When a representative reached out to us to offer a new line of Gateway computers to review, I was intrigued. The brand has been revived for a new line of laptops and tablets, sold exclusively in Walmart. I decided to see if this new line, trading on the recognizable name, was worthy of consideration by budget shoppers.
Gateway was a mainstay of American PCs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, back when the appeal of configuring your own PC online and ordering it “custom” was still new. It’s been owned by Acer since 2007, with little to no product since, but these new computers aren’t made by Acer. They’re created by Bmorn Technology out of Shenzen, licensing the Gateway name to place on existing whitebox designs. They come in some fresh colors, including the fetching teal and purple of these review units.
But just because these computers are rebadged doesn’t mean that they’re bad, and just because they’re cheap doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth buying. I decided to check out a few, getting a cross-section of the budget line: an $80 10-inch tablet, a $300 ultraportable 2-in-1, and a $600 15-inch laptop with some surprising specs. The prices on the latter two turned out to be even lower, at least at the time of writing.
My results on two out of three of these gadgets were less than surprising. But that
$600 $480 laptop is a pretty darn good deal if you’re willing to overlook a couple of annoying issues.
10-inch Gateway Android Tablet: An Alternative to Amazon
Gateway is offering two Android tablets in this line—8-inch and 10-inch—and I asked for the latter. Our review unit came with a deep purple plastic body, though black and teal are also available. Gateway’s website says that it’s a “1080p screen” that’s “Tuned by THX,” but the full spec sheet elsewhere says it has a notably lower resolution of 1280×800. (The latter was true of our review unit).
The spec list is pretty predictable for a budget tablet. There’s no information on the processor aside from the fact that it has four cores, and once again there’s conflicting information on various spec sheets as to whether it has one or two gigabytes of RAM. (It’s two.) They agree that it’s using a 5 megapixel rear camera, but the front camera is either .3 MP or 2 MP, depending on where you look.
On the positive side, it’s using USB-C for charging and has a MicroSD card slot for expansion, both of which are not a given at this price point. It’s running Android 10 Go, which isn’t the latest version but is perhaps more than you might expect from a tablet sold for just eighty bucks. It also has a surprising lack of pack-in apps, with only a couple of “Saga” games from King.
But to be frank, eighty bucks might be a little much to ask for this thing. Even running Android Go, it’s incredibly slow, taking multiple seconds to return to the Home screen or change from portrait to landscape. The Review Geek homepage stutters in Chrome, and both cameras are a muddy mess, no matter what resolution they’re using. Though the battery is decent when it’s running, it drains rapidly when not in use.
The real killer is the screen. It’s plastic, with a deep recess between the panel and the casing, and its color and lighting are all kinds of uneven. You can feel it depress with a barely-firm touch, and it meets the plastic case with a sharp ridge. In fact, it feels like I could snap this entire tablet in half without too much trouble.
All in all, I’d recommend the Amazon Fire 8 HD over this tablet for just about anybody. It’s a little smaller (with the same screen resolution), and you have to rely on the Amazon App Store instead of Google Play, but otherwise it’s more or less the same experience, with slightly better performance and a much better screen. Unless getting genuine Google apps is important to you, it’s a better choice.
- It’s cheap.
- It’s really cheap.
- It charges with USB-C.
- Plastic screen
- Flimsy body
- Poor performance
- Terrible battery and camera
11-inch 2-in-1 Laptop: Buy Used Instead
Easily the most frustrating experience among these three devices is the “ultraportable” convertible laptop. This 11.6-inch machine uses a Celeron N3350 processor, dual-core at 1.1 GHz, with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, more than half of which is taken up by Windows 10. The convertible form factor and touchscreen make it $300, $100 more expensive than the cheapest of the new Gateway laptops. (Oddly, it’s $199 on the Walmart website at the time of writing.)
At first, this looks like an admittedly cheap, but serviceable, modern laptop. It even has a couple of unexpected features like a MicroSD card slot and a mini-HDMI port. But after a few days of use, I wanted to use this thing as a cutting board instead—it would be more reliable. Half the time I couldn’t get the thing to even turn on reliably, and when it did, it would sometimes boot to a black screen and refuse to do anything else.
