Netbooks are great. They're light (under three pounds), low-priced ($300 to $400), handy traveling companions that are great for surfing the Web and checking e-mail and adequate for light productivity work.
But a lot of users dream of a netbook-plus: something with the speed and storage for more serious work, the muscle for multitasking, the oomph for image editing -- but not anything much bigger and heavier than a netbook, and certainly not something priced over $1,000 as fancy ultraportables are. A netbook on steroids, you might say. A notebook in netbook's clothing, so to speak. The Gateway EC1430u ($550), to be precise.
This glossy black member of what Gateway calls its EC14 series (there's a cherry red but otherwise identical model EC1437u) is slightly larger than most netbooks, measuring 8.0 by 11.2 by 1.2 inches and weighing 3.2 pounds. That's due to its 11.6- rather than the usual 10-inch display -- a 1,366 by 768-pixel panel with sunny LED backlighting.
Besides making room for 720p HD videos that won't fit into most netbooks' 1,024 by 600 resolution, the screen provides punchy colors and crisp text, although we found all but the top two or three brightness settings too dim for our taste. It's still small as far as the overall viewing experience goes (we don't start counting "real" laptop screens till we get to 13.3 inches), but it's sharp.
Also on the small side: the gesture-enabled touchpad, which has a pair of stiff chrome buttons beneath it. The keyboard, by contrast, is full-sized (in fact, the A through apostrophe keys span a fraction more than the usual desktop 8 inches), with a shallow but responsive typing feel. It has no layout quirks except for the common one of Home and End doubling up with the PgUp and PgDn keys.
The Myth of Fingerprints
The Gateway's glossy black plastic lid is handsome, but attracts plenty of smudges and fingerprints. It's accented by a silver strip with the company name and logo that attracts plenty of nicks and scratches.
On the system's left side are VGA and HDMI video outputs plus a USB 2.0 port. Two more USB ports are on the right, alongside Ethernet, headphone, and microphone connectors and an SD/xD/MMC/MS flash-card slot. There's a slide switch on the front edge with the Bluetooth logo, but our test unit did not have Bluetooth. The ultraportable would also be a natural for integrated 3G wireless, but it isn't available.
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