(Pocket-lint) - Well, well, if it isn't a Samsung laptop. The Samsung Galaxy Book Ion marks a rare sight in Europe - because the Korean company pulled its laptop products out of the region back in 2014. You could call it a six year hiatus. You could call it a reinvigorated confidence in the sector. Whatever you decide, however, it's clear that Samsung is back with intended boom.
The Galaxy Book Ion isn't an especially conventional laptop. It's large, yet it's really lightweight. It's dressed in a finish that you won't see on other competitors. It's endowed with unusual features like post-purchase RAM and SSD storage expansion. It also pulls on Samsung's highly successful TV prowess by utilising a QLED display.
But after so long away, does the Ion - if you'll excuse the pun on the name - represent a positive charge in the laptop market, or are there still negatives to consider?
- Dimensions (15.6in): 356.1 x 228 x 14.9mm / Weight: 1.19kg
- 1x HDMI, 1x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3), 2x USB-A (3.0)
- 1x 3.5mm headphone out/mic input
- Aura Silver finish
The Ion, here in its 15.6-inch format (there's a smaller 13.3-inch model too), is a big ol' beast - but when first plucking it from its box it's immediately clear just how lightweight this laptop is. It's just shy of 1.2kgs, making it about the same as a MacBook Air's mass - but in a much larger footprint.
This large-yet-light feature isn't the only immediate point of attraction. Indeed, the almost eggshell-like finish - Samsung calls it Aura Silver, which is like a pink-blue two-tone sheen right across the lid and interior panels - is unlike anything we've seen on any laptop, well, ever. Whether you find it tasteful or leaves a bad taste in the mouth is down to preference - we would prefer a less plasticky feeling and more traditional finish really. Still, it's certainly eye-catching.
Samsung isn't aiming for record slimness in this model, but its sub-15mm measurement means the Ion can encompass a range of ports. There's an HDMI out, one USB-C (capable of Thunderbolt 3, i.e. 40Gbps transfer speeds), two full-size USB-A (3.0, i.e 5Gbps), plus a 3.5mm headphone/mic combo jack.
Importantly there's also a DC input for power, so the one USB-C port isn't utilised for charging when it's needed. This separate power source also doesn't come with a whacking great plug or transformer attached to the cable.
- 15.6-inch QLED LCD panel, slim bezel design
- Full HD/1080p (1920 x 1080) resolution
- 600 nit max brightness
- 16:9 aspect ratio
- No touch control
While Samsung hasn't been pushing its laptops in Europe for these six years, it most certainly has been going in strong when it comes to TVs. As a brand that shuns OLED for its own 'QLED' technology - the onus is on big brightness, deep blacks and extra colour pop - it's been doing rather well in this area of the market. So, but of course, the Ion imports a QLED panel to add to its show-off feature set.
However, just because QLED is stamped on the box doesn't necessarily mean it's the be all and end all best screen ever. This 15.6-inch panel is decent, sure, as its colours do pop, the blacks are great, and its brightness potential is up there with the best you can get. There are just some other inherent issues.
First of all, despite a large screen across a 16:9 aspect ratio, Samsung has opted for a Full HD (1080p) display. We've seen smaller screens at this price point pack in more pixels, so it's surprising that's not the case here. And not just pixels for the sake of it - because, secondly, the Ion has some scaling issues with graphics that see softness to edges in some areas, be that search engine logos or Windows graphics, that would be better served with more pixel potential.
Furthermore the screen has a reflective coating that's a little bit of a bother, all the more so because the automatic dimming of this screen is overzealous to say the least. And given that part of QLED's point is mega-brightness, to dim it so fervently just seems counter-intuitive. You can of course counter any automations with Fn+F3 to step things up a notch - plus there's an Outdoors mode for extra wallop, which is great.
Last up, take note there's no touch control for this screen. It's fairly standard in a lot of Windows laptops, but more the ones with flexible hinges. We don't miss it too much in the Ion, as it keeps the screen cleaner - and fingerprints certainly do show on this gloss panel.
