THE GOOD: Solid build, easy-grip lid, matte screen.
THE BAD: Expensive despite a basic feature set; mediocre battery life.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung NB30 is a new iteration on a standard Netbook theme, with a few slightly ruggedized features that don't quite justify the inflated price.
Another day, another Netbook. Though iPads, tablets, and other laptops keep forging on with technological innovations, the stalwart, cheap Netbook remains largely the same generation after generation. New longer-life Atom processors notwithstanding, the real appeal of any competitor's Netbook now has to lie in areas of design or build as opposed to feature set, since they're all pretty much the same under the hood.
The Samsung NB30 attempts to appeal strongly to the "rugged user," the person who might be very afraid of dropping or damaging their precious ultraportable under careless or accidental circumstances. With what Samsung calls a more rugged and scratch-resistant lid design, a hard-drive free-fall sensor, and a water-tight spill-resistant keyboard, the focus of the NB30 seems to be on durability. Yet its price, at $379, is higher than most Netbooks, with a feature set that's decidedly average. The "rugged style" isn't really and truly all that rugged--and though the design on this NB30 is attractively Spartan, we're not sure it's worth an extra $50-80 more than other perfectly capable competitors such as the Asus 1005PEB, which costs $329 and also trumps the NB30 in both battery life and hard-drive space.
At first glance, the Samsung NB30 is a very unassuming little laptop. Partly because of its "scratch-resistant" matte-black finish, its look is smooth and rounded but lacking in any gleam or eye-catching features. The unit looks very plastic, but it does feel sturdily built. The lid, when closed, has very little flex, and the wavy ribbed design across the back makes this Netbook a little easier to grip. The design reminds us mostly of the Samsung NP-N210, with hints of the curvy, art-house look of the Samsung Go N310. Ports line both sides of the NB30, with the exception of the slightly hidden front-facing SD card slot and an odd sliding power button, also on the front-facing bottom lip. Both are easy to miss and annoying to use.
The inside of the NB30 looks less striking than its outside: a plain, matte-black keyboard and surrounding area, an inset 10.1-inch screen in more matte-black plastic, and that's it. A small row of LED status lights just to the left of the track pad almost seem colorful in this sea of monochrome.
That keyboard, which Samsung bills as splash-resistant when exposed to up to 2 ounces of fluid--provided that fluid is "removed within 10 seconds"--has a flat design. Keys are slightly less than full-size, but run edge-to-edge across the Netbook's width. The important keys have their proper proportions, including full Shift and Return keys, and the arrow keys are small but set in their own zone on the bottom right. It's a comfortable experience, with a slight softness to key presses, although we could easily sense the smaller keys. Two ounces of liquid isn't a lot, so we'd strongly advise against spilling a can of soda anywhere near this Netbook, regardless of Samsung's claims--"splash resistant" suggests it will survive a sudden spritz of rain or the drops that might fall out of a cup you thought was empty, but you'd better keep a towel handy.
Though medium in size, the matte and ever-so-slightly inset track pad happens to be extremely responsive. The buttons below, discrete but narrow and flush with the rest of the palm rest, were a little hard to reach, but we tend to use touch-to-tap more often that not nowadays.
Here's another notable novelty on the NB30: it has a matte screen. The 10.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size, although we've seen 10 inchers with 1,366x768-pixel resolutions more often lately (and some for only $20 more than this model).
Text and icons come across clearly and images looked sharp, but Web-browsing tended to feel a little cut-off at this foreshortened vertical resolution--you'll most likely need to browse with all toolbars off-screen. Though matte definitely cuts down on glare, the side effect is a slightly grainy look to images and video, but we'll take that compromise gladly. Built-in stereo speakers do the job for YouTube and basic audio, but they don't achieve very high volumes and they lack any serious musical clarity.
The included Webcam comes packaged with Cyberlink YouCam software, which has some kitschy preset photo-booth gimmicks in addition to video chat, recording, and shapshot features. The colors and resolution were passable for snapshots, but video seemed a little jumpy and blurry in medium office lighting. Incidentally, the NB30 has a lot of pre-installed freebie software and user guides viewable on the desktop, some of which seem to border on bloatware.
Close your eyes and imagine what a Netbook has inside of it: now open your eyes. Yes, the NB30 has cookie-cutter Netbook specs, down to its three USB ports, SD card slot, 1GB of RAM, and its standard 160GB hard drive. The RAM is upgradable to 2GB. The NB30 is installed with the hobbled Windows 7 Starter instead of the fuller-featured Home Premium, which is a bit of a shame considering the NB30's higher-than-normal price. Not having Bluetooth is another frustrating omission.
With its very common Atom N450 processor, the NB30 doesn't do anything much differently than just about any other Netbook out there with the same CPU, which is most of them. Comparisons with other recent Netbooks we've reviewed back this up; it's middle of the pack.
Single-core Atom computers are fine at basic e-mail, Web browsing, office application-type tasks and lower-res media viewing, but any attempt at serious multitasking or HD video playback will be disappointing. We streamed lower-res Hulu and YouTube videos full-screen with a few hiccups, but 480p and higher became unwatchable. Netbooks can be useful machines, provided you check your media-consumption and multitasking expectations at the door.
The Samsung NB30 ran for 4 hours and 7 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. Our battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use. Still, the NB30 places last in comparison with other recent Netbooks. It's not hard at all to find a Netbook with a 6-hour battery life these days, and this average-size Samsung has no excuse for not doing better.
Samsung includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a toll-free phone line from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. EST, via live chat 24-7 or through e-mail, and an online knowledge base and driver downloads are relatively easy to find considering Samsung doesn't make that many laptops.
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 160GB Samsung 5400rpm
HP Mini 210
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Intel GMA 3150; 160GB Toshiba 5400rpm
Fujitsu LifeBook MH380
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Hitachi 5400rpm
Asus Eee PC 1005PR
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Western Digital 5400rpm
MSI Wind U160
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Toshiba 5400rpm
Sony Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Seagate 5400rpm