Review posted June 5, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Windows tablets are maturing and mainstreaming: prices are down from a few years ago and features are similar to standard notebooks. The 12" Gateway "thin and light" is a convertible tablet, which means it looks and works like a regular notebook, but with a swivel of the display you can use it in tablet mode, like a pad of paper. Unlike earlier tablets that used an active digitizer that required a special EMR pen, the C120X works with both the included pen and your finger. This is a great convenience: no need to whip out the pen to use the touch screen, yet the display is a Wacom digitizer complete with pressure sensitivity and Wacom's standard pen with eraser design.
The notebook weighs 4.8 pounds with the standard battery and an optical drive, and it measures 11.9" x 9.9" x 1.17". Not an ultralight, but small and light enough for road warriors and college students. Gateway includes Windows Vista Home Premium (Business and Ultimate are available as upgrades when building to order online), and support for the pen and tablet features is excellent, surpassing Windows XP Tablet Edition. Note that this machine is also sold with Windows XP Tablet Edition as the E-155C under Gateway's small and large business categories. The C120X is the "Home and Home Office" model number.
The machine is attractive, doesn't show fingerprints and has that back-grip area we like on tablets since it makes it easy to carry the notebook while using it. The magnesium reinforced hinge is robust and should last through years of swiveling. 12" notebooks sometimes have cramped keyboards, but we found the C120X pleasant overall, with large shift keys and four arrow keys (there isn't enough room for dedicated page up/down keys).
The display hinge.
The digitizer works well with fingers (press longer on the screen to bring up a right click menu) and we appreciated not having to eject the pen for quick navigation. Surprisingly, the pen also works well: Wacom's digitizer does an excellent job of tracking the stylus fairly precisely and the eraser feature along with pressure sensitivity usually come only with active digitizers that aren't touch sensitive. Since this is a touch screen and since I'm left handed and rest my hand on the screen as I write, I expected to suffer accidental vectoring, but this didn't happen once. The digitizer works better than that of the HP tx1100 convertible with which the C120X competes. The HP's was less precise in our tests. Good going, Gateway! If you're a graphic artist, you'll still prefer the greater precision and increased levels of pressure sensitivity found on an active digitizer model, but for average users who use the pen for navigation and note-taking, and those who do only a bit of drawing, the Gateway should suffice.
The C-120X is solidly built, looks well-made and gives the impression of a quality piece of hardware with modern good looks. At just under 5 pounds, it doesn't encroach on the ultralight camp, but it's light and thin enough to earn thin and light status. Most ports and drive bays/slots are on the sides of the tablet, with only the Ethernet and power jacks at the rear (since those are best kept out of the way). The C-120X has the usual tablet controls surrounding the bezel so you can use it in tablet mode more easily. These include screen rotation, WiFi on/off, OK, lock (log off, power off and etc) and Windows Mobility Center buttons, the power button and the biometric fingerprint scanner.
Performance and Horsepower
The C-120X ships with Windows Vista Home Premium, with upgrade options for Vista Ultimate and Business. You can still order it with Windows XP Tablet Edition, and the business channel version, the Gateway E-155C currently ships only with XP Tablet Edition. The E-155C's hardware is identical though, other than starting with a 60 rather than 80 gig base hard drive and the C-120X has Bluetooth while the E-155C does not. The Gateway's 1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7500 doesn't sound like much, but were were pleasantly surprised at its performance. In fact, it benchmarked similarly to a nominally much faster Durabook we recently reviewed. Web browsing with multiple windows, working with Office documents and playing streaming video as well as DVD were no problem and the machine never felt sluggish. Of course, the C-120X uses Intel integrated graphics, so it, like most tablets, it isn't a good choice for intensive 3D gaming (stay away from F.E.A.R. unless you don't mind running it at low resolutions). And no, this isn't the machine for serious CAD work, but it's fine for light Photoshop work, home movie editing, sketching with Painter and playing Rise of Nations 2.
The Gateway gets a Windows Experience Index of 3.1, which is in the range of good student and business PCs. 3.0 or better is recommended to run Vista's Aero graphical user interface well. Aero runs well on the C-120X, and Intel's GMA950 with up to 228 megs of shared video memory keeps up. The U7500 is an ultra low voltage CPU with 2 megs of level 2 cache and a 533MHz front side bus, and the C-120X uses the Intel 945GM chipset. The tablet doesn't get terribly hot under average use, which is important for comfort when using it in tablet mode.
The C120X ships with 1 gig of memory standard, with upgrade options for 2 and 4 gig configurations. As of this writing, upgrading to 4 gigs is $1,500 on Gateway's web site-- more than the tablet's base cost. The Gateway uses DDR2 667MHz standard SODIMMs and there are two slots for memory. It ships with an 80 gig SATA 5400 RPM drive standard, and an 80 gig 7200 RPM as well as a 100 gig 7200 RPM drive are available as upgrade options. Given that this isn't a performance oriented notebook, we'd recommend sticking with the quieter, cooler and less power hungry 5400 RPM drive. A 24x/24x/24x CDRW and 8x DVD-ROM combo drive is standard, and a dual layer DVD burner is available for $49 extra.