Keyboard & Trackpad
- Full size lattice keyboard with NUM pad
- Three-level keyboard backlight
- Integrated fingerprint scanner
- Smooth glass trackpad
When it comes to the keyboard, there's a full size selection here, including the addition of a NUM pad to the right hand side. Personally we'd forego the latter's presence and pick up the 13.3-inch Ion instead, which comes without it and has a more conventional format. But if you love tapping those numbers, spreadsheet heads, then this will be a welcome addition.
Because of that NUM pad, however, everything feels a little offset, like it's pushed to the left. The trackpad in particular has an alignment that makes right-click far too prominent by default - to the point that we had to deactivate it within settings so it's all left-click only, otherwise the natural right hand rest position is too far offset.
Although these keys don't have a massive degree of travel, there's enough response to know you're hitting the right ones. And when it's dark there's a three-step backlight which can go from off to 30, 60, 100 per cent brightness, delivering this subtle blueish hue from around the keys and their display symbols.
Despite the position of the trackpad feeling off, the large scale and smooth topping, plus multi-finger recognition, make it comfortable to use. The click is deep and audible enough too.
Lastly there's a built-in fingerprint scanner beneath the Enter key. This works as well as any, which is handy for quick logins, the only thing we don't like about it is just how big and blue it is - a position over the power key or elsewhere would make more sense really.
Performance & Battery
- 10th Gen Intel Core i5-10210U processor
- 69.7Wh battery, dedicated DC charger
- Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics
- 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD storage
- Additional SSD & RAM slots
- microSD expansion slot
- Wireless PowerShare
- Wi-Fi 6 (802.11 ax)
There's a lot to like about the Galaxy Book Ion's performance. While the loadout sits this laptop in the middle of Windows land - there's a 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB RAM by default - there are additional aspects about it that help elevate its stance.
For example there's a spare slot for an additional NVMe SSD storage drive, and another spare slot for additional DDR4 RAM. You'll have to buy such hardware later down the line - but the scope to boost this laptop at a later date is a very rare feature indeed. You may not see it as necessary - but that's fine, too, as it doesn't impact the overall cost of purchase.
There's also a microSD card slot if you just want a quick and easy way to expand upon the 512GB already available. The card won't be as quick as this drive - Samsung has picked a speedy SSD here - but it could be a good way to transfer files and photos from your phone en mass should you need.
Rather than just defaulting to basic Intel graphics, Samsung has opted for Nvidia's GeForce MX250 graphics instead. Ok, so this isn't a hardcore gamers' GPU, but it does open the door to giving additional graphical presence to some games, or other processes such as Photoshop 3D tasks.
Elsewhere the Ion features Wi-Fi 6, meaning compatibility with the faster frequency bands available, for quicker download times. So when you need to grab Gigabytes of data it won't take nearly as long as a lesser laptop.
Oh, and there's Wireless PowerShare too. Ultimately this is reverse wireless charging with a different name - but if your phone is running out of juice and happens to be wireless charging compatible, then you can rest it on the laptop for a quick top-up. Ideal for those Galaxy S20 users, eh?
Topping up another device needn't be of concern either - because the Galaxy Book Ion has a battery life that's hard to rival. The capacious cell inside this machine was able to run a 1080p YouTube stream at 75 per cent brightness for a full 14 hours before it called it a day. That's a very long innings indeed - not quite the 20 claimed, but for those moments when you're not full-time streaming it can last beyond that quoted time.
The Galaxy Book Ion is an unconventional laptop in a number of ways, but so many of those features - user-expandable storage and RAM, an eye-catching finish, NUM pad, large screen aspect - will only add to its appeal.
The Ion's screen is big and bright, but it lacks touch control, has aggressive auto-dimming, while its resolution and graphical scaling isn't the very best going. Crank it up, however, and you'll see why QLED offers so much appeal when it comes to pop and brightness.
A few quirks such as trackpad alignment take a bit of getting used to (or just adjusting in settings), while that eggshell-like finish has a plasticky feel - but is ultimately why this big laptop is so lightweight and, therefore, unusually portable at this scale.
The Samsung Galaxy Book Ion is ultimately a positive charge in the world of larger-scale laptops - and a welcome return to Samsung's laptop ranges appearing in Europe once again.
LG Gram 17
It's got an even bigger screen due to a different aspect ratio, but with a higher resolution, longer-lasting battery life, and slightly lower cost, there's appeal in this LG.