Since we’ve mentioned the samey hardware, we should also deal with another samey element: the connectivity. Remember the original Asus Eee PC 701? Well the N210 has the exact same options as it did: three USB ports, VGA, a memory card reader, and two audio jacks. Samsung does at least spring one pleasant surprise, however, since one of the USB ports supports standby power, so you can charge USB devices from the N210 even when it’s turned off.
Another interesting feature is the use of Phoenix Technologies’ HyperSpace instant-on OS. Like DeviceVM’s SplashTop (also known as ExpressGate on Asus machines), it’s a Linux derived OS that’s meant to provide fast access to essential features. It certainly boots fairly quickly, reaching the desktop in around 35 seconds and a web browser in 50. By comparison it takes just over a minute to reach the Windows desktop.
In use, HyperSpace exceeds SplashTop in creating a more usable and useful desktop. On the left you get shortcuts to programs and web services, while the main body can be split into one or two columns and filled with widgets for Twitter, Gmail and popular news services (e.g. BBC, CNN), as well as useful functions like a calculator, to do list and notes. You can even have separate desktop tabs. Native applications include what looks like a variation on Open Office and a Real Player media player for video and music. Almost everything else is accessed via the web browser.
It’s all quite promising, but it has several issues. While it’s fast to boot, in general use HyperSpace feels a tad lethargic. Of course this is true of Windows, too, but ultimately the functionality on offer here is far too limited to justify itself. An extra 30 seconds or so is hardly a long wait and if instant access is such a priority, leaving the machine in standby is far more effective.
It also commands some system memory (user selectable between 128, 256 and 512MB), which leaves you even less memory for Windows. Another irritation is that if you boot into Windows from HyperSpace and then shutdown, instead of turning off the machine it returns to HyperSpace. We also encountered some problems getting the OS to discover our Wi-Fi network, a problem that miraculously solved itself in time. We can commend Samsung for trying to add something different here, but ultimately it feels a bit superfluous.