I just finished a day on the Gateway 14, one of the most talked about laptops in the cheap Windows space. And friends… I’m very impressed.
We bought this at Walmart for $279 (discounted to $360 since it’s a couple generations old), and yes, it does have the legendary cow spots on the lid. The 1990s Gateway brand we all know and love is now licensed by Acer and has become an exclusive brand of Walmart. The cow continues to moo. Mooooo.
The model I’ve been using includes an Intel Core i5-1135G7 (a chip that powered many of 2020’s most premium ultraportables, including the samsung Galaxy Book, he fast acer 5, Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo Yoga 9i). There is 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. For $279, it’s a very solid deal and probably close to the best specs you can get for that price. The biggest compromise is a lackluster touchpad, but that’s mitigated by a solid selection of ports that should let you plug in a mouse without issue.
The chassis is also the sturdiest and best-built I’ve seen in a Windows laptop, with no keyboard or screen flex and impressive fingerprint rejection. There’s even an empty drive slot at the bottom (held in place with two screws), so you can fit as much storage as you need. Oh, and it’s blue. Blue! How fun is that? Gateway also put the little Microsoft and Intel stickers on the bottom of the device, so the palm rest is a completely flawless blue. It’s a pretty and bold look. I approve it.
I opened the Gateway just before 9 am to start working. It shipped with actual Windows, not S mode. I immediately noticed that there was a batch of pre-installed stuff. Part of this was helpful: I didn’t have to download Spotify! — but there were also games like Solitaire pinned to the taskbar, as well as some backends for browser games like forge of Empires and elvenar on the desk. On behalf of Marie Kondo, I cleared all of that up.
It was a fairly quiet morning and afternoon; Most of the time was spent typing in Chrome, with about a dozen tabs open and Spotify occasionally streaming in the background. It seemed a bit slow at first, and this was apparently because it really needed updating (the unit has been sitting in our review closet for a while since purchase). I tried to put this off because I’m such a procrastinator, but the device eventually took matters into its own hands: it froze, crashed, and started updating. That seems fine to me. I guess I had it coming.
Once the update was fixed, I resumed my workload. And reader, the Portal is fast. She sailed through the day without breaking a sweat. I didn’t hear a single decibel of fan noise; I could hear a little coil whine if I put my ear to the keyboard, but that was about it. Performance was noticeably smoother and faster than our slightly more expensive HP 14 unit, which has a weaker processor and a quarter of the Gateway’s RAM. I also slightly prefer the Gateway’s screen, which is 1920 x 1080 and has a slightly more modern look. I was working at 20 to 30 percent brightness indoors with no glare.
The audio was tinny, with weak percussion and no bass, but it had decent volume, and I could certainly hear better than with the HP 14. The microphones, on the other hand, are functional but not great – we tested them in the Vergecast (in a very inauspicious environment, admittedly), so check out that episode to hear what they sound like firsthand.
I started the day with the Gateway fully charged and the unit almost he spent the entire day disconnected and died in the late afternoon around seven and a half hours. That solidly outperforms the HP 14, as well as… quite a few more expensive Windows laptops I’ve tested recently. I’ll take it.
My after-work activity was the ultimate test of Gateway. I spent the night working on a manuscript and researching possible agents to send that manuscript to. This was a tricky business, and I had probably 40-50 Chrome tabs open (lists of various agencies, their requirements, their blogs, and other such things) and I was resizing, swapping, and clicking in and out of all of them very quickly. . No problem for Gateway, who got through it all.
I also had a bunch of my own Google Docs open, including the manuscript itself, which was over 300 pages long. I have to be careful which computers I open this document on because Docs of this size get very unwieldy and slow very quickly. This wasn’t a problem for Gateway 14 either, which loaded everything as fast as any Windows computer I’ve ever used and never froze or lag while editing.
The Gateway’s keyboard isn’t backlit, but I actually had no problem working on it late into the night with the lights dimmed. The bright white text against the dark black keys provided just enough contrast for you to make out what you needed to in the dark. In fact, I prefer this experience to using laptops that are backlit but not very well (which is often what you get if you buy a backlit device in this price range).
Now, there is a significant disadvantage that did hold me back This is one of the worst touchpads I’ve ever used. Size is not a problem; it feels roomier than the diminutive of the HP 14. However, the click is very difficult. you really have to push the thing below It’s pretty loud and feels like a chore. I’m also not quite sure what was going on with the actuation points, but there were times when I would click a certain area at a certain angle and it felt like I was clicking multiple times.
But the most annoying thing is that clicking and dragging doesn’t work at all. There seemed to be a hard limit to how much text you could highlight before the touchpad decided it was done; it also took a lot of tries to highlight like click and drag attempts, which In fact it messed up the editing process of my manuscript.
Now, on a laptop that’s even slightly more expensive, this issue would be enough to lower Gateway’s score. I forgive it a bit more on this sub-$300 laptop because the wide selection of ports (also better than the HP 14) will make it a breeze to plug a mouse into it. In particular, the fact that there are USB-A ports on both sides will make it quite convenient to place peripherals, regardless of which hand you use the mouse with. I don’t use peripherals when reviewing laptops, but you should plan to have a mouse on hand if you buy this. (There’s also a lock slot, an HDMI (weirdly backwards, but nonetheless), a USB-C, a Micro SD (!)and a headphone jack.)
Given the fact that my two biggest problems, the trackpad and the microphones, can be solved with external peripherals, I really don’t have much to complain about here. If you don’t already have a mouse or microphone and need to buy one, this device may lose some of its value, but if you already have them on hand (or you just won’t need to use Gateway for video calls very often), I really think this is one of the best deals you’ll find on a Windows laptop. Even with its issues, it looks like it could easily be (at least) several hundred dollars more expensive. Plus, it’s blue! Did I mention it’s blue?
I’m serious when I say that I’m actually thinking of buying one of these for myself. Come on, it’s blue!