I just finished a day on the Gateway 14, one of the most talked about laptops in the budget Windows space. And people… I’m very impressed.
We picked it up at Walmart for $279 (instead of $360 because it’s a few generations old), and yes, it has the legendary cowhide stains on its lid. The Gateway brand from the 1990s that we all know and love is now licensed from Acer and has become a brand exclusive to Walmart. The cow moos. Mooooo.
The model I’m using features an Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor (a chip that powered many of 2020’s most premium ultraportable devices, including the Samsung Galaxy Book, THE Acer Swift 5, the Dell XPS 13 and the 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 trade-off is a mediocre touchpad, but that’s mitigated by a robust port selection that should allow you to plug in a mouse no problem.
The chassis is also the sturdiest and best-built I’ve seen on a Windows laptop, with no flex in the keyboard or screen and impressive fingerprint rejection. There’s even an empty drive slot at the bottom (secured with two screws), so you can retain the amount of storage you need. Oh, and it’s blue. Blue! How fun is it? Gateway has also affixed the little Microsoft and Intel stickers to the bottom of the device, so the palm rests are a totally pristine blue. It’s a pretty bold look. I approve.
I opened the walkway just before 9 am to start work. It comes with real Windows, not S mode. I noticed right away that there was a plot pre-installed stuff. Some of these were helpful – I didn’t have to download Spotify! – but there were also games like Solitaire pinned to the taskbar, as well as browser game backends like Forge empires And Elvenar on the desk. On behalf of Marie Kondo, I’ve dumped all of that.
It was a fairly quiet morning and afternoon; I spent it mostly writing in Chrome, with a dozen open tabs and Spotify occasionally streaming in the background. At first it felt a little slow, and that was apparently because it really, really needed updating (the unit has sat in our review closet for a bit since it was purchased). I tried postponing this because I’m a procrastinator that way, but the device eventually took over: it froze, crashed, and started updating. Fair enough. I guess I deserved it.
Once the update was sorted, I resumed my workload. And reader, the gateway is fast. He sailed all day without breaking a sweat. I didn’t once hear a single decibel of fan noise; I could make out a little coil whine if I put my ear to the keyboard, but that was it. Performance was noticeably smoother and faster than our slightly more expensive HP 14 unit, which has a weaker CPU and a quarter of the Gateway RAM. I also slightly prefer the Gateway screen, which is 1920 x 1080 and just looks a bit more modern. I was working at 20-30% brightness indoors with no glare.
The audio was thin, with weak percussion and no bass, but had decent volume, and I could definitely hear better than I could 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 unfavorable environment), so watch this episode to hear what they look like firsthand.
I started the day with the gateway fully charged and the unit almost spent all day unplugged, dying in the late afternoon around half past seven. This solidly beats the HP 14, as well as… a few more expensive Windows laptops I’ve tested recently. I take it.
My post-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 to. It was a messy business, and I had probably 40-50 Chrome tabs open – lists of various agencies, their requirements, their blogs and stuff like that – and I was scaling and swapping and clicking in and out of all of them very fast. No problem for the bridge, which went through everything.
I had also opened a whole bunch of my own Google Docs, including the manuscript itself, which was well over 300 pages. I have to be careful which computers I open this document on because Docs files of this size get very large and slow very quickly. That wasn’t a problem for the Gateway 14 either, which loaded everything about as fast as any Windows computer I’ve ever used and never froze or lag while editing.
The Gateway keyboard isn’t backlit, but I 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 for me to make out what I needed in the dark. In fact, I much prefer this experience to using backlit laptops 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 drawback that did remember me. It’s one of the worst touchpads I’ve ever used. Size is not an issue; it feels more spacious than the small on the HP 14. However, the click is very difficult. You really have to push the thing down. It’s quite noisy and feels like a chore. I also don’t know what was going on with the actuation points, but there were times when I clicked in a certain area at a certain angle and felt like I clicked multiple times.
But most annoyingly, clicking and dragging doesn’t quite work. There seemed to be a hard cap on how much text I could highlight before the touchpad decided it was done; it also took many attempts to highlight click-and-drag attempts, which Really messed up my manuscript editing process.
Now, on a laptop that’s even slightly more expensive, this issue would be enough to drop the Gateway score. I’m a little more lenient with this sub-$300 laptop, as the wide selection of ports (also better than the HP 14) will make plugging a mouse in very easily. In particular, the fact that there are USB-A ports on both sides will make inserting peripherals very convenient, 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 one. (There’s also a lock slot, an HDMI (strangely upside down, but still), a USB-C, a microSD (!)and a headphone jack.)
Since my two biggest issues, the touchpad and the microphones, can both be solved by external devices, I really didn’t have too much to complain about here. If you don’t already have a mouse or microphone and will need to purchase them, this device may lose some of its value, but if you already have them on hand (or simply won’t need use the gateway for video calls too 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 so serious when I say I’m thinking of buying one for myself. Come on, it’s blue!