Ever since Acer took it over in 2007, Gateway has been reincarnated as a sleeker version of its former, cowprint-covered self. Exhibit A: the UC series, the company’s first 13-inch notebook, announced today. With such stylish details as a brushed-metal body, circular touchpad, and touch-sensitive multimedia controls, you wouldn’t guess it starts at just $799. First, the specs. It starts at 5.2 pounds, and it’s available with Intel Centrino 2 CPUs, up to 4GB of RAM, and either Intel’s GMA 4500MHD or ATI’s Mobility Radeon HD 3470 (both graphics solutions are integrated). It’s available with 160GB, 250GB, and 320GB hard drives. The slot-loading DVD burner is hidden on the right side. The UC comes with 802.11n, Bluetooth, a 1.3-megapixel webcam, and a six-cell battery. Key ports and slots include three USB, HDMI, VGA, and a 4-in-1 memory card reader. Eye-Catching Design Have we mentioned that the UC series is incredibly stylish for a budget notebook? Opening the glossy brown lid reveals a metal chassis, whose brushed surface even extends across the single touch button. Particularly against the all-black body, the brushed silver hinge is a classy touch. Even before all that brushed metal, however, you’ll notice the circular touchpad. While we’re not sure this has any ergonomic advantage, we quickly got used to the shape, as odd as it may seem at first glance. Although the touchpad had the perfect amount of friction, we weren’t fans of the touch button; it’s far too narrow and stiff, and it’s a smidge too close to the trackpad.
The flat, close-together keys reminded us of the Lenovo U110′s keyboard, minus the slippery finish. Those level keys are part of what makes the UC series look so stylish, and they’re comfortable to type on, too. We just wish they didn’t make such a clacking sound. Above the keyboard is a glossy strip with touch-sensitive multimedia controls. They glow red (as does the power button, tucked into the left end of the hinge) and were responsive. We especially like the volume strip, whose red notches get brighter as you drag your finger over them. These controls are flanked by small speakers at either end of the strip. Finally, we like the way the ports are arranged: divided between the left and right sides. We always appreciate a notebook that has no ports or jacks on the back side. Display and Sound To match its multimedia controls, the UC’s 13-inch (1280 x 800) display has a glossy finish. More often than not, glossy displays are a mixed bag: they make colors in movies pop, but their viewing angles are pretty limited, thanks to the glare. Given that, the UC series isn’t so bad. Although the viewing angles from the side are terrible, we were able to comfortably watch Mad Men with the lid dipped far forward (that’s great news if you’re on an airplane and the guy in front of you leans back). The picture looked bright and sharp. As for the speakers, they produced fairly accurate sound, but the volume was, predictably, somewhat weak. Performance Normally, we’d size up the performance through some hands-on testing—multitasking with IM, e-mail, word processing, and Web surfing, for example. But we haven’t yet gotten our hands on a final unit. Although the design is exactly what you’d see in stores, our unit runs on a Pentium processor, a far cry from the Core 2 Duo CPUs that will be offered. Stay tuned; we’ll have a final unit to benchmark soon. The Verdict It’s hard to give the UC series a firm verdict when we haven’t had a chance to put its performance to the test. That said, the real story about this notebook isn’t its performance claims; it’s the fact that this is Gateway’s first 13-inch notebook, and the design is a departure from what the company has delivered in the past. And we’re genuinely impressed. Even next to our last-generation MacBook, which has the same screen size and weighs almost the same, it makes a strong impression. Even more impressive is the $799 starting price. In a short time, we’ll learn if the performance makes it worth it.