We’re a big fan of Samsung’s designs. Ultrabooks like the Series 9 and Series 7 just reek of sleek. Samsung also shined in this year’s Tech Support Showdown, offering a revamped site and help via social networks. The brand could do a better job with its keyboards, though, and we’d like to see more synergy between the mobile and PC divisions. S Note (available on the ATIV Smart PC line) is a good start.
The only brand other than Sony not to receive an Editors’ Choice award this past year, Samsung had a bit of an off year that landed it in a three-way tie for last in this category. Of the nine notebooks we tested, two received 4 stars — the Series 7 Chronos and the Series 7 Gamer — and three received 3.5 stars. However, the Series 5 550 Chromebook, an overpriced and underperforming system running Google Chrome, earned a 2.5-star review.
Samsung knows how to make an attractive notebook. Most of the brand’s systems sport lightweight, aluminum chassis that exude an understated sophistication. The alluring Series 9 15-inch and the Samsung Series 7 Chronos 17-inch are two such examples. Where Samsung really deserves a round of applause is its Chromebook line. Instead of gaudy, flimsy materials, Samsung uses silvery plastics that make the Chromebook Series 3 resemble higher-end machines.
Samsung’s keyboards offered mixed results this year. The Series 9 15-inch suffered from shallow key travel. Both the Series 7 Chronos 15-inch and the Series 7 Chronos 17-inch offered good typing experiences, but were slightly uncomfortable due to their extra-deep palm rests. A recurring theme throughout Samsung machines was the lack of keyboard backlighting. Reactions to touchpads on the Series 5 14- and 15-inch and Series 7 Gamer were overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately, the company’s Chromebooks lacked multitouch gestures. Such issues brought Samsung’s score down two points from last year.
Samsung drastically improved upon its tech support this year, featuring a new website design, a community section with Q&As and FAQs and an improved social media presence that was both responsive and accurate. The brand’s home page links to product pages with a plethora of resources, including user manuals, downloads, videos and support options. Samsung’s phone support was helpful overall, but we sometimes had to prod representatives to get answers.
Samsung bumped up its score three points over last year, thanks to the beautiful displays and impressive audio in its higher-end notebooks, such as the 1920 x 1080-pixel screen and JBL speakers in the Series 7 Chronos. Not all of Samsung’s notebooks were up to those standards, as the Series 5 Ultratouch offered narrow viewing angles. Most notebooks contained the SoundAlive audio software, which was hit or miss.
Samsung’s budget category is smaller than that of some competitors, but it does include a handful of sub-$500 systems in the Series 3 line, plus a very popular Google Chrome OS laptop for $249. Notebooks such as the Series 7 Gamer and premium Series 9 15-inch Ultrabook cost upward of $1,200, but are priced competitively versus other brands. Samsung.com displays preconfigured options, but you can’t order everything directly from the site. Fortunately, there’s ample availability at Walmart and Best Buy, as well as online retailers.
Just because we’ve entered the “post-PC era” doesn’t mean notebooks can’t learn from smartphones and tablets. The new ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T comes with a Galaxy-like S Pen that lets users take notes, draw and more. The Series 7 Gamer proved to us that Samsung could innovate in new areas; the rig features a unique dial that easily switched between gaming, normal, quiet and power-saving modes. We’re excited to try the RAM accelerator technology in the Series 7 Chronos, which promises up to a 150-percent speed boost.
If you own or play to buy a Samsung system manufactured within the past year or so, odds are that you’ll find Easy Software Manager, which downloads and installs updates and drivers. Samsung Easy Settings allows you to adjust settings for the battery, display, audio, keyboard backlighting (if your Samsung is equipped with it) and USB charging. Best of all: Samsung includes a Start Menu replacement on Windows 8 systems.
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