You Grade The Brands: Samsung Notebooks

Samsung is relatively new to the notebook market, though the company is widely known for their vast array of consumer electronics ranging from televisions to cell phones. In 2008, they made a smart move by making their first entry an netbook, then making the Samsung NC10 an instant favorite due to the excellent keyboard and record-setting battery life. Since that time we’ve been consistently pleased with the subsequent netbooks and notebooks we’ve seen.

In our continuing You Grade the Brands series, we’re taking a look back at a year’s worth of Samsung notebook reviews to identify which strengths and weaknesses we’ve observed overall to give consumers some guidance on where to begin their search for the perfect laptop. We’ve also factored in the data we collected for our Tech Support Showdown.

So how does Samsung stack up? Read on to see our take on the vendor’s strengths and weaknesses and the 2009 review scorecard below. Then sound off in the comments and tell us what you think of the brand and about your own experience with your Samsung notebook or netbook. Without your input, our report card will be incomplete.

Strengths

  • Battery Life: Samsung distinguished itself early in the netbook market by offering a system that lasted over 6 hours on a charge, setting a new high bar for other vendors to meet. Early in 2009 new netbooks and notebooks continued this legacy with strong battery life performance and, in some cases, topping the original NC10. We were surprised to find that later systems didn’t continue the trend as the company chose to package their N140 netbook with a lower capacity battery than earlier models. Still, their top-of-the-line netbooks can be counted on to last.
  • Keyboards: Another element that put Samsung’s early netbooks ahead of the pack was the excellent keyboard. Thankfully they rarely mess with a winning design, opting to put this same keyboard (with adjustments for size) on most of their notebooks. There have been a few exceptions, but no outright failures.
  • Performance: Overall the company’s notebooks and netbooks can be counted on to perform well, which is a plus since the majority of their releases are netbooks. However, the notebooks can’t be discounted, especially taking the X360-34P ultraportable into consideration. The fast SSD helped drive its excellent performance scores and made this thin and light system a favorite.
  • Multimedia: We praised the audio or speaker quality on several Samsung systems, which is notable because netbooks are notoriously saddled with mediocre speakers. The N140 particularly impressed us due to the inclusion of SRS Sound software to enhance the audio. Also, most of the models we reviewed last year had matte screens instead of glossy. This makes for better viewing out in the sun and eliminates distracting reflections. Though matte displays are sometimes dinged for duller colors when compared to glossy, Samsungs don’t have that issue. Users get great viewing angles, bright colors, and indoor/outdoor versatility without a quality sacrifice.

Weaknesses

  • Mouse Buttons: The touchpads on the vendor’s systems are generally good, but we wish more of them would lose the single, narrow bar and replace them with two discrete left and right buttons. Making them larger would help, too.
  • Less Selection Than Other Markets: Though Samsung has released a fairly wide range of netbooks to the American market, we don’t see many full-size notebooks. The only two we saw in 2009 were the Q320 and X360-34P, yet the company released more overseas. American consumers also see many of the systems Samsung offers long months after our European counterparts get their hands on them. We hope, going forward, that the company will give the American market a wider variety to choose from since we clearly like what we’ve seen so far.
  • No Custom Configurations: Consumers don’t have the option to configure their perfect Samsung notebook online as they can with HP, Dell or Toshiba. We’re sure consumers would appreciate ability to choose a higher capacity battery for systems like the N130 and N140, especially since they’re available to those same models in other countries.
  • Little Design Variation: Overall we like the look of Samsung’s laptops and have even called out a few for sleek or otherwise excellent design. However we wish that there was more variation amongst them. Netbook or notebook, large or small, the basic look is usually the same. We know Samsung is capable of creating a classy design; now we’d like to see it jazzed up a bit more often.

Review Report Card

We reviewed 10 Samsung notebooks and netbooks in 2009. Of those, 20% earned 3 stars, 20% earned 3.5 stars, a hefty 50% earned 4 stars. However, one system earned a low 2 stars: the version of the Samsung Go offered by AT&T Wireless. Three Samsung netbooks and notebooks were awarded LAPTOP’s Editor’s Choice – 30% of the total.

Best Rated Notebooks

Worst Rated Notebooks

Tech Support

Samsung received a good overall grade of B in our Tech Support Showdown. Samsung has a strong name in the consumer electronics space, but only started selling notebooks and netbooks to the U.S. market in 2008, therefore there isn’t yet data on their reliability over time.

Even though Samsung doesn’t have a long track record with notebooks, we’ve been impressed with their offerings thus far. The company took the many lessons they learned making a host of mobile devices and produced laptops that avoided many of the mistakes made by the competition. And based on what we saw at CES it looks like that this tradition will continue. We’re also hoping for more varied designs and for Samsung to regain the battery life crown.

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you own a Samsung laptop? Owned one in the recent past? What does Samsung get right and where does the company need improvement? Tell us how you’d grade Samsung and explain why in the comments.


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