THE GOOD: Sleek, curved design; large keyboard; HD screen; Bluetooth.
THE BAD: Thicker chassis; dual-core Atom performance is lackluster; no HDMI.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The curved, eye-catching Samsung NF310 is a bold 10-inch Netbook with some premium features for its price, but in the end it's not different enough to break out of the mold.
Samsung is a laptop maker that's been on a tear lately. Though the company is largely known for its TVs and smartphones, its U.S. assortment of computers has stood out lately for offering a great mix of design, features, and affordability. That's been true for Samsung's larger laptops, and it's also true (but to a lesser extent) for its Netbooks. The $399 NF310 is a dual-core Atom 10-inch Netbook that's certainly well-built, but doesn't rise far above the competition.
That's not entirely Samsung's fault: Atom Netbooks, in general, have pretty much come to a standstill in terms of features, performance, and price. While $399 is higher than the $299 price of some low-end 10-inchers, this model has a dual-core Atom N550 CPU, an HD 10-inch display, and a larger keyboard than most Netbooks. On the other hand, it's also a bulkier Netbook, and its curvy looks, while appealing, are gloss more than function. It's certainly one of the better Netbooks we've seen, but for only $50 more, you could be looking at an affordable, more powerful 11.6-inch ultraportable instead, such as the Toshiba Satellite T215D.
Samsung has taken to bold designs for its recent laptops, and the NF310 is no exception. A sleek, gray-silver exterior is made of plastic and shows off smudges easily, but has a raised and curved design that looks organic to the eye. A side profile shows an interesting wave design, with high curved risers on either side of the keyboard that act as protective lips against outside dust as well. The design of the NF310 is a step up from the pedestrian N150-11, but it's not enough of a design coup to feel like the new curvy looks are anything but a minor visual upgrade.
The included six-cell battery bulges on the bottom, but its presence, along with several rubber feet, serves to elevate the rear of the NF310 higher than most Netbooks, creating a more comfortable elevation for typing. The NF310 isn't particularly thin or compact for a 10-incher: its 1.2-inch thickness is chunkier than some full-sized laptops, and the width of this Netbook is closer to an 11.6-inch model. The reason for this is revealed when the lid is lifted: Samsung has fitted a large, raised, island-style keyboard into the NF310. That's good news for heavy typists, because though the keys are a bit softer than we'd prefer, the widely spaced key layout offers an experience without too many cramped compromises. Keys are where you'd expect, and there is no Shift or Enter key-squishing like we're used to suffering through on smaller laptops.
Volume and brightness control are operated via function-key combinations--there aren't any dedicated buttons other than a power button on the upper right-side corner.
A silvery, matte trackpad beneath has good traction and an interesting circular-shimmer pattern, but dual-finger multitouch functions are a bit difficult to pull off due to the limited trackpad real estate. Two large buttons beneath are easy to find, but the whole trackpad is a hair too small for the space available.
The large keyboard, while appreciated, comes at an expense: the laptop's 10-inch screen looks smaller than normal, framed in a very large bezel. A larger screen could easily have been accommodated in the NF310's chassis. As it is, though, the 10.1-inch display has a higher-definition 1,366x768-pixel resolution and an antiglare matte screen.
Pictures and text look extremely sharp, but viewing angles are limited--the picture degrades quickly even at slight angles. The higher-res display is a boon for full browser window displays, since it matches the pixel resolution on a 13-inch laptop. However, text can get pretty small on this screen unless settings are adjusted to bump up text size. For anyone with poor vision, we foresee lots of squinting. Again, it's hard to understand why this Netbook couldn't have simply used an 11-inch display.
Stereo speakers on the NF310 are booming for its size. They are not particularly rich in audio definition, but are far louder than average and perfect for playing anything from Internet radio to video. An included Webcam has decent capture quality and a maximum resolution of 640x480 pixels, and comes bundled with CyberLink YouCam software.
Included Bluetooth sets the NF310 apart from other Netbooks in its size class, but it also lacks HDMI-out, which some HD Netbooks occasionally include. An included 250GB hard drive is standard, but having only 1GB of RAM feels puny for the price. Also, this Netbook has Windows 7 Starter only, which, though perfectly functional, lacks some customization options.
The dual-core Atom N550 CPU at the heart of the Samsung NF310 is a processor we're seeing in most Netbooks now, and as its name suggests, it does offer multitasking improvements for those who like to keep multiple apps open. However, its base speed isn't really much better than a single-core Atom when it comes to accomplishing individual software tasks. iTunes and Photoshop benchmark tests reveal only modest gains, if any, compared with single-core Atom Netbooks.
This dual-core Atom is still insufficient for good streaming-video playback. While locally stored HD video files could play decently, full-screen video on Hulu and Netflix tended to get choppy. This isn't an ideal solution for someone in the market for a laptop that doubles as a portable home video device.
The Samsung NF310 has decent battery life, running 4 hours and 11 minutes on its six-cell battery using our video-playback battery drain test. There are many Netbooks that have better battery life, including the Asus Eee PC 1015PEM, which lasted over an hour longer using the same processor. The NF310's battery life is, however, significantly better than that of the HP Mini 5103.
Samsung includes a basic one-year warranty with the NF310. Samsung's Web site is easy to navigate, and documentation and drivers were easy to locate. A toll-free phone number is available for customer service calls, as well.
Windows 7 Starter; 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Hitachi 5400rpm
Acer Aspire One D255-1203
Windows 7 Starter; 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core; 1024MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Western Digital 5400rpm
Asus Eee PC 1015PN
Windows 7 Starter; 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia ION; 250GB Western Digital 5400rpm
HP Mini 5103
Windows 7 Professional; 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel GMA 3150; 160GB Seagate 5400rpm
Dell Inspiron Duo
Windows 7 Home Premium; 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core; 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel GMA 3150; 320GB Seagate 7200rpm