I just finished a day with the Gateway 14, one of the most talked about laptops in the budget Windows space. And guys…I’m very impressed.
We bought this at Walmart for $279 (discounted from $360 since it’s several generations old) and yes, it has the legendary cow stains on its hood. The Gateway brand from the 1990s that we all know and love is now licensed by Acer and has become an exclusive Walmart brand. The cow is mooing. Soooooo.
The model I used featured an Intel Core i5-1135G7 (the chip that powers many of 2020’s most premium ultraportables, including the Samsung Galaxy Book, Acer Swift 5, Dell XPS 13, and Lenovo Yoga 9i). It has 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 this price. The biggest compromise is the mediocre touchpad, but that’s tempered by a solid port selection that should let you plug in a mouse without a problem.
The chassis is also the sturdiest and most well-built I’ve ever seen from a Windows laptop, with no keyboard or screen flex and impressive fingerprint rejection. There’s even an empty drive slot on the bottom (attached with two screws), so you can put in 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 rests are completely unblemished blue. It’s a nice, bold look. I approve.
I opened the Gateway just before 9am to start work. It comes with real Windows, not S-mode. I immediately noticed that there was a lot pre-installed stuff. Some of them were helpful — I didn’t have to download Spotify! — but there were also games like Solitaire pinned to the taskbar, as well as some backends to browser games like Forge of Empires and Elvenar on the desktop. In the name of Marie Kondo, I cleaned it all up.
It was a relatively uneventful morning and afternoon; I spent it mostly writing in Chrome, with about a dozen tabs open and the occasional Spotify streaming in the background. It seemed a little slow at first, and that was obviously because it really, really needed to be updated (the unit has been sitting in our review closet for a while since we bought it). I tried to put this off because I’m a procrastinator like that, but the device eventually took matters into its own hands: it froze, crashed, and started updating. Fair enough. I guess I deserved it.
Once the update was sorted I resumed my work. And reader, the Portal is quick. He swam during the day without breaking a sweat. Not once did I hear a single decibel of fan noise; I could make out a slight whine if I put my ear to the keyboard, but that was it. Performance was noticeably smoother and faster than that of 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 just has a slightly more modern look. I was running at 20 to 30 percent brightness indoors with no glare.
The audio was tinny, with weak percussion and no bass, but there was decent volume and I could certainly hear better than on the HP 14. The microphones, on the other hand, are functional but not very good – we tested them on The Vergecast (in, admittedly, a very adverse environment), so check out this episode to hear what they sound like firsthand.
I started the day with the Gateway and the device fully charged almost spent the entire day without contact, dying in the late afternoon around half past seven. It beats the HP 14 solidly, as well as… quite a few more expensive Windows laptops I’ve tested recently. I will take it.
My after work activity was the ultimate Gateway test. I spent the evening working on a manuscript and researching potential agents to pitch this manuscript to. It was a connected affair and I had probably 40-50 tabs open in Chrome – lists of different agencies, their requirements, their blogs and that sort of thing – and I was resizing and swapping and clicking in and out of all of them very quickly. No problems for the Gateway which went through everything.
I had also opened a whole bunch of my own documents on Google, including the manuscript itself, which was over 300 pages long. I have to be careful which computers I open this document on because Docs files of this size get very unwieldy and slow down very quickly. This wasn’t a problem for the Gateway 14 either, which loaded everything as quickly as any Windows PC I’ve ever used, and never once froze or lagged while I was editing it.
The Gateway’s keyboard isn’t backlit, but I actually had no problem working on it late at night with the lights dimmed. The bright white text against the dark black keys provided enough contrast for me to understand what I needed to do in the dark. I actually much prefer this experience to using laptops that are lit but not very well (which is what you often get if you buy a backlit device in this price range).
Now there is one major drawback I did hold me This is one of the worst touchpads I’ve ever used. Size is not an issue; it feels more spacious than the small one on the HP 14. Clicking is very difficult though. You really should I push the thing down. It’s quite strong and feels like a chore. I’m also not quite sure what’s going on with the trigger points, but there were times when I clicked on a certain area at a certain angle and it felt like I clicked multiple times.
But the most annoying thing is that clicking and dragging doesn’t quite work. There seemed to be a hard limit on how much text I could highlight before the touchpad just decided it was done; it also took a lot of highlight attempts like click and drag attempts which really I screwed up the editing process of my manuscript.
Now, on a laptop that’s even slightly more expensive, this issue would be enough to lower the Gateway’s score. I’m a bit more forgiving of this sub-$300 laptop because the extensive port selection (also better than the HP 14’s) will make it very easy 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 insert peripherals, regardless of which hand you use the mouse. I don’t use peripherals when I review laptops, but you should plan to keep the mouse handy if you buy one. (There’s also a lock slot, HDMI (weirdly reversed, but still), USB-C, microSD (!)and headphone jack.)
Given the fact that my two biggest gripes, the touchpad and microphones, could be solved by external peripherals, I really didn’t have much to complain about here. If you don’t already own a mouse or microphone and will have to buy them, this device may lose some of its value — but if you already have them on hand (or you just won’t need to use the Gateway for video calls too often), really I 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) a few hundred dollars more expensive. Plus it’s blue! Did I mention he’s blue?
I’m so serious when I say that I’m actually thinking of buying one of these for myself. Come on – it’s blue!