Samsung R20 review
A veritable gem of a laptop. It isn't without its flaws, but they're easy to live with when you consider the price.
As brands go, Samsung isn't one that you'd normally expect to find fraternising with the budget laptop market. Samsung sponsors Chelsea Football Club, for instance, a sure sign that a company is looking to associate itself more with Fortnum & Mason than with Lidl. And yet the R20 weighs in at less than £500, whether you include VAT or not.
The R20 doesn't look like a budget laptop, though. The lid is finished in glossy black. Open it up and you're greeted with a subtle swirl design along the top of the keyboard. What's more, this laptop weighs just 2.3kg (2.72kg including the power supply) and is only 340mm wide by 258mm deep. It looks as if it should cost at least £100 more.
And yet the core specifications for the R20 read surprisingly well. The processor is a Core Duo T2350 with a respectable clock speed of 1.86GHz, backed by 1GB of RAM. The final benchmark result of 0.86 won't earn it a place in the record books, but it's enough to make light work of every day tasks such as using Word and Internet Explorer. The hard disk is just as ample - with 120GB, you'll still have plenty of space remaining after you've installed a suite of applications.
The only major disappointment with the R20 is the 1,280 x 800, 14.1in screen. This has a noticeable graininess that makes it appear duller than it actually is. The situation isn't helped by the glossy finish - if there are bright lights behind you, detail can easily become obscured, which is far from ideal if you're trying to get a few hours' work done in a busy office. The comparatively poor screen also makes the R20 a bad choice for anything that requires colour accuracy or lots of detail. You can forget gaming, too: the ATi Radeon Xpress 1250 GPU failed even to produce a playable result in our Call of Duty 2 test. It had no problems running Windows Vista's Aero effects, though.
Samsung includes its AVStation Now software, which is a slick interface designed for media playback. This is all very well, but Vista Home Premium comes with the hugely accomplished Media Center application, which makes AVStation Now look like a waste of space.
The final compromise is battery life: on a laptop of this size, a battery life in the region of four hours would be ideal. In our light-use test, however, the R20 ran for just 2hrs 3mins, while our intensive-use test result of 58 minutes means the R20 won't be much use on long flights. It's sufficient for toting from one meeting to the next, though, and should provide enough power to last the average commute.
The small chassis inevitably leads to its own minor problems; the provision of just three USB ports could become limiting if you're looking for a laptop to adopt as your primary work PC. Bizarrely, the memory card reader on the front of the R20 caters only for Memory Sticks, although this is balanced out by the ExpressCard/54 slot, plus the DVD writer.
However, you can view these compromises with the price firmly in mind. The R20 feels like a considerably more premium offering than the price suggests, particularly once you have it in your hands. Build quality is excellent, and the screen has very little flex. The wristrest has just a little give, but you'd need to give it a good thumping to risk doing any actual damage. The keyboard is good, too. It has an outstandingly solid base, with keys that provide a healthy amount of travel and make fast typing easy. Our only grumble is the Fn key, which sits at the extreme lower-left of the keyboard where you'd usually find the Ctrl key.