A Core i3 processor, Blu-ray drive, and 320GB hard drive for $629.99 -- does the Gateway NV5933u really need more of an introduction than that? We didn't think so, since that's all it took for us to track down the budget multimedia 15.6-inch laptop and get it into our eager hands. For a budget system it sure has the specs to carry it on home, but after the dog has barked at the mailman and you've gotten it out of the box, how is it in actual everyday use? You know where to find out. We'll see you after the break in our full review.
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Gateway NV5933u review

Gateway

Nv5933u

Pros

  • Really affordable
  • Great performance for the price
  • Onboard Blu-ray player

Cons

  • Poor viewing angles
  • Preloaded with too much software
  • Disappointing battery life
Summary


Look and feel

We've got to hand it to Gateway for birthing a fairly dapper chassis for less than 700 bucks. Our unit's red glossy patterned lid hid fingerprints decently and the silver rounded hinge -- home to a circular power button -- gives the entire body a higher-class look than most bargain systems on shelves. Even though it's made entirely of plastic it really doesn't look or feel all that cheap, and we actually much prefer the NV's look and feel to that of similarly priced Acer Aspire laptops.

The NV falls into the average size and weight class of a 15.6-inch laptop – the 1.46-incher is just as thick as the Dell Inspiron 15 and HP Pavilion dv5, and at 5.8 pounds it's not too unwieldy to carry from the couch to a desk. If you do plan to fly the friendly skies with this sucker we'd recommend a backpack – we had a hard time cramming it into a shoulder bag, but when we did, and lugged it around the city for the day, our shoulders were longing for a masseuse. Like most multimedia laptops it's got four USBs, Ethernet, a modem, VGA, HDMI, a mic and headphone jack, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader. A Blu-ray drive lives on the right edge.

Keyboard, touchpad and screen

Under the hood we're actually relieved that the LED-backlit, touch-sensitive controls aren't too in your face like those on the HP Pavilions. On top of that they're also very responsive, though we wish the volume / mute controls were joined by other multimedia buttons. With a full number pad on the right, the matte keyboard is plenty spacious, but the keys are rather bouncy and flat. Still, we typed this review at a decent clip with very few typos.

The touchpad is also plenty wide, and the multitouch functionality didn't get in the way of our normal navigation. However, while the pinch-to-zoom function was quite responsive, two finger scrolling was on the flakier side. Our biggest qualm about the navigation experience (and perhaps, even about the laptop itself) comes with the mirrored single mouse bar – not only is it rather stiff, but it's far too narrow to use comfortably. That's not to say it doesn't serve a purpose -- it was handy when we wanted to see if we had anything in our teeth after eating lunch. Uh, thanks Gateway.

The 1366 x 768 resolution, 15.6-inch display was plenty bright and crisp when watching Monsters vs. Aliens on Blu-ray. While it would have been nice to have a 1920 x 1080 screen coupled with the Blu-ray drive we understand that a move like that would have jacked up the dollar signs. Luckily we were prepared to be disappointed with the LCD's viewing angles, so it wasn't too much of a let down when we tilted the screen back and found that darker colors were quick to fade, and images were hard to discern. Horizontal viewing angles weren't much better – watching a YouTube clip with three others huddled around the screen required a fair amount of repositioning. The speakers above the keyboard are plenty loud and filled a small apartment, but they don't have the same fullness as HP Pavilion Altec Lansings.

Performance and battery life

A 2.13GHz Intel Core i3-330M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 5,400rpm 320GB hard drive that boots Windows 7 Home Premium give the NV5933u enough power to handle a solid amount of multitasking and basic multimedia chores. The system didn't have a problem keeping up with our routine of writing in Microsoft Word 2007, browsing in Firefox and Chrome, running TweetDeck and listening to some tracks in iTunes. When we threw Blu-ray playback into that mix it became quite slightly sluggish, but closing iTunes set it right back on its merry course.

While its integrated GMA HD graphics won't handle popular 3D games – it was rather painful to try and get through the first level of Batman: Arkham Asylum at 11 fps – the NV5933u is just fine for playing onboard or streaming 1080p content. When we output a 1080p YouTube video to a 40-inch HDTV there was zero stuttering or lag.


PCMark Vantage
3DMark06 Battery Life
Gateway NV5933u (2.13GHz Core i3, GMA HD) 4784 1725 2:35
Toshiba Satellite E205 (2.2GHz Core i5, GMA HD) 5187
1920 3:30
Acer Aspire 5738PG (2.55GHz Core 2 Duo, Radeon 4570) 4049
3098 N/A
ASUS UL50Vf (1.3GHz Core 2 Duo SU7300, GeForce G210M) 3724 3438 6:10


To be honest we expected the NV5933u's six-cell, 48Wh battery to last longer than 2 hours and 35 minute on our video rundown test with brightness set at 65 percent, especially since the Core i5-powered Toshiba E205 lasted an hour longer. We're inclined to blame the smaller capacity battery, but pointing fingers won't change the fact that you'll want to keep the decently sized AC adapter no more than an arm's length away.

There happens to be a lot of preloaded software on the NV5933u, but not all of it is destined for the Recycle Bin. Beyond the trial version of MacAfee and Norton Internet Security, it comes with CyberLink PowerDVD 8 and Gateway's proprietary backup software that actually looks simple enough to use. However, the webcam software that's set to automatically pop up on the side of the screen should be disabled upon the very first boot-up.

Wrap-up

The Gateway NV spits in the face of the $600 to $800 thin and light ULV laptops when it comes to power and HD prowess, though it does sacrifice battery life and thinness for that muscle. While other comparably priced 15.6-inch Core i3 laptops -- like the $650 Sony VAIO VPCEB11FM and $700 HP Pavilion dv6 -- may have more comfortable mouse buttons and keyboards, they don't include Blu-ray drives. So, we say this with absolutely no hesitation: if you are looking for a sub-$650 system that can handle your work and HD multimedia without making you wait around for things to load, the Gateway NV5933u is an absolute no-brainer.