When it comes to portable laptops, Samsung has most definitely got the right idea with the Galaxy Book S. This svelte clamshell weighs under a kilo, has capacity for a SIM card for on-the-go 4G connectivity, yet offers super long-lasting battery life thanks to Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx platform being on board.
What, no Intel processor? Not here. You might have heard about Qualcomm in Android phones before - and very good that is too - but in a laptop the proposition is somewhat different. Here it's an ARM-based platform, meaning you can't run full-fat Windows - it's Windows 10 S instead - and so not all apps are available.
How that will affect you is more up for debate than it may sound. We've loved using the Galaxy Book S as a portable typing machine - it feels like the Windows equivalent of a Chromebook in some respects, many of which are now pushing into the pricier end of the market. But if you expect a laptop that costs almost a grand to do more heavy lifting with various apps - say, full Photoshop - then it's probably not for you.
- Dimensions: 305.2 x 203.2 x 11.8mm / Weight: 961g
- 2x USB-C ports, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack
- Finish: 'Earthy Gold'
Visually speaking, the Galaxy Book S looks like a dream. It's got a cloudy pink finish (Samsung calls it "earthy gold") - even the grey-ish keyboard base section has a blush to it.
The slight form-factor means there's not much in the way of ports, but it's very much in sync with current trends. Its two USB-C ports - neither of which are Thunderbolt-enabled - open access to peripheral use, or as charging ports.
In something this thin we wouldn't anticipate a full-size USB port - although Microsoft still manages it in the Surface - but in the cloud-focused world of now (slash the future) that's increasingly less of a problem.
There's a headphone jack too, so you can plug in those over-ear cans if you're not linked up via Bluetooth.
Logging in is super easy thanks to a fingerprint sensor over the power key. It works quickly, a bit like the Touch ID implementation on the MacBook Pro, making use of Windows Hello - however, this isn't Windows Hello Face, as the 720p camera on board here isn't compatible with the necessary facial recognition required.
- 13.3-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) TFT LCD display
Samsung sits well among the current expectations for laptop displays, delivering trim side bezel and fairly small top bezel too - especially considering this is where the built-in camera lives (note: there's no privacy shutter here). The bottom bezel is still quite large though, which sees the screen suspended a little higher away from the base than some modern competitors. All of this helps the footprint of this machine to remain small though.
The display itself is TFT LCD, which might come as a slight surprise given Samsung's push of AMOLED panels in its phones, such as the S20. The latter technology means it's organically light-emitting, meaning individual pixels can illuminate - all the better for deeper blacks and power-saving potential depending on the content being shown.
Still, as LCD panels go this one's got plenty to shout about: it's bright and colourful, with decent viewing angles and a resolution that's ample (at Full HD, rather than 2K or 4K).
Our only qualm is the reflective quality of the surface, which isn't uncommon for laptops, but if you're outside may demand you keep the brightness up all the more. And, let's face it, this is a laptop designed for the outdoors: that's what the 4G SIM slot is all about.
Keyboard & Trackpad
- Fingerprint sensor (in power key)
The keyboard in the Galaxy Book S reminds us a little of the add-on one you can get for the Microsoft Surface products. That's down to the aesthetic: from look and feel, to overall rigidity and lack of flex, it's a well implemented board.
It's got a backlight too, albeit the most subtle implementation of one we've ever seen. Which is probably the most sensible solution we've seen in a laptop too. There are three levels to this brightness, controlled with the Fn & F9 key, which emits a subtle almost greenish glow through the letters and symbols per key, which you will only be able to see when it is genuinely dark. Some laptops have over-bright and leaky backlighting that's plain distracting, so Samsung has successfully avoided that here.
Importantly it's a full-size 'board, too, so you won't feel overly cramped when typing. There's not a lot of space between the keys, if you're used to that, but otherwise you should take to it in little time. Despite key travel not being hugely significant, we found the feedback to be significant enough to cause no problems - this is a far cry from the older and problematic Apple MacBook keyboards, that's for sure.
The trackpad has a smooth topping, which fingers take to gliding across with ease. It's about as big as it could be in this format - we're used to larger ones these days - and offers a reassuring feedback click in use. No problems here at all.
Software & Battery
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor, 8GB RAM
- 256GB storage, microSD expansion
- Mobile: 4G LTE (SIM slot)
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- 42Wh battery
So far, so great. There's a lot of good to be said for the performance, too, depending on what you want to get from this laptop. See, it's not the first time we've seen Qualcomm hardware in a laptop format - the Lenovo Yoga C630 WOS gave us a taste of that back in 2019.
As we said of that machine, if you just want to use the Samsung to write documents, stream video and browse the web, it does a grand job. Actually, it does a sterling job on account of its battery life.
Because the Galaxy Book S lasts an age. We streamed a Full HD video from YouTube with brightness up to three quarters and sound to half - even after five hours only 40 per cent battery had gone.
All in all, you could watch around 13 hours of video from this laptop, no worries. Talk about ideal for a travel companion when you want to crunch through some box sets.
Even in more usual circumstances the battery life here is well beyond your average, pushing a dozen hours - and that includes with some non-Wi-Fi 4G LTE streaming (an EE SIM was provided for that job, which easily slips into a slot on the underside of the device).
So what's the problem? It's as we referred to up top: this is a Qualcomm-powered device, therefore it's an ARM-based platform, which is designed to run happily with Windows 10 S (think Windows RT reborn). That's the platform where you have to download approved apps from the Windows Store. And not everything is there - and not everything that is will be compatible.
Just as we said of the Lenovo device before: you'll see Photoshop Elements and games like Resident Evil 7, but these are all made for the x64/x86 CPU architecture, i.e. what conventional laptop CPUs use. The Snapdragon 8cx is an ARM chipset, so only applications made for ARM64, or tweaked to work with such CPUs, will function perfectly.
Call us crazy, but if all you need is Office 365 and similar for assured document adjustments, web browsing, emails, and such like, then the Galaxy Book S will take this in its stride - while lasting for an age. Heck, if people are buying Chromebooks for almost a grand with the inherent limitations of Chrome OS, then this proposition arguably isn't that different.
That said, you could snag a similarly priced alternative with Intel Core i architecture at this price. It might not last for as many hours per charge, but it has more potential in what it can do.
On the one hand the Samsung Galaxy Book S is superb: it's lightweight, looks great, and will last for an absolute age. If you're an on-the-go type who wants 4G/LTE and don't need access to complex applications, it's a dream - and we'd have it over an equivalent-priced Chromebook.
On the other hand, it can't offer full-fat Windows due to its Qualcomm architecture - and that will, for some, cause issues with certain apps being unavailable or ill-functioning. If you buy this thinking it's the same as an Intel-equipped machine then you may end up having a nightmare.
For the right person the Galaxy Book S could be a great match. We're just not sure many of those people exist. And if they do, there are so many other options on the market at this price point that a little research may lead you to buy something else (see below) - even if the battery life's not going to be nearly as good.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
Believe it or not, the third-gen Surface Laptop is already a cheaper purchase option. And that's with a 10th Gen Intel Core i5 chipset on board. That means you get full-fat Windows access, no restrictions, but can't expect battery life to be quite as good. You'll need to forego 4G/LTE too.
Dell XPS 13 (2020)
Dell's dream machine has the smallest bezel in the business, plus heaps of Intel power, full-fat Windows, and is well-known to be a long-laster too. Whether the 2020 model will fit may depend on where you're based: it starts at $999 in the USA, but, for example, £1,399 in the UK - making it morethan 50 per cent pricier when taking currency conversion into account. Still, it's up there among the best Windows laptops money can buy.