Display and Multimedia
The wide screen aspect ratio, stereo speakers and integrated DVD player make for a promising multimedia experience. However, the display is murky and dim compared to standard (non-digitizer) notebooks and even most current tablets. The highest brightness setting seems about half as bright as other notebooks and the screen certainly lacks the crisp, contrasty and saturated look of standard notebooks and touch screen PDAs. Though tablet displays aren't generally as sexy as standard notebook displays due to the digitizer, the Gateway still falls a bit short. Yes, it's usable and text is quite readable, but it certainly won't wow you and the lesser brightness isn't ideal if you work in bright environments. The 262,000 color display has a resolution of 1280 x 800, and has an anti-reflection polarizer that effectively cuts down on glare and improves outdoor readability. The viewing angle is wide at 180 degrees. The VGA port supports external monitor resolutions up to 2048 x 1536.
The integrated stereo speakers have good sound quality but are relatively quiet. They're fine for movie playback in a peaceful room, but you'll definitely want to plug in a good set of headphones to listen to music. The C-120X uses the SigmaTel 9205 High Definition Audio chipset and has both 3.5mm stereo out and a 3.5mm mic port. The machine handles DVD playback well using Windows Media Player, and there's only minor ghosting in action scenes.
Networking, Ports and Security
Like most Centrino/Core Duo architecture notebooks, the Gateway uses the Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG WiFi 802.11a/b/g module. This is a reliable wireless module that plays well with Windows own networking management software, but we found range to be lower than average on the Gateway. Since we've gotten good range from the Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG in other notebooks, the C-120X's antenna is likely the culprit. Standing 10 feet from the access point, our other test notebooks and even PDAs get a full signal, but the Gateway gets only 3 out of 5 bars as measured by Vista's connection manager. Download speeds were a bit slower as a result, adding only a few seconds to the download time of a 1 meg file and 5 seconds to the pre-streaming time for video.
For wired connections, the C-120X has Intel Gigabit Ethernet and a 56k modem. Should you need a wide area wireless connection, the tablet has a type II cardbus PC Card slot, which is supported by all major US wireless carriers. There is no ExpressCard slot. The 6-in-1 card reader slot handles SD, Mini SD, MMC, RS-MMC, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro cards. The machine has VGA, two USB 2.0 and one 4 pin unpowered FireWire IEEE 1394 port.
Though relatively inexpensive, the C-120X and E-155C come with a biometric fingerprint scanner and a TPM 1.2 security chip: nice! Our Vista machine came with Protector Suite QL, a very popular and easy to use piece of security software that works with the scanner. Once you enroll your fingerprints, you can use Protector Suite to log onto Windows and enter passwords in applications and web pages with the swipe of a finger.
The tablet's ultra low voltage processor and 12" display should translate into good battery life, though the C-120X's 4 cell battery is a bit smaller than average. We found battery life to be average by ULV and small notebook standards, and it lasted us an average of 3.75 hours with WiFi on and screen brightness set to normal while surfing the web, working with Office documents and streaming a few short movies. Gateway offers an optional 6 cell battery for those who need more stamina. The included world charger is small and light, and adds little weight and bulk to a notebook bag.
Despite the somewhat dim display, we like the Gateway's light weight and price. A few years back it was hard to find a convertible tablet that was affordable, highly portable and had an internal optical drive. The C-120X and it's business twin the E-155C fit that bill and add good hardware specs to the mix. We really like the touch screen convenience coupled with good digitizer accuracy when using the pen, and the wide screen display is suited to DVD playback, even if it isn't gorgeous. The SATA drive, ample max memory, Intel networking inside and sturdy yet attractive design are winners. The less than stunning screen and lower that average WiFi range detract somewhat from this otherwise excellent package.
Pro: A relatively reasonably priced tablet that's thin, light and good looking. Very good build quality and a robust hinge make this tablet good for school and travel. The Wacom digitizer is responsive and accurate for a touch screen and we love the versatility of using a pen or finger. Strong performance for a low clock speed CPU.
Con: Screen isn't bright or sharp. WiFi range is less than average.
Price: Base price is $1,499 ($1,299 currently for the C-120X with online discount at Gateway.com)
Display:12.1" 1200 x 800 WXGA active matrix touch screen display with outdoor readability using anti-reflection polarizer, capable of displaying 262,000 colors (can use finger or included Wacom stylus on screen). Intel GMA950 integrated graphics card with up to 224 megs shared video memory. Max external resolution: 2048 x 1536 through VGA out.
Ion rechargeable 4 cell battery (6 cell available as an upgrade).
Performance:1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo ULV Processor U7500 (533MHz FSB, 2MB L2 Cache). 1 gig of 667MHz DDR2 RAM standard (two standard 512 meg 200 pin SODIMMs, two memory slots total, 4 gigs max capacity). Intel 945GM chipset.
Drives: 2.5" 80 gig serial ATA 5400 rpm hard drive. 24x/24x/24x CDRW and 8x DVD-ROM combo drive. 8x dual layer DVD burner upgrade for $49.
Size:11.9" x 9.9" x 1.17". Weight: 4.8 pounds.
in stereo speakers, 3.5mm line-in for external mic, 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. SigmaTel 9205 High Definition Audio.