We can safely say that in 2011, PC manufacturers have stepped up to the mark when it comes to design. Although Apple has had a fairly long headstart, we’ve seen more head-turning design in the Windows market thanalmost any other time, and not just at the high-end either.
Samsung has been in the thick of it and the Series 7 Chronos, or 700Z, is no exception. But this isn’t an Ultrabook, fighting it out in the thin and light stakes, but a fully-fledged notebook, packing in the power, but without sacrificing portability and design.
We’ll get the MacBook Pro likeness out of the way now. There are a number of points that bring Apple’s notebook to mind, from the drop-down hinge, to the large trackpad to the keyboard. The cutout on the leading-edge to let you open the lid is identical, both in size and design. That’s no bad thing in our book because we love the MacBook Pro and it certainly makes the 700Z look good, while remaining functional, even if Samsung will find it hard to escape the copycat gibes.
The Chronos features a 15.6-inch display, which is impressive given the size of the chassis. It measures 362.1 x 238.5 and sits at 23.9mm deep. It weighs 2.29kg, which isn’t too heavy, but obviously isn’t designed to compete with something like the Samsung Series 9 on the portability front. The result is that you get plenty of display for your money, and a bezel slimmed down to let the screen out. Strength comes thanks to the metal backing, which helps give a premium finish and keep the 700Z mercifully free from fingerprints.
The deck of the 700Z sees the keyboard sitting in a slight recess, which stops the keys protruding above the wrist rest, which should mean they don’t touch the display when you close the lid. The wrist rest gives you plenty of space, so as a “latptop”, it’s a comfortable machine to use.
The body is plastic, as is the underside, but it feels solid enough and has been considerately designed, so it looks good from all sides. The sculpting around the base gives the illusion of slimness when sitting on a desk or table, and clever touches, like a drop-down section on the Ethernet port, have let Samsung stick to smart lines throughout.
Keyboard and touchpad
A backlit island-style keyboard spans the width of the deck and a lot has been crammed in, as a full numberpad sits on the right-hand side. Given the space available there are few compromises in terms of key size. The main QWERTY keys are well spaced and offer an excellent action, which feels precise. You can change the brightness of the backlighting too, which is always welcomed, controlled by the extensive function controls across the top.
Other shortcuts include the usual, brightness, volume, etc, but we like the fact that you also get access to Samsung’s Easy Settings, which are used to control some of the hardware settings. We’re not always fans of additional settings menus, but these are well implemented and clear, which is the important point.
If we have a criticism of the keyboard as a whole, however, it’s that the main keys are offset to the left as a result of the included numberpad. We’d rather not have that numberpad and have everything centralised, but if you’re a number-cruncher then it’s nice to have that in a notebook that isn’t huge. There are different versions of the Series 7 and we’ve seen the smaller model without a numberpad included, but you can’t buy all models in all territories, more’s the shame.
The trackpad is large and buttonless, but left and right “clicks” work as normal. It’s multitouch and a number of gestures are in place to help you navigate. Most work well enough, although you do get the feeling that Windows perhaps isn’t as adept at responding as Mac OS is: the two finger scrolling isn’t quite as slick, but the surface of the trackpad is beautifully smooth and amongst the best we’ve seen on a Windows notebook.
We did find that sometimes it would grab things with trailing finger, so for example we’d find that we were dragging a folder, rather than just moving the pointer. Again, it’s a minor point and something we’re sure you’ll get used to.
Lying within, you’ll find an Intel Core i7 CPU, clocked at 2.2GHz, backed up by an impressive 8GB of RAM. Graphics come in the form of the AMD Radeon 6750M and you’ve got at 7200rpm 750GB hard drive for storage. There is also a card reader on the leading edge which will accept an SD card in its entirety, so there is no problem leaving a card in place while you travel about. A slot-loading DVD drive sits on the right-hand side too, which is impressive.
In addition, the 700Z is equipped with what Samsung is calling ExpressCache. This is an 8GB SSD that boosts key tasks. It isn’t directly accessible by the user, but reduces startup times and the launching of often-used applications. As a result, you can start from cold and be online in about 30 seconds.
The 15.6-inch display offers you a resolution of 1600 x 900, sharp enough and the size means it’s comfortable work on two documents side-by-side. It’s reasonably bright and ably assisted by the anti-glare finish, making it a good choice for those wanting to work in brighter conditions. Within the Easy Settings you’ll also find a range of display options, including picture profiles which let you change the colour temperature of the monitor to suit what you’re viewing.
We love the vivid colours of the “sharp” option. This feature also has an auto mode, so when you fire up a video the profile changes to better suit video playback.
You also have plenty of physical connections on offer. The right-hand side offers a single USB port - ideal for a 3G dongle - while the left-hand side provides you with DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 sockets, Ethernet and HDMI. You get a 3.5mm headphone/mic socket too.
The result is that the 700Z is a pleasure to use, whether it’s for work or leisure. There is plenty of power on tap for more intensive tasks and plenty of space to work. The finish of the display means it’s great for those working on the move, even if the size of the Series 7 makes it less attractive than something like an Ultrabook.
Samsung's claim about starting fast ring true, and that saves you time every time you fire-up the 700Z. It's also fast to open and close applications thanks to that Core i7 CPU and there is no problem handling your movies: we were impressed with how quickly and smoothly high definition videos played back, ably assisted by a boost from the display.
The extra keys might not just be put to use for number crunching, because although this isn't a gaming laptop by any measure, having a dedicated GPU means you can play some respectable games, albeit not at the highest settings. Overall there is little sign of lag as you wait for things to get going, close or switch applications.
Of course, what you don’t get is a replaceable battery. The emphasis on design does mean that this is a sealed unit, so you can’t just throw a spare battery in your bag if you are out of the office for a long day out. Of course there are power saving options, including an “eco” mode.
You’ll probably get around 6 hours of working life from the battery, dependent on usage of course - if you fire up more intensive applications this will be cut drastically. Samsung has also put into place something called “Battery Life Extender” which claims to limit charging to 80 per cent, thereby extending the life of the battery. You’ll have to play with all the settings to see what works and what doesn’t, but with a battery that isn’t user serviceable, it might be worth trying.
Overall the Samsung Series 7 is an impressive notebook. It looks good, it feels good and it has had some considerate control tweaks from Samsung. You might consider it a copycat design, but you'll save yourself about £500 over a similar Apple machine, with this 700Z coming in at around £1000.
We’re not sold on the keyboard arrangement however. Although the keys are very nice to use, the offset makes this a computer that might not suit those who aren’t going to get regular use of the numberpad. By contrast, it could be exactly the thing, if crunching numbers is what you do.
With plenty of power on offer and a great display, it’s still just about light enough to be portable, but we have to commend Samsung in making efficient use of the display space.