Gateway EC1803h: Netbook or Ultra-portable?

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The Gateway EC1803h is thinner than many 10" netbooks, though it is about one inch longer on each side. The larger footprint allows for a keyboard that's close to full-sized, and a spacious 11.6" 1366x768 screen. At almost 3.2lb, it weighs a touch more than the average netbook, but only 100 grams more than the Asus Eee PC 1005HA. Most attractive is the EC1803h's superior processing power and its ability to play 1080p H.264 content smoothly and output it through HDMI. The extra performance doesn't really affect battery life — if you're only browsing the web, you'll easily get 6 hours out of the 4400mAH battery. The 1005HA by comparison lasts about 2 hours longer, but it sports a bigger 5600mAH battery, and it is the current netbook untethered run time champ. The only thing we truly disliked about the EC1803h was the overly aggressive fan, which fortunately can be tamed with a little tweaking.

While many consumers may wait for ION netbooks to appear (it seems they will be delayed until Windows 7 is released), Intel's CULV solution is already available and it works beautifully. Unless gaming ability is a requirement, a Core 2 Solo + GMA 4500MHD combination looks pretty darn good even if you could purchase an ION netbook today. Our impressions of the 1.4GHz Core 2 Solo were positive. It was surprisingly responsive even though we expected Vista to bog it down, and its overall performance is not far off from a Core 2 Duo running at the same clock speed. The underlying hardware is probably adequate to serve the vast majority of notebook users. If you still scoff at the idea of using a single-core processor in this day and age, dual core versions with the same form factor, such as the Acer Timeline 1810TZ, are already available in Asia and should appear across the rest of the globe before the year is out.

The Gateway EC1803h is apparently only available in Canada for the time being, but those south of the border can pick up its cousin, the Acer Aspire 1410 for US$450 at various retailers. The aesthetics, build quality, and fan noise could be different, but under the hood, the two models are identical. While budget 10" netbooks seem to have carved out a stable niche in the marketplace, the more refined expensive models in the $350~$400USD range have a lot to fear from this Gateway and similar CULV machines that are likely to appear soon. The small premium buys a whole lot of extra functionality while hardly adding any size, weight or battery run time penalty. In fact, the sheer value of the Gateway EC1803h, at CDN$500, is downright amazing.

The Gateway EC1803h (and its close Acer relation) straddles the netbook and ultra-portable laptop markets, and it will probably impact both significantly. Whether you consider it a netbook or an ultra-portable, you can't deny its compelling mix of performance and features in a thin, light package. For some, it's the true fruition of netbooks; for others, it's the road-warrior ultraportable on a super budget. For SPCR, it's unquestionably an Editor's Choice.

Editor's Choice Award

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Reflections on the Asus Eee PC

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