Samsung NC20 review
It's not perfect, but six-hour battery life, fine performance and a superb display make Samsung's grown-up netbook a force to be reckoned with.
You've got to hand it to Samsung. It took its time, waited to see if this new-fangled netbook thing would catch on with consumers and then, when it was clear we were all hooked, dropped the original NC10 on an eager market. It was (and still is) an exceptionally well-balanced netbook, especially so for a first attempt: good looks, great battery life, a fine screen and a comfy keyboard have kept it safe atop our A List since its launch.
It's a template for success that Samsung has wisely stuck to for its next step up the netbook ladder: the 12.1in NC20. In fact, just as Dell's Mini 12 looked like a Mini 9 that had ingested one too many growth hormones, the NC20 is essentially a scaled up NC10. The design is nigh-on identical and the bulk has increased by 200g to a still rather svelte 1.51kg.
This expansion takes the netbook further towards true laptop territory. Firstly, there's the matter of its larger 12.1in display. With a 1,280 x 800 resolution, it's a breath of fresh air for the netbook user accustomed to scrolling up and down all day. It still doesn't make for a particularly spacious Windows desktop - after all, we've grumbled about laptops with 1,280 x 800 displays in the past - but for the everyday tasks required of a netbook, and with a netbook price attached, it's a perfect fit.
The reflectivity of the glossy finish might divide opinion, but image quality is superb - the graininess of the NC10's panel is a distant memory and brightness, contrast and colour reproduction are all impressive considering the panel's budget origins.
Secondly, there's the matter of the NC20's keyboard. As we expected, Samsung has capitalised on the extra space afforded by the larger chassis. The keyboard is about a centimetre wider than that of the NC10 and the keys are just a tiny bit bigger as a result. The extra width makes all the difference while typing, and though there's a little less travel to every key than we'd like there's still a nice positive action and a pleasant overall feel.
It's not perfect though. We're not sure why Samsung has seen fit to move the Windows key over to the right-hand side of the spacebar, but for better or for worse that's where it's ended up. And the centimetre of unused space flanking the keyboard is a wasted opportunity; if Samsung had put the space to good use the NC20 could have accommodated an even more spacious keyboard, perhaps with full-width Shift keys. The enlarged trackpad is a welcome sight, however, and its wider frame and larger buttons make for far less fiddly cursor control.
The chrome-effect hinges on the chassis have been supplanted by thick white plastic, which means build quality is significantly sturdier than you might expect at this price. Aesthetically, though, the NC20 suffers from the same problem that beset the Mini 12. While the NC-series design might look rather cute when applied to a smaller chassis, it doesn't emanate the same charm when it's stretched to house a 12.1in screen.
It's not eye-wateringly ugly in the manner that can be only be remedied with a brown paper bag, but we can't help bemoaning the fact that some of the NC10's allure has been lost in the translation.
Bucking the trend
In one regard, the NC20 dares to be dangerously different. Indeed, where virtually every other netbook looks to Intel's Atom as the processor of choice, Samsung's NC20 employs VIA's much-touted and rarely seen rival, the Nano.
|Warranty||1yr collect and return|
|Dimensions||292 x 217 x 31mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||VIA Nano U2250|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,280|
|Resolution screen vertical||800|
|Resolution||1280 x 800|
|Graphics chipset||VIA Chrome 9 HC3|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Optical disc technology||N/A|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|802.11 draft-n support||no|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless key-combination switch||yes|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||3|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial ports||0|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||0|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||21|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||406|
|Battery life, heavy use||233|
|Overall application benchmark score||0.40|
|Office application benchmark score||0.52|
|2D graphics application benchmark score||0.33|
|Encoding application benchmark score||0.41|
|Multitasking application benchmark score||0.34|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||Fail|
|3D performance setting||N/A|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows XP Home|
|OS family||Windows XP|