Gateway notebook is one cool customer

Gateway's second-generation convertible notebook PC, the M280, is a winner for customers looking for full notebook functionality with the flexibility to switch to tablet form when necessary.

The M280 isn't designed for all-day tablet use. Instead, Gateway focused on the notebook features and included a full-size keyboard, long-lasting battery and 14-inch widescreen display.

Those features add more weight, so you won't want to carry the unit around for an extended period. The M280 we reviewed, with a 12-cell battery and an optical drive, weighed about 7 pounds.

The battery is quite the workhorse, rated to last 5.8 hours. But you pay for that longevity in weight and bulk. If you don't want the weight and bulk, you can get an eight-cell battery instead, which is rated for 4.5 hours of life. Gateway also offers a modular six-cell battery that fits into the optical drive bay and is rated for 2.4 hours of life.

The stylus also deserves mention because it's our favorite of any tablet we've seen. It's about the size of a large, thick pen, so the grip is comfortable and you won't misplace it easily.

Gateway has done an admirable job of addressing one of the biggest weaknesses of convertibles — the hinge that attaches the display to the unit's base. Often those hinges feel loose and flimsy, which doesn't bode well for long-term use. The M280, however, sports a sturdy alloy hinge anchored in magnesium.

We were puzzled that the M280 does not have the automatic display orientation feature we've seen on most other convertibles. That feature automatically rotates the display to portrait mode when you flip the screen down for tablet use and then back to landscape mode when you return to notebook use.

On the security and recovery side, users will appreciate Gateway's embedded security chip and the inclusion of Absolute Software's Computrace Complete tracking software that can locate renegade units.

The M280G, tailored to government users, costs about $1,550 on the General Services Administration schedule.

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