Ticks all the right boxes, almost
Review The new N130 and N140 netbooks will probably be the last such machines we see from Samsung running the Silverthorne Atom processors as come January it is promising to announce a raft of new machines using the next generation Atom Pine Trail chips.
Samsung's Windows 7 netbook entrant, the N140
Of course we don't know when exactly the new machines will be available to buy or how much they will cost, but its fair to assume they will replace most of the current range, specifically the NC10, NC20, N110, N120 and N310 machines leaving the N130 and N140 as the entry level of Samsung's netbook range.
Though the N130 and N140 look very similar there are some significant internal differences including the battery capacity - 4,000mAh in the N130, 5,900mAh in the N140, the HDD capacity - 160GB for the N130 and 250GB for the N140 and the operating system. The N130 makes do with good old XP while the N140 gets the shiny new Windows 7 Starter.
Well, that's the current state of play in the UK market - don't blame us if 250GB Windows 7 N130s turn up the day after you read this. Even so, you will always get the smaller battery with the N130. After all, it's the N140 that gets the new OS and the man sized power pack and that's the machine we're reviewing here.
The design of Samsung's netbooks has been a case of cautious evolution, rather than revolution. The end result is that the N140 is both the smartest and smallest Samsung netbook yet. With a footprint of 262 x 185.5mm its 1mm wider, but 1mm shallower than the NC10 while at 28.55mm tall its also a touch thinner. The 6-cell battery, despite being more capacious than that fitted to the NC10 protrudes less, giving the N140 a noticeably more slender profile. At 1.27kg the N140 is also lighter to the tune of 60g.
A discreet, yet more powerful battery than previous models
Its a nice looking machine too. Samsung's netbooks have been shedding the bling and design fripperies for a while and the N140 makes do with a polished silver key line around the chassis and a narrow sliver strip around the touch pad but nothing more. In black, the N140 a nicely understated bit of kit that you can whip out of its bundled padded carry case in the best of company. As you would expect with a Samsung, it's also very well made with the lid hinge having a particularly pleasant and well weighted action.
The ports and sockets are netbook norm: three USB – one of which can set to charge devices even when the machine is switched off – 10/100 Ethernet, VGA port, SD card slot and Kensington lock. The 3.5mm audio jacks have moved to the left hand side and the two USB ports on the right moving towards the front of the machine, as the layout is different from the NC10 and N110/120. The on/off switch has shifted from the hinge end to the front of the chassis, which is a less appealing; the new switch feels cheap and isn't the easiest to use.
Some port positioning changes reveal this is more than a refresh
Under the hood you will find the same old Atom N270 chip running at 1.6Ghz with 1GB of RAM to play with. Again, as with all other Sammy netbooks the N140 only has a single memory module slot, so you won't be able to upgrade beyond 2GB. Wireless connectivity comes courtesy of an 802.11n Wi-Fi card and a built-in Bluetooth module.
The 84-key keyboard, touch-pad and click bar continue the Samsung tradition of ergonomic netbook excellence. Samsung's netbook keyboards are quite simply the best around, but we do wish the touch-pad had more gesture controls beyond basic vertical scrolling and pinch-to-zoom.
For some reason Samsung has moved the built-in microphone from the hinge mounting to right next to the click-bar. That's great in that its closer to your mouth but bad in that it picks up the click-bar's rather loud action. Equally curious is Samsung's decision to downgrade the N140's web cam from the usual 1.3Mp to 0.3Mp. Like the NC10, the N140 has a 10.1in matt effect backlit LCD screen with a 1024 x 600 resolution. It's a cracking example, being sharp, clear and colourful.
When we ran PCMark05 and compared the results to the Lenovo S-10 we tested recently, the N140 produced a rather rather poor CPU score which didn't come as too much of a surprise since the S10 not only uses the faster N280 Atom chip but also has a front side bus clocked at 800MHz compared to the N140's 533MHz. The N140 performed well enough in the HDD and Memory tests though and managed to chomp through the Gimp Gaussian Blur test in an impressive 4.1 seconds.
Windows 7's demands take the shine off performance
Numbers aside in day-to-day use the Windows 7 N140 does feel just a little slower than the XP-based N110/120 machines we tested earlier in the year but if given the choice we would still tend to go with 7 even in cut-down Starter form which does without the fancy Aero effects and Windows Media Server. Buying a new PC and then having to spend your time gazing at an OS that looks like it was designed when you were in short trousers – and lets face it, it surely was – really gets a bit tiresome after a while.
If you are looking for absolute speed from your Atom netbook our usual advice would be to ditch Windows all together and install the latest Ubuntu distro but be warned when we fired up our N140 with Ubuntu 9.10 from a USB stick the system refused to recognize the Realtek wireless card and judging by the threads on a couple of Ubuntu chat boards, it's not a straightforward fix.
Longer bars are better
Longer bars are better
Longer bars are better
Battery Life Results
Battery life in Minutes
Longer bars are better
Turning to 3DMark06 we came up with a figure of 140, which is par for the course for an Atom powered machine with Intel's GMA950 integrated GPU. Video playback is another matter though, because one of the benefits of Windows 7 is that you get WMP 12 which has native support for H.264, Xvid and DivX video codecs, AAC audio and MP4 and MOV containers.
The result is the N140 made a decent fist of 1080p QuickTime files which, while not playing back with complete smoothness, was still entirely watchable. Media playback is further enhanced by the N140 having 1.5W stereo speakers in the front corners of the chassis, rather than a mono unit tucked away in its bowels as per the N130. Another advantage the N140 enjoys over the N130 is it has the same Realtek HD Audio Manager software complete with SRS surround sound effects as the N120. The sound output is impressive and fine for movies but, unsurprisingly, a bit thin for music.
A well-equipped, good all-rounder
In battery tests, the N140 lasted for 4 hours 38 minutes. That's 13 minutes less than the N110 managed with an identical capacity battery pack, but still translates into an easy six hours of average use on a full charge. The actual best we managed was 6 hours 35 minutes with the screen brightness at 65 per cent and the Wi-Fi radio on, but if you turned the wick all the way down, eight hours might not be out of the question.
At the moment the N130 can be picked up for around £250 compared to the N140's £315. Is £65 worth it for a more modern OS, larger battery and more roomy hard drive? On balance, probably. If Samsung took the plunge and shipped the N130 with a Linux OS for around two hundred quid, then that would be a harder question to answer. Perhaps more importantly – if the prices we found on several major retailer web-sites are anything to go by – the N140 isn't noticeably more expensive than the old NC10 and that makes it a bit of a bargain, at least for a Samsung.
At last Samsung have just gone ahead and replaced the NC10 with something better, rather than try to cook up yet another endless variation on the theme. The N140 takes all the good bits of the NC10 but adds a larger HDD, a bigger battery and a more modern operating system and some other bits and bobs like draft-n Wi-Fi and stereo speakers and then squeezes them all into a slightly smaller and lighter package but without much of an increase in price. That's a bit of a result if you ask us. ®
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