able to eke out some lightweigh­t indie games, but don’t expect much more than that. Even the fairly lightweigh­t firstperso­n shooter Amid Evil was unplayable for me due to constant stuttering.

BATTERY LIFE

Now for the potential deal-breaker: battery life. In our offline video rundown test, the laptop lasted just shy of 6 hours (5 hours and 58 minutes). That’s more akin to what we see in power-hungry workhorse PCS than typical thin-and-light laptops. It squelches any hope you might have of being able to get in a full workday off the charger.

BOTTOM LINE

If $399 is all you can spend, the Gateway

15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook is a reasonable purchase. It offers basic productivi­ty performanc­e and a big display (though of middling quality).

If you’re able to expand your budget, you might find a reasonably priced Windows PC without the Gateway’s glaring downsides, especially by dipping back to previous model years. Lenovo’s excellent C740 Yoga ( go.pcworld.com/l740), for instance, still sells on Amazon for $640 (with a smaller-size SSD than what we tested; go.pcworld.com/am74).

For those who’ll consider a Chromebook, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 ( go.pcworld.com/a713) regularly sells for less than its $629 asking price at Best Buy ( go.pcworld.com/b699). HP’S Envy x360 15 ( go.pcworld.com/x315) is a classy convertibl­e that sells for as little as $720 on Hp.com ( go.pcworld.com/h720). And while we wouldn’t shout it from the rooftops, there’s a solid case for using an entry-level ipad as a laptop alternativ­e ( go. pcworld.com/lpal).

The Gateway 15.6-inch Ultra Slim Notebook’s biggest saving grace may be its potential to work as a cheap desktop replacemen­t. Real-world performanc­e is pretty snappy; you can upgrade the memory if needed; and the HDMI port facilitate­s easy connection­s to external monitors. Using this laptop with an external display, keyboard, and mouse would sidestep many of its biggest shortcomin­gs. You’d be hard-pressed to find a comparable desktop for $400.

Only when you take it on the road will you remember why it was so cheap in the first place.

 ?? ??
 ?? ?? Microsd slots aren’t a given on laptops anymore, but Gateway’s notebook has one.
Microsd slots aren’t a given on laptops anymore, but Gateway’s notebook has one.
 ?? ?? Credit where it’s due: This laptop’s internals are easily accessible with a Phillips-head screwdrive­r and a fingernail.
Credit where it’s due: This laptop’s internals are easily accessible with a Phillips-head screwdrive­r and a fingernail.
 ?? ?? The colorful body spruces up what’s otherwise a pretty ordinarylo­oking laptop.
The colorful body spruces up what’s otherwise a pretty ordinarylo­oking laptop.
 ?? ?? Consumer Reports pulled its recommenda­tion of the Surface Laptop, even though the notebook wasn’t covered in the survey.
Consumer Reports pulled its recommenda­tion of the Surface Laptop, even though the notebook wasn’t covered in the survey.
 ?? ?? To charge the Gateway laptop, you’ll have to use its bulky power adapter and barrel charger.
To charge the Gateway laptop, you’ll have to use its bulky power adapter and barrel charger.

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