- Review Price: £376.17
Once upon a time Samsung had just one netbook, the NC10. And it was good. In fact, it was the best. Now, however, clearly drunk on its success, Samsung has three different models. First there was the N110: a relatively minor NC10 refresh. This was followed by the N120: a larger system with an ‘improved’ keyboard and a largely superfluous 2.1 speaker system. Now, we have the N310: a funky soap bar-like effort that, aside from its design and price, is just like any other netbook.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock this means an Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6GHz, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive – we’ve got all these details on copy paste these days. Other staples include the 1.3-megapixel webcam, Bluetooth and 802.11g Wi-Fi, not to mention the 1,024 x 600, 10.2in display. Beyond all this there’s basically nothing to report aside from noting it uses Windows XP, which is hardly news these days.
Connectivity is also entirely unremarkable. There are headphone and microphone jacks, three USB ports, a memory card reader, a VGA out and an Ethernet port. Indeed, the only noteworthy point here is that the Ethernet port and VGA ports are both covered – the former with a flap, the latter with a rubber sheath.
This just leaves the design justifying that £375 or so asking price. This puts the N310 up against the likes of the Asus Eee PC 1008HA that, much against our prior expectations, we rather liked. However, while Asus went the thin and light route, Samsung has gone for something entirely different. It has made a bar of soap.
Yet, as wrong as this might sound, the N310 is a rather funky looking thing. Not something that’ll appeal to everyone’s taste’s mind, but the striking blue finish of our version definitely catches the eye. And, if blue isn’t to your taste, orange and black versions are available, too. We also rather like the shape of N310. Its symmetrical curves and uninterrupted lines are very pleasing and we even like the slightly idiosyncratic Samsung lettering on the lid.
Perhaps most likely to please, though, is the durability of this design. On the outside not an inch of glossy plastic is to be found, with the entirety of the casing made from a tactile soft-touch plastic that’s exceedingly durable. It’s all very reassuring, making this the ideal netbook for kids who like to treat their toys a little roughly.
Despite its somewhat playful exterior, however, inside the N310 looks a mite more professional. Indeed, it oozes more class than 90 per cent of the netbooks that cross our paths – Eee PC 1008HA included. This is thanks to the combination of two increasingly popular elements: an edge-to-edge ‘frameless’ display and an isolation keyboard. These, coupled with the smooth matte black plastic, makes for a smart and very consistent appearance.
Best of all, though, is that keyboard. It has a near flawless layout – only the slightly small right-Shift key could be criticised – while the keys themselves have a very pleasant depth and response to them. It’s definitely up there with the best netbook keyboards available, only really bested by the HP Compaq Mini 700.
Glossy and inevitably reflective finish apart, the display is also a good one. It’s bright and sharp and the horizontal viewing angles are decent. Clearly it’ll never win any awards for colour fidelity, no netbook would, but there’s very little to complain about here.
Less positive things can be said of the speakers, though. Admittedly few netbooks can boast any prowess here either, but the N310 definitely ranks lower than most. They’re just about passable for the occasional video clip, but their output is too tinny and lacking in volume for anything else.
However, what really lets the N310 down is its battery life. Its four-cell, 4,000mAh battery managed around 2 hours and 40 minutes of video playback at 50 per cent brightness, with Internet browsing bringing this figure down to around two hours and 30 minutes. These aren’t terrible results and should be good enough for the average commute, but neither are they any better than the majority of netbooks costing £300 or less.
Indeed, if you’re less concerned with battery life and features, but more with usability and affordability, the HP Compaq Mini 700 can now be had for as little as £250. It offers similar performance, albeit with a smaller hard drive, and while it lacks the funkiness of the N310, it isn’t lacking in the style department. On the other side of the coin, the Asus Eee PC 1008HA has begun to sneak below the £370 level. Given it’s arguably as stylish, exceedingly slim and offers far superior battery life, the N310 begins to look like an expensive luxury.
While the unusual design of the N310 will win it friends, in most other respects it’s a decidedly average netbook with a relatively high price. If you fall in the love the look and don’t mind spending a few extra pennies then it’s still a nice machine, but there are plenty of cheaper or better alternatives.
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