Continuing on with usability, upping the screen size from 12.1 to 13.3 inches has allowed Samsung to make some improvements to the keyboard, which now has dedicated Delete, Home, Page Up/Down and End keys, in addition to a far larger shift key on the right. This eliminated one complaint that we had of the Q210, namely its poorly placed right Shift key, so if you do find yourself sensitive to such issues, you might find the Q310 more comfortable to type on. Subjectively tactile feedback also feels just the slightest bit better, though if I was being picky I’d like just a little more depth of travel. Another highlight is the second Fn-key just above the cursor keys, which double as brightness/volume up/down. This means you can make the most important adjustments single-handed, making up for the lack of dedicated media keys and in absence of such keys, this is the next best solution.
The touchpad is a good partner to the keyboard, as it is similarly nice to use. Again, a matte surface ensures smooth operation without being slippery and the change in texture makes it easy to locate by feel alone. It’s perfectly responsive and wide enough to allow for a comfortably large vertical scroll zone.
Getting onto audio performance, the Q310 fails to match the impressive Toshiba’s Portégé M800 13.3in Notebook, though to be fair, there’s little that does. The speakers are integrated above the keyboard, which is usually the best place for them. However, while they manage clear treble and reach decent volumes, there is distortion if you try them anywhere near their maximum and bass sounds tinny and undernourished. As usual then, you’re better off using a decent pair of headphones when you can.
The Q310’s battery life is affected a bit more than I would have hoped by the extra inch-and-a-bit of screen real estate compared to the Q210; in our Reader benchmark the latter managed 30 minutes of extra life and 24 minutes in the Productivity, despite using the same 6-cell 5200mAh battery. Compared to the Dell Vostro 1310 this 13.3 inch Samsung fares even worse, though this is largely because the Vostro utilised lower power integrated graphics.
When all’s said and done, you still get some very reasonable portability with this little beast and if set up frugally you should get at least four and a half hours of working time out of it. It also has some nice touches some notebooks don’t offer, like the small LED indicator you can activate at the push of a button that shows remaining battery life in 20 per cent increments.
So is this the best 13.3in notebook for the money? This really depends on your needs. If you’re happy with everything the Q310 offers, its price of £660 is difficult to beat; especially given that everything that ”is” included works flawlessly – the only severe omission being e-SATA. If battery life is your primary consideration, then the Vostro 1310 might be a better option, though compared to the Samsung it’s rather more utilitarian and is yet to transition to Centrino 2 either.
Samsung has put together one of the more affordable 13.3 inch notebooks on the market, in an attractive chassis and packing the latest technology. So, though its slightly inferior battery life precludes us from recommending it over the Q210, if you prefer the form factor of the Q310 then it’s an attractive, affordable and well equipped alternative.