I think we can learn a lot by comparing two very different products that target a similar audience. Both the Gateway Creator Series 15.6″ with AMD Ryzen processor and NVIDIA Graphics and the Microsoft Surface Go laptop target a similar student and small-business segment, but they are very different products.
The Surface Go’s ideal configuration is $699, while Walmart has the Gateway at $799, so both products are in the same pricing bracket as well. Choosing between these two offerings is kind of like choosing between the 2020 Ford Mustang 2.3L and the 2021 Toyota Supra 2.0; it likely will depend more on what is most important to you, because both cars have very different tradeoffs.
[Editor’s note: Gateway and its emblematic cow-spotted boxes are returning to the PC market after five years thanks to the new partnership with Walmart. The new lineup of PCs and tablets from Gateway is now available exclusively at the U.S. megaretailer.]
Let’s look at these two products and talk about who would likely prefer one over the other.
The Gateway is a performance-first design. It is a low-cost gaming machine, which can also be used for things that require a lot of power, such as design, animation and higher-end games. It has a larger screen for those who need the real-estate for productivity, and it will likely take a substantial amount of abuse without damage. It has THX display and sound technology, enhancing its entertainment value; it also has decent capacity with 256 GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. It makes many tradeoffs to get there, though. It isn’t particularly attractive (you can have any color as long as that color is black), it weighs in at 4 pounds, and its battery life is in the 5-hour range.
This laptop’s target is male mainly, works station to station (isn’t very mobile), is generally near a plug, doesn’t fly much, and requires high performance. They are value buyers who want the best bang for the buck but don’t care about status except when it comes to being online. This product would be ideal for anyone primarily stuck at home during the pandemic who wants their laptop to be a center for entertainment. Or it would be ideal for someone starting in engineering, animation, architecture, or some other field that requires performance. Both laptops can drive external monitors, but this laptop is more like a portable desktop computer in terms of performance and use.
Form over function
The Microsoft Surface Go laptop, on the other hand, follows the Apple design method of form over function. It comes in three colors Ice Blue (my personal favorite), Sand and Platinum. It looks far more expensive than it is, and it weighs substantially less than even the MacBook Air. It has a 10th-generation Intel i5 processor and Intel graphics. It has a cool on-button with a biometric fingerprint sensor. It has 128GB of storage (all you need if you are using Microsoft’s One Drive) and 8GB of RAM in the $699 configuration (if you want, you can pay $200 more for 256GB, but I think the sweet spot is the $699 configuration).
The laptop looks more expensive than it is; it is small with a 12-inch screen and light with a 2.4 lb. carry weight. It has up to 13 hours of battery life and Dolby sound, but I expect most to use headphones or earbuds for sound.
This laptop targets both men and women, where status is important. This laptop is for someone who is truly mobile, and who values the compact size and battery life over performance. They mostly use productivity apps such as Microsoft 365, live off the web and have the need to get on a plane or work in some other compact space from time to time.
The Surface Go Laptop is the product you have if you want to impress someone at a meeting, need to carry your laptop a lot, and are often away from a power plug. You could use this laptop tied to a Virtual Windows instance on the Azure cloud for performance, but this is no game or engineering machine by itself.
Wrapping up: The pandemic
Both laptops would be sufficient for working or learning from home, but it depends on how mobile you are and how much performance you need that defines the choice. Besides, men are more likely to prefer the Gateway while women are more likely to prefer the Surface Go offering because it is more portable (it will fit in many purses) and fashion-forward.
Usually, this difference would bifurcate this product choice nicely. Still, while everyone is mostly stuck at home, the Surface Go advantages are less pronounced, while the Gateway’s offsets aren’t as critical. Suppose you aren’t visiting people or traveling. In that case, the battery life, appearance and weight advantages that the Surface Go has aren’t as valuable, and extra performance and screen size is handy for everyone. That doesn’t mean the Surface Go Laptop isn’t valuable at home, because many of us have to work in different places around the home to watch the pets or the kids, making the extra weight and short battery life Gateway problematic.
Both laptops have in common that they are decent values; you get more than you’d think for the money with both. The Surface Go Laptop looks far more expensive than it is, and the Gateway has more performance than you’d expect at its price point. Given these differences, it is unlikely the same person would consider both of these products any more than the same person would consider the Mustang and the Supra.
Still, in both cases, the person who values either product’s unique advantages will find great value in their respective choice.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to eWEEK and Pund-IT.