Think all-in-one computers and think hefty, lumpen PCs that try to pretend to be swish LCD displays but instead end up looking desperate - or, more likely, think Apple's luscious iMac and its effortless evolution of style. Gateway have attempted the form-factor before, but never as convincingly as their new One; when first sighted the inevitable "is this an iMac killer?" questions arose and, while that's an important point, maybe more important is whether living with the glossy obelisk is as pleasing as it is to look at. Gateway were kind enough to send a pre-production One over to SlashGear, and so we've been putting it through its fashionable paces.
The lasting impression after your first glance at the Gateway One is how unfussy it is; a little thought and you realise that's because of the apparently almost total lack of cables. Both keyboard and mouse are wireless, and one single cord snakes from the back of the PC itself and likely into the dark, unseen recesses of your desk. Lurking back there is one of the more innovative developments from Gateway's drawing board: the sizeable power adapter has a cluster of USB and sound ports, as well as the gigabit ethernet socket. That way you can plug in all the boring, necessary peripherals and connections to the outside world then keep them out of sight. Supplementary USB and headphone ports on the side of the One mean casual hookups such as digital cameras or memory sticks are neatly catered for.
If the power brick is innovative, then the One's casing could be described as brutal. Thankfully, high quality plastics and build quality second only to Apple's ensures the experience is more minimalist than miserable. While you may not realise it, Gateway have been liberal with their adoption of neat technology: that slick, piano-black front bezel is in fact a stereo NXT flat-speaker panel. Sound quality, despite lacking a subwoofer for richer bass, is surprisingly decent; you'll be glad of it as, while the company makes much of the One being their nigh-on silent PC, given some hard work to do there's more than a little noise coming from it. Not so much as to be frustrating, per se, but far from audibly invisible.
What are invisible are the copious wireless connections going on; Gateway include quad-band a/b/g/n WiFi, and of course there's the built-in receiver for the wireless keyboard and mouse. An in-built IR sensor plays nicely with the supplied remote which you'll be thankful of should you have media duties in mind for the machine. Inexplicably, though, Bluetooth is notable by its absence, and while you can add it via one of the two MiniCard ports inside it seems a shame that Gateway have gifted critics another iMac comparison stick to smack the One with.
Still, opening up the One is something everyone should try (though maybe wait until you've got out the store) if only to see how straightforward Gateway have made it. Two clips and the rear panel hinges off, giving access to not one but two SATA drive cages (one of which came filled with a 500GB, 7,200RPM unit in our GZ7220 test machine), the two RAM slots and the MiniCard ports. It's a neat touch and a knowing nod to the upgrade-hungry PC market, as well as cocking a snook at Apple's rival.
Simplicity is, in fact, a common theme for the Gateway. Its original press release waxed lyrical about the extreme ease of initial setup, and true enough it turned out to be very much plug & play. Even the wireless peripherals were pre-paired and worked out-of-the-box. While the whole thing is relatively lightweight, a carry-handle wouldn't go amiss on the back should you decide to move it from study to lounge; instead, space is taken up with a spring-loaded kick-stand. If you're happy to have the One standing proudly upright you won't need the stand, but if you'd like to tilt it back (up to 45-degrees, in fact) you'll need to pull it out. Grippy rubber feet left us in no doubt that the One was going nowhere without our permission.
The 19-inch widescreen may drop an digit compared to the equivalent 20-inch iMac, but the 1,440 x 900 resolution display redeems itself with beautiful images and a great level of both contrast and color reproduction. For the price, however, we can't help but feel that it ought to be a 24-inch panel rather than a mere 19; that would also add to the One's media credentials and make watching movies an extra-tempting prospect. The whole thing is driven by an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600XT 256MB graphics card that would more usually be found in a laptop; it's not going to prompt uncontrollable drooling in hardcore gamers, but we were pleasantly surprised by how well it dealt with games and high-def video. Buyers of the entry-level One will have to make do with onboard graphics, however.
Of course, the video chip is not the only portable-sourced component: the 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7250 CPU is taken from Intel's mobile range, while the RAM (3GB in our test machine but no less than 2GB whichever you choose, and expandable up to a very comfortable 4GB total) is of the smaller, notebook style. Performance as a whole, then, will never blow you away, although for the tasks Gateway envisages - enjoying media, surfing the net, communications - you'd only really notice any slowdown with multiple apps running. Nonetheless, Apple's iMac does seem to take raw grunt more seriously and will outperform the One in many areas.
Add-ons with this top-of-the-range machine include an analog/digital TV tuner (sadly external) and a removable webcam. The latter is a source of real disappointment, producing less than stellar footage despite apparent 1.3-megapixel resolution. When we spoke to Gateway execs about it they acknowledge that it's perhaps the weak link in the One chain, blaming time constraints for its lacklustre performance. Instead, let's coo in admiration for the 5-in-1 memory card reader and slot-loading 8x DVD±R/RW SuperMulti drive, which - together with the easily-accessed FireWire socket - puts the One back in the running as a media machine.
There are the inevitable few frustrations to the Gateway, although at the top of our hitlist is the keyboard's occasional tendency to lag behind fast typing and even miss out letters. More bemusing than anything else is the positioning of the hot-air exhaust: the vent is right at the bottom of the One, towards the front, and blows warm air out onto your hands. Useful if it's the dead of winter or you suffer from poor circulation, but we can't help but wish Gateway had left impromptu central heating to the specialists.
In the end, though, most people will view the Gateway One in direct comparison to the Apple iMac. Yes, the $1,799.99 unit we looked at bests the iMac's specs in most categories (the most obvious exception being the CPU, which is slightly slower at 2GHz rather than 2.4GHz), but it also demands an extra $300 for the privilege. For that, you have the pleasure of a TV tuner and a slightly smaller screen; although we've been impressed by the One, we can't help but think that the cheaper Apple (and how often do you get to say that!), together with an aftermarket TV card and dual-OS BootCamp software, would be our preferred buy.
If, however, you've a vested interest in a Windows machine, or have serious issues with OS X or the Cult of Jobs, you'll certainly not be disappointed with the One. Gateway have done an admirable job hoiking quality and talent to a high level of polish, and neat touches such as the clever port-studded power brick and fantastic touch-pad-blessed mouse (that does away with a traditional wheel in favor of a small touch-sensitive scroll pad) really give the impression that the company has thought long and hard about the whole package. They're willing to put their money where their mouth is in aftercare, too, running a 24/7 toll-free support line as well as providing a year's worth of parts and labor insurance. It's not a revolution in computing but it is a new star in the PC market; considering how crowded that market is, the Gateway One deserves no small amount of kudos.
The Gateway One range starts at $1,299.99 and is available to pre-order now; shipping will begin in late October. Many thanks to Gateway US for the loan of this pre-production review unit.