Samsung N110 notebook review

4.5 out of 5
£349.99

For

Excellent keyboard, battery life

Against

Trackpad not great, not the slimmest netbook out there

Samsung impressed with their NC10, delivering a great spec and the all-important battery life that netbook users crave. The N110 furthers the cause claiming a staggering 9 hours of battery life. But can this little netbook deliver in all areas?

Out of the box the N110 is solid to the touch. It feels more substantial than most other netbooks that are taking the skinny line. So this isn't the slimmest device, coming in a 29.8mm thick at the fattest point across the back, but will probably better resist the abuse of daily use.

The as-standard 6-cell battery adds some of this bulk: a compromise that we'd happily accept. There is a 1024 x 600 LED glossy screen with a 16:9 aspect: not the highest resolution, but standard for this class and a great size for general web use. The glossy screen does mean that it isn't the most practical display for using out and about. Although the screen is 10.1-inches, the actual lid measures 12-inches diagonally.

The size means that there is ample space for the keyboard, which is one of the best we've found in a netbook so far, with no flex to speak of. It stretches almost entirely from edge to edge making maximum use of the space available. A standard layout has been maintained, with the left-hand Ctrl key in the bottom left corner where you'd expect and reasonable sized Shift keys, so moving over from a full-sized keyboard is natural enough.

It's a shame then that the touchpad is less impressive. It is a little small and the design means your finger easily slips off the top onto the space bar. The right-hand side is given over to scrolling, perhaps unnecessary as you can almost always do this on the cursor keys. The button bar across the bottom is useable enough, but serious mouse users would be better served by buying a compact travel mouse.

In terms of wireless connections you have the standard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi b/g available; it's sad that the n flavour of wireless networking hasn't stretched to this model. There is no sign of a 3G modem, however, so mobile broadband users will have to stick to the dongle with the N110. Gigabit Ethernet is present for wired networking.

You'll find 3x USB 2.0 on the chassis, two on the left and one on the right (the best place for your mobile broadband dongle), with 3.5mm mic and headphone jacks on the right too. There is also the standard VGA port for hooking up to an external display and a Kensington lock slot.

A webcam sits in the bezel of the screen and partnered with the built-in mic means you are ready to dive into video conferencing without any problems. On the front edge is an SD card reader.

Inside the hardware specs are typical of the latest batch of netbooks, with an Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6GHz and backed by 1GB of RAM (easily accessed through a flap on the bottom for upgrading. A generous 160GB hard drive will give you more than enough storage.

Graphics are powered by the Intel 945GSE, so as you'd expect, you are limited in what you can do visually. Standard definition video sources play back nicely, be it from BBC iPlayer online or from the hard disk. If you want to use this to preview HD footage you've shot on your camcorder you'll be disappointed, because it can't handle it and will complain bitterly.

So far things have been pretty much in line with the NC10, both in terms of usability and performance. The biggest change is the battery, which does live up to its claims, giving you well over 7 hours of normal usage. This could be extended up to around 9 hours using the battery saving mode although this dims the screen so much it will probably only be used by passengers on night flights. "Normal" mode should meet most needs, any how.

The N110 does suffer from bloatware with a number of Samsung-added software applications (including the power manager we mention above). Whether these improve on the Windows XP controls is open to debate, but we'd rather use the XP defaults than the extra bundled applications, if only for the sake of consistency.

The Samsung N110 does run hot or excessively noisily either, expect, of course, for the default screensaver that plays a little tune. You even get a case in the box, which will keep the scratches off the glossy lid.

Verdict

Overall the N110 is a solid and dependable netbook. The quality of the build is compelling and the keyboard really impresses. It is also a silver nano keyboard, which claims to keep bacteria growth under control, if that is a concern of yours.

With netbooks elsewhere battling it out for the super-slim title, it is nice to have a device that might not bowl you over with its looks, but does the job asked of it. We'd have liked to have seen a 3G modem included to round out the mobile worker's dream specs, but otherwise, we'd choose the long battery life over a few millimetres of bulk any day.

Thank you to PC World for the loan of this product.