Samsung is a laptop maker that’s been on a tear lately. Though the company is largely known for its TVs and smartphones, its U.S. assortment of computers has stood out lately for offering a great mix of design, features, and affordability. That’s been true for Samsung’s larger laptops, and it’s also true (but to a lesser extent) for its Netbooks. The $399 NF310 is a dual-core Atom 10-inch Netbook that’s certainly well-built, but doesn’t rise far above the competition.
That’s not entirely Samsung’s fault: Atom Netbooks, in general, have pretty much come to a standstill in terms of features, performance, and price. While $399 is higher than the $299 price of some low-end 10-inchers, this model has a dual-core Atom N550 CPU, an HD 10-inch display, and a larger keyboard than most Netbooks. On the other hand, it’s also bulkier than most, and its curvy looks, while appealing, are gloss more than function. It’s certainly one of the better Netbooks we’ve seen, but for only $50 more, you could be looking at an affordable, more powerful 11.6-inch ultraportable instead, such as the Toshiba Satellite T215D.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$399|
|Processor||1.5 GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual Core|
|Memory||1GB, 1,024MHz DDR3 RAM|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Starter|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.8×7.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / weight with AC adapter||2.9 / 3.5 pounds|
Samsung has taken to bold designs for its recent laptops, and the NF310 is no exception. A sleek, gray-silver exterior is made of plastic and shows off smudges easily, but has a raised and curved design that looks organic to the eye. A side profile shows an interesting wave design, with high curved risers on either side of the keyboard that act as protective lips against outside dust as well. The design of the NF310 is a step up from the pedestrian N150-11, but it’s not enough of a design coup to feel like the new curvy looks are anything but a minor visual upgrade.
The included six-cell battery bulges on the bottom, but its presence, along with several rubber feet, serves to elevate the rear of the NF310 higher than most Netbooks, creating a more comfortable elevation for typing. The NF310 isn’t particularly thin or compact for a 10-incher: its 1.2-inch thickness is chunkier than some full-sized laptops, and the width is closer to an 11.6-inch model. The reason for this is revealed when the lid is lifted: Samsung has fitted a large, raised, island-style keyboard into the NF310. That’s good news for heavy typists, because though the keys are a bit softer than we’d prefer, the widely spaced key layout offers an experience without too many cramped compromises. Keys are where you’d expect, and there is no Shift or Enter key-squishing like we’re used to suffering through on smaller laptops.
Volume and brightness control are operated via function-key combinations–there aren’t any dedicated buttons other than a power button on the upper right-side corner.
A silvery, matte touch pad beneath has good traction and an interesting circular-shimmer pattern, but dual-finger multitouch functions are a bit difficult to pull off due to the limited touch-pad real estate. Two large buttons beneath are easy to find, but the whole touch pad is a hair too small for the space available.
The large keyboard, while appreciated, comes at a cost: the laptop’s 10-inch screen looks smaller than normal, framed in a very large bezel. A larger screen could easily have been accommodated in the NF310’s chassis. As it is, though, the 10.1-inch display has a higher-definition 1,366×768-pixel resolution and an antiglare matte screen.
Pictures and text look extremely sharp, but viewing angles are limited–the picture degrades quickly even at slight angles. The higher-res display is a boon for full browser window displays, since it matches the pixel resolution on a 13-inch laptop. However, text can get pretty small on this screen unless settings are adjusted to bump up text size. For anyone with poor vision, we foresee lots of squinting. Again, it’s hard to understand why this Netbook couldn’t have simply used an 11-inch display.
Stereo speakers on the NF310 are booming for its size. They are not particularly rich in audio definition, but are far louder than average and perfect for playing anything from Internet radio to video. An included Webcam has decent capture quality and a maximum resolution of 640×480 pixels, and comes bundled with CyberLink YouCam software.
|Video||VGA-out||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
Included Bluetooth sets the NF310 apart from other Netbooks in its size class, but it also lacks HDMI-out, which some HD Netbooks occasionally include. An included 250GB hard drive is standard, but having only 1GB of RAM feels puny for the price. Also, this Netbook has Windows 7 Starter only, which, though perfectly functional, lacks some customization options.
The dual-core Atom N550 CPU at the heart of the Samsung NF310 is a processor we’re seeing in most Netbooks now, and it does offer multitasking improvements for those who like to keep multiple apps open. However, its base speed isn’t really much better than a single-core Atom when it comes to accomplishing individual software tasks. iTunes and Photoshop benchmark tests reveal only modest gains, if any, compared with single-core Atom Netbooks.
This dual-core Atom is still insufficient for good streaming-video playback. While locally stored HD video files could play decently, full-screen video on Hulu and Netflix tended to get choppy. This isn’t an ideal solution for someone in the market for a laptop that doubles as a portable home video device.
|Samsung NF310-A01||Average watts per hour|
|Raw kWh number||27.92|
|Annual energy cost||$3.17|