Samsung NF210 dual-core netbook
Quirky design, state-of-the-art Atom CPU
Review Netbooks, irrespective of manufacturer, are based on a very well-defined set of specifications. How, then, do those manufacturers seek to separate their offerings from the herd? If you're Samsung, you come up with a quirky, curvy case design.
Samsung's NF210: matte display and latest Atom CPU on board
I'm not just describing the usual rounded corners and edges, there - I mean 'curvy' literally. Look at the NF210 side on, and the line that separates the bottom half from the lid curves gracefully up from the front and then quickly back down again at the back.
This is, of course, purely cosmetic and has the unfortunate effect that the casing rises 10mm or so above the keys at either side of the keyboard. The display - for once, a matte-coated screen, anti-glare display fans - has to be flat, so the lid thickens up at the back to make room for the cutaways into which the raised sides will sit when the lid is closed.
Visually, all this isn't unappealing, though it does give the NF210 a feminine quality, enhanced by the cream-and-black colour scheme, that blokey geeks may be uncomfortable with. It also makes the notebook considerably chunkier than it needs to be. Just 20mm at the front, the NF210 thickens to 30mm - or to 36mm if you have the six-cell, 6600mAh battery option that protrudes beyond the base of the machine.
Not a slimline netbook
In spite of the high sides, the NF210's calculator-style keyboard is fine to type on, with barely any flex. The design doesn't get in the way. The keys and surround are cast in matte black plastic, but the wrist rest has a charcoal brushed-aluminium look, though it's not made of metal.
Cosmetics cover standard spec
The trackpad is the same colour but textureless, and that's the only differentiation between the two. Actually, there's no real boundary at all. The only way you know your finger has slipped off the trackpad, without looking, is that the cursor stops moving.
The US edition - seen here - applies a different texture to the trackpad. It's missing from the UK NF210
The trackpad's buttons, formed from a single piece of chrome-look plastic, have a notch to separate one from t'other and a pleasingly light action for a netbook.
Outside, you have a standard netbook port array. There's no USB 3.0 here - though the machine does have Bluetooth 3.0 - and the Ethernet is 10/100Mb/s not Gigabit. The memory card slot can take SDXC cards.
The NF210 is Samsung's first netbook with Intel's new Atom N550 dual-core processor for netbooks - Asus' Eee PC 1215N , also a dual-core netbook, uses a desktop CPU. The N550 may have two cores, virtually doubled again with HyperThreading technology, but it runs at 1.5GHz, less than the 1.6GHz of the first Atoms.
Longer bars are better
Video Playback Battery Life Test
Battery Life in Minutes
Longer bars are better
When it comes to the NF210's performance, the benchmarks show that the N550 does make a difference, but not the big leap ahead you might have expected it to make. I had to use the old PCMark 05 test because the more modern PCMark Vantage won't run on a device with a 1024 x 600 screen - 1024 x 768 is the minimum.
Compared to other netbooks Reg Hardware has looked at of late, the NF210's CPU score is better, but only 13 per cent up on the average. And I can't say that, during the time I was using the Samsung netbook, it felt any faster than any other I've looked at.
Curves in all the wrong places?
The exception is Asus' aforementioned Eee PC 1215N, but that has a 1.8GHz Atom CPU and Nvidia's Ion 2 graphics, and you can see the benefit that makes in the PCMark 05 results.
One problem with the NF210 is that Samsung has crippled it by installing just 1GB of DDR 3 memory - in the machine's one and only DIMM slot. It certainly yielded a relatively poor PCMark 05 Memory score. A dual-core CPU is all very well, but if you can't keep it fed, it'll leave you staring at Windows' rotating hoop icon.
The Samsung scored a mere 144 points in 3DMark 06, up on older netbooks, but still poor. In practical terms, the NF210 would happily play Reg Hardware's sample 720p video in VLC, but 1080p footage left it stuttering.
The NF210's battery life was good - just under five hours in the video playback test - but while it was above average, it wasn't up there with the class leaders.
Whether the NF210 works for you will depend on whether you love or hate its curvaceous casing - and the chunkiness it adds to the netbook's waist. Get past the looks and you'll find the Samsung delivers a small performance boost over the previous generation of netbooks, but you'll need to replace the Ram if you really want to see it fly. ®
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