Remember the Samsung RV720? That 17.3in laptop won itself a 9/10 and our Recommended award by being a decent no-frills machine for an absolutely bargain price. Well, today’s Series 3 NP300E5A could easily be its twin separated at birth. Though the Series 3 is a 15.6in affair, its design is almost identical, from the exact same rugged lid finish and matt screen, to the modest connectivity and decent specifications – but, more importantly, it retains the budget pricing (under £400) of its larger sibling. But can it match it in being one of the best budget laptops on the market?
Starting off with looks, the NP300E5A certainly doesn’t give the impression of being a particularly cheap machine. The lid is divided into black and silver sections, and a ribbed pattern makes the silver half look more like metal than most imitations we’ve come across. And the benefits to the pattern aren’t just aesthetic either, as they also provide a more hard-wearing surface that’s easier to grip and doesn’t display grease marks like its shiny, glossy rivals.
Opening the laptop up, we’re greeted with a matt black screen bezel and strip above the keyboard, piano black keyboard surround which complements the matt keys nicely, and a silver palm-rest and touchpad section. It does look a tad cheap once open, but practical souls will prefer the simpler matt look to shinier alternatives that require regular wiping with a soft cloth to maintain their appeal.
Build quality is decent, though not exactly outstanding and worse than on Samsung’s own RV720. Especially noticeable is that there’s enough flex in the base for panels to separate from each other around the laptop’s sides (where the connectivity resides). Still, it shouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern, just be as gentle as you should be anyway with a piece of delicate technology. The NP300E5A’s weight is a fairly standard 2.3kg.
As you might expect given this Series 3’s sub-£400 price point, connectivity is a little on the basic side. On the left you’ll find a Gigabit Ethernet port, VGA and HDMI for video, a single USB 2.0 port and 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks. The front houses LED indicators and an SDXC card slot, while to the right there’s the tray-loading DVD-writer and two more USB ports placed (too) close together.
On the wireless side we have our usual stalwarts of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi N. Really the only significant absentee here is USB 3.0, and you won’t find many true budget laptops that support it. We can’t wait until Intel integrates it natively.