Samsung NB30 touchscreen durable netbook
Tough and touchy
Review Samsung's range of first generation netbooks consisted of such a bewildering array of similar spec machines that a year on its difficult to remember what the difference was between the N110, N120 and N310. So I had a slight sinking feeling when the NB30 turned up because the basic specification is identical to the N220.
Touchscreen option: Samsung's NB30
Look more closely though and you will see two differences. Firstly the NB30 Touch is an semi-rugged netbook aimed at the careless, the adventurous and school kids. Secondly, it comes with a touchscreen.
The NB30's ruggedness comes in three servings. First and most obvious is the ridged and rubberised casing which provides a greater degree of impact resistance than your typical netbook body. The textured matt covering also has the benefits of not showing up fingerprints and making the body easy to grip.
Secondly, the 250GB hard drive has a free-fall sensor that can detect the sort of sudden downward acceleration – recently associated with the BP's share price – that gives the hard drive time to lock down its moving parts and thereby minimising any chance of them coming into catastrophic contact.
Finally, the keyboard assembly is fitted with a waterproof seal that isolates it from the motherboard meaning that inadvertent liquid spills onto the keyboard deck shouldn't ruin your day. To test this I chucked half a glass of water onto the keyboard, flipped it over to let it drain and immediately began to wonder if Samsung would ever lend me anything again.
Water resistant keyboard passed the spill test
Thankfully, the NB30 continued to work perfectly. I suspect it may be that water seal that's the cause of the NB30's keys having a rather short and lifeless action, something exaggerated by the flat design of the keys themselves. It's not really any worse than the calculator-style keyboard of the N220, but I prefer the more traditional design found on the Samsung N140 which is one of the best netbook keyboards about. The NB30's track pad and click-bar arrangement is carried over wholesale from the N220.
Fitting a touch screen to a netbook has always seemed a good idea because it reduces the time you have to spend fiddling with the diminutive track pad and mouse bar arrangements that all netbooks are cursed with.
Given the trackpad size, a touchscreen is quite helpful
However, even though the NB30 Touch's screen is nominally matt, it's far more reflective than the screen fitted to the standard NB30. Brightness takes a hit too with the Touch's screen being noticeably less bright at the maximum setting. On the positive side, despite the semi-matt finish, the screen still manages to avoid showing up fingerprints.
In use the resistive touch screen feels very similar to that fitted to the Dell Latitude 2100. Basic drag and tap commands all work well but multi-touch gestures are hit and miss depending on the application. For instance pinch-to-zoom works fine with images in Windows Photo Viewer but you'll get no joy trying to use the same moves on a web page.
Specific gestures can be assigned to certain actions or to launch certain applications using the eGalaxTouch control panel and these proved reliable enough, with commands more often than not triggering the assigned function at the first attempt.
For a purer touchscreen experience ,the NB30 comes bundled with something called Play Touch, which launches a four panel desktop that can be populated with widgets and direct media links along with simplified and finger friendly versions of Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player and Windows Explorer. A two-fingered drag spins the screen back to the Windows 7 desktop complete with 3D animated transitions.
The Play Touch software is best left untouched
How much value Play Touch will be to users is questionable, for the simple reason that it runs on top of Windows 7, so is hardly the fastest UI you are ever going to come across. No doubt many will ignore it or uninstal it, considering it bloatware. Indeed, half way through my test, Play Touch packed up. Attempts to launch it thereafter triggered a cryptic and indecipherable Windows warning. Yet it's no great loss for grownups and going without it didn't impact on my productivity nor my overall rating. Moreover, while the touchscreen is a feature worth having, at no point could you mistake the NB30 for an iPad.
The touchscreen, A-Team appliqué and Henry Ford colour scheme aside – you can have the NB30 in black or black – the rest of the NB30 is identical to the N220. So you get Windows 7 Starter, an Atom N450 1.66GHz processor with integrated GMA 3150 graphics, 1GB of RAM upgradeable to 2 from the hatch on the underside, a 10.1in 1024 x 600 screen and the same array of ports and status lights.
Longer bars are better
Longer bars are better
Longer bars are better
Video Loop Battery Life Results
Battery life in minutes
Longer bars are better
You also get 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and two decent sounding 1.5w speakers, but I was a little disappointed to find a blanking plate in place of the Wi-Fi switch that Samsung's press images show on the right hand side of the machine. The 5,900mAh battery managed over 6 hours in a video loop test and should be good for around 8 hours of real world use.
Trying Ubuntu on the NB30 everything worked out of the box with the exception of the Realtek 8192E Wi-Fi card and the touch screen; a tap at any point on the screen just resulted in the Applications menu opening. That wasn't much of a surprise but eGalax hosts Linux drivers on its web site, so a fix should be possible. Installing drivers for the errant Wi-Fi card is a five minute job.
The semi-tough trappings are to be welcomed given the abuse netbooks get
Not unsurprisingly an identical specification to the N220 resulted in very similar PCMark05 results with the exception of the HDD test which was a significant improvement suggesting that our review N220 wasn't firing on all cylinders.
Without the touch screen, the NB30 seems to be generally available for between £10 and £15 less than the the N220 or to put it another way for around £300. As the two machines are in all significant ways identical, that has to make the NB30 the one to go for. OK, the keyboard is not up to the usual high Samsung standards but, frankly, neither is the one fitted to the N220 Moreoever, the semi-tough bodywork, HDD drop protection, spill resistant keyboard and optional touch screen – which will add around £60 to the price – are all features worth having.
The NB30 may only be semi-tough, but the enhancements should pay dividends in a life of rough and tumble. Like all Samsung netbooks it is well specified, well made and good looking and though the touchscreen won't keep Apple's engineers awake at night it still has its uses. ®
Thanks to Laptops Direct for the loan of the review sample.
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