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Today we're looking at yet another netbook from Samsung, which has been on a roll in this area ever since its NC10 won our Best Netbook of 2008 award. The N110 came along and didn't mess with the basics, merely introducing a few slight design tweaks. Now though we have the Samsung N120 before us, so it's time to see what goodies are packed into its attractive shell.
Unfortunately, Samsung seems to be pulling a bit of an Asus on us, bringing out various refreshes of its netbooks which vary only in non-obvious ways. Like the N110 before it, Samsung's latest - available in black or white - is at first glance nothing more than an aesthetic update, so inside you'll find exactly the same components as in last year's model.
Most people will probably be familiar with the specification this kind of setup gets you: an Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6GHz, a single gigabyte of RAM (which is just enough to keep the pre-installed Windows XP happy), and a par-for-the-course 160GB hard drive, with standard 802.11g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 plus EDR for wireless communication. Unfortunately, this also means the same underpowered Intel GMA950 integrated graphics, so you won't be running most HD video formats smoothly on this little netbook.
Why then, aside from the new styling which we'll get to in a minute, should you go for this little beast over its predecessors? There are only two hardware changes which are of genuine interest. The first is that the chassis has been extended, making for a wider netbook at 272mm and adding 20grams to make the total weight 1.28kg. This has not only given Samsung room to implement a 'full-size' keyboard with similarly-sized keys to those on a 12in notebook, but has also allowed the company to move the speakers to either side of the 10.1in screen and even add a subwoofer, making the N120 the first 2.1-speaker netbook we know of.
Visually, the changes are mostly subtle but all welcome. Gone is the piano-black fingerprint-loving lid of the N110, to be replaced by a semi-matte finish that requires far less maintenance and won't show up scratches as easily. We must applaud Samsung for breaking with the common tradition of making portable machines shiny; one it has previously promoted assiduously. It's also worth mentioning the included black nylon slipcase, which frankly feels cheap but does the job, protecting the N120 from wear and tear.
On the inside, this netbook looks nearly identical to the N110 aside from the screen's wider bezel, which here incorporates the speakers and a larger webcam section. Another small but welcome change is that all the ports are now marked by clear icons along the top (much like they were on the NC10). However, the chromed hinges are now matched by thin chrome strips to either side rather than the N110's red trim, which lends it a more cohesive look.