I just finished a day on the Gateway 14, one of the most talked-about laptops in the low-cost Windows space. And folks… I’m very impressed.
We bought this at Walmart for $279 (down from $360 because it’s a few generations old), and yes, it has the legendary cow stains on the lid. The 1990s Gateway brand we all know and love is now licensed by Acer and has become a Walmart exclusive brand. The cow continues to moo. Mooooo.
The model I used contains an Intel Core i5-1135G7 (a chip that powered many of 2020’s highest-end ultraportables, including the Samsung Galaxy Book, the Acer Swift5, the Dell XPS 13 and the Lenovo Yoga 9i). There is 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. At $279, that’s a very solid deal and probably close to the best spec you can get for that price. The biggest compromise is a mediocre touchpad, but that’s mitigated by a robust port selection that lets you plug in a mouse without any problem.
The chassis is also the sturdiest and best built I’ve ever seen from a Windows laptop, with no flex in the keyboard or screen and impressive fingerprint rejection. There’s even an empty drive slot on the bottom (secured with two screws) so you can pack as much storage space as you need. Oh, and it’s blue. Blue! How nice is that? Gateway also put the little Microsoft and Intel stickers on the bottom of the device, so the palm rests are completely untouched blue. It’s a nice, bold look. I approve.
I opened the gateway just before 9am to get to work. It came with real Windows, not S mode. I immediately noticed that one lot of pre-installed things. Some of it was helpful – I didn’t have to download Spotify! – but there were also games like Solitaire pinned to the taskbar, as well as some browser game backends like Forge of the rich And elf on the desktop. In the name of Marie Kondo, I cleared all that up.
It was a pretty dull morning and afternoon; I mostly spent it writing in Chrome, with about a dozen tabs open and Spotify occasionally streaming in the background. It seemed a bit laggy at first, and this was apparently because it really, really needed an update (the device has been in our review cabinet for a while since purchase). I tried to put this off because I’m a procrastinator in that way, but eventually the device took matters into its own hands: it froze, crashed, and started updating itself. Reasonable. I think I deserved that.
After the update was sorted, I resumed my work. And reader, the Gateway is fast. It sailed through the day without breaking a sweat. I didn’t hear a single decibel fan noise; I could hear a tiny bit of coil whine when I put my ear to the keyboard, but that was it. Performance was visibly 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 just looks a bit more modern. I worked indoors at 20 to 30 percent brightness with no glare.
The audio was tinny, with weak percussion and no bass, but had decent volume, and I could certainly hear better than on the HP 14. The mics, on the other hand, are functional but not very good – we tested them on The Vergecast (in, admittedly, a very unfavorable environment), so watch that episode to hear firsthand what they sound like.
I started the day with the Gateway fully charged and the device almost went all day without a plug and died in the late afternoon around seven and a half. That’s better than 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 the Gateway. I spent the evening working on a manuscript and researching potential agents to submit that manuscript. This was a complicated affair and I had probably 40-50 Chrome tabs open – lists of different agencies, their requirements, their blogs and such – and I was resizing, swapping and clicking in and out of each one. fast. No problem for the Gateway, which hurtled through.
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 what computers I open this document on because Docs files of this size become very unwieldy and slow very quickly. This wasn’t a problem for the Gateway 14 either, which loaded the whole thing about as fast as any Windows computer I’ve ever used and never froze or slowed down while editing.
The Gateway’s keyboard isn’t backlit, but I actually had no problem working on it late at night with my lights dimmed. The bright white text against the dark black keys provided enough contrast that I could make out what I needed in the dark. I actually prefer this experience to using backlit laptops but not very well (which is often the case when you buy a backlit device in this price range).
Now there is one major drawback did hold me. This is one of the worst touchpads I’ve ever used. The size is not a problem; it feels roomier than the small one on the HP 14. The click is very hard, though. You really must push the thing down. It’s pretty loud and feels like a chore. Also, I’m not entirely sure what was going on with the trigger points, but there were times when I clicked in a certain area at a certain angle and 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 to how much text I could highlight before the touchpad just decided it was done; it also took a lot of attempts to mark as click-and-drag attempts, what Real ruined my manuscript editing process.
Now, on a laptop even slightly more expensive, this issue would be enough to lower the Gateway’s score. I’m a little more forgiving about it on this sub-$300 laptop, as the extensive port selection (also better than the HP 14’s) makes it really easy to plug a mouse into it. In particular, the fact that there are USB-A ports on both sides makes it quite convenient to plug in peripherals no matter which hand you use your mouse with. I don’t use peripherals when reviewing laptops, but you should plan to keep a mouse handy if you buy it. (There’s also a lock slot, an HDMI (oddly upside down, but still), a USB-C, a microSD (!)and a headphone jack.)
Considering that my two biggest issues, the touchpad and the microphones, can both be solved by external peripherals, I really didn’t have much to complain about here. If you don’t already have a mouse or microphone and need to buy it, this device may lose some of its value, but if you already have them on hand (or just don’t need to use the gateway for video calls too often), I really think that this is one of the best deals you will find on a Windows laptop. Even with its issues, this seems like it could easily be several hundred dollars more expensive (at least). Plus it’s blue! Did I mention it’s blue?
I’m so serious when I say I’m actually thinking of getting one for myself. Come on – it’s blue!