On the occasions I could get Windows to start, I found it almost unusable. The system starts in Windows S mode, but upon disabling it to run Chrome, I found that the laptop could barely handle a couple of tabs before slowing to a crawl. Using it in my weekly video meeting proved to be a chore—it could barely keep us with the streaming, and the webcam is zoomed in to an unreasonable degree, almost as if it’s a repurposed mobile camera placed into a laptop frame. Just getting this thing to deliver search results in the Start menu was a chore.
I could go on about this laptop’s failings—loaded with bloatware slowing Windows down further, terrible trackpad and keyboard that came with a “B” key that was already half-broken, no function keys for brightness so you have to go into Windows settings all the time, no USB-C support and a proprietary charger—but suffice it to say, it’s bad. The only thing I liked about it was the novel teal color and the goofy-looking cow on the default wallpaper. It runs a surprisingly long time, given all that: 8 hours. But using this for 8 hours would be something of a gauntlet of constant frustration.
If you only have $300 to spend on a laptop, get a Chromebook. If you absolutely have to have a small Windows laptop with a touchscreen, look around for a used one instead of buying this Gateway.
- It turns on, sometimes.
- The cow wallpaper is cute.
- Terrible, terrible performance
- Unreliable keyboard
- Weirdly zoomed webcam
- Loaded with bloatware
14-inch Laptop: A Surprisingly Great Deal
I’ve saved the best for last: the 14-inch laptop, with a conventional form factor and no touchscreen. At $600, this thing is on the lower end of the mid-range in the broader laptop market, but I think a lot of Walmart shoppers might still be tempted to go with one of the cheaper configurations.
That would be a mistake, assuming that your budget can stretch. With a little extra dough, this Gateway laptop comes with some serious upgrades: a quite new 10th-gen Core i5 processor, 256 GB of SSD storage, and a fingerprint reader built into the touchpad. While the laptop has a proprietary charger, it does have a USB-C port (which won’t take a charge) and a metal lid for a little extra durability. It lasted for about 8 hours on a charge in my testing.
Best of all: it has 16 GB of RAM. Between the new processor and plenty of memory, it runs Windows 10 like a champ, even with a few bloatware programs thrown on top.
The laptop’s keyboard and touchpad are nothing to get excited over, but its webcam and speakers are surprisingly capable, and the fingerprint reader works quickly with Windows Hello. It’s packing two USB-A ports in addition to USB-C, a full-sized HDMI port, and a MicroSD card slot. But what really surprised me was on the bottom: an old-fashioned expansion slot!
I grabbed a screwdriver, removed the cover, and found something extremely surprising. There’s an empty M.2 port right on the bottom of the laptop, ready and waiting to receive an extra terabyte or so of SSD storage for a cheap upgrade. Laptops are getting a little easier to repair and expand than they were, but you’ll hardly ever find one that almost encourages you to do so.
The only major annoyance I had with this more advanced configuration was the system’s cooling fan. It appears to have only two settings: off and blender, loud enough to be heard on the other end of a conference call. But all things considered, it’s still a great deal: You won’t find 16GB of RAM on a laptop configuration under a thousand bucks from more exalted sellers.
There are much worse ways to spend six hundred bucks on a laptop. You could buy two of those 11.6-inch models, for example. And once again, it looks like the laptop is going on sale on a semi-regular basis, because as I write up these impressions it’s only $479 on Walmart.com. Un-freakin’-beatable.
- Fast processor
- Tons of RAM
- Fingerprint reader
- Expandable SSD storage
- USB-C port
- No USB-C charging
- Loud system fan
Diamond in the Rough
Between the three Gateway models I checked out, one was a complete dud (the small laptop), the other was a little below the level of competitive (the Android tablet), and one was a surprising value.
Obviously, I can’t make a judgment call on every single device in the line, which also includes 15-inch laptops in standard and “gaming” models with discrete NVIDIA graphics cards. But I’d venture a guess that the larger more conventional designs are going to be a lot better than the smaller ones.
Even if your budget is so constrained that your options for new laptops are limited to Walmart shelves, you might want to consider used laptops first—odds are pretty good that you can find an older mid-range model that will suit your purposes better than any Celeron-powered laptop sold today.