Samsung NC10 Netbook
At a Glance
Samsung's NC10 isn't just a netbook--it's a series of interesting choices. It scores a couple points with a good screen, great battery life, and keys sized appropriately for human hands. However, before we rip into this review, you should be aware that a better, more satisfying model--the Samsung N110--is on the scene as well.
Back to the netbook at hand. When I first laid hands on the NC10, my gut reaction was that it seemed an awful lot like the original Lenovo IdeaPad S10. Measuring 10.3 by 7.3 by 1.5 inches and weighing 2.9 pounds, it has similar lines and a similar layout to that machine. And it has a similar price--it sells for about $440. But after shaking off that creeping sense of déjà vu, I grew to love--and hate--the NC10 for a couple of reasons.
Let's stick with the positives for now. The matte screen is an unusual choice, but the 10.1-inch, 1024-by-600-pixel panel works fairly well in all sorts of lighting conditions. It's also reasonably bright, given how matte displays don't pop as well as glossy screens.
The buttons are satisfying, too, and the firm, solid keys give a little as you push down; the experience is, again, reminiscent of what you have on the S10. Lacking any extra shortcut buttons (like the S10), it comes across as a somewhat stylish but ordinary netbook. It's a matter of personal taste, of course. I happen to think that the HP Mini 1000, for example, makes better use of its space with its wide, flat keyboard.
Where things really start going south is when you try to use the NC10's touchpad. The touchpad's surface is relatively problem-free, but the second you push the mouse button, the thing feels like it's going to fall apart. You have to push the single-button bar down below the surface for the press to register; press the left side of the bar, say, and the right side of the bar juts up. I'd be more than a little let down if I saw that happen on my new netbook--it makes the machine feel a little chintzy overall. I blame the boxy design: Its layout effectively makes mousing more difficult. Design shouldn't get in the way of navigation.
Otherwise, in this machine you get the standard-issue assortment of features, namely an SD Card reader, three USB 2.0 ports, VGA, ethernet, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, headphone and microphone jacks, and a Webcam. Don't forget the tinny speakers--all too common on netbooks. It also packs a 160GB hard drive.
Like other netbooks, the NC10 is no speed demon: Its 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU and 1GB of RAM helped it complete our WorldBench 6 tests about as successfully as the initial batch of netbooks using the same processor did. It scored a 35, landing in the middle of the pack. Where it did shine, though, was in battery life, as it hung on for just under 7 hours before giving out. That counts as one of the brighter spots of this netbook.
The best features are found in the software package. The handy Samsung Recovery Solution III backup and system-restore program even throws in a couple of suggestions regarding the possible causes of your machine's problems, giving you a recommended course of backup action to resolve the matter. Easy Network Manager lets you quickly and effortlessly connect to networks; it's a superfluous bit of software for anyone remotely savvy enough, but it puts a pretty face on the standard Windows XP option. I even like the well-annotated and easily navigable digital user guide. I'm not kidding--I wish every netbook came this well prepared for battle.
Obviously, a near-7-hour battery life is important for long-haul trips, but if you're spending half that time wondering whether you'll break the mouse button, you might be a little down on this netbook. That said, the NC10 gets more than enough right to make it a worthy option. My advice: Take a look at the N110. It costs only $30 more, it improves on the biggest complaint I've lodged here, and it has a longer battery life. Tough call.