capsule review

Samsung R610

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Samsung R610-64G Notebook

    PCWorld Rating

Yet another notebook trend is on the rise: Laptops that try to straddle the fine line between portable media player and desktop replacement. They sport comparatively large displays (and footprints) with lower price tags than one would assume for the privilege. Take Samsung's R610. This notebook shows promise--but also may be a source of mobile frustration. It's attractive enough on the outside, and the $899 asking price is appealing enough, but unfortunately the underwhelming quality of its 16-inch-diagonal screen makes the R610 a tough sell.

The model makes a fair showing in its components, though it's nowhere near the top of the line: It has an Intel T7250 2.0GHz processor, 3GB of DDR2800 RAM, and a 220GB hard drive. The review unit also came equipped with an nVidia GeForce Go 9200GS 512MB video card. But does that discrete card translate into performance that'll keep you even remotely entertained?

Well, the laptop didn't do too shabbily in PC WorldBench 6 tests. No speedster by any means (it scored a modest 84), the R610 is perfectly suited for everyday use. That puts it in a dead heat with Gateway's smaller, spunkier UC7807u. You might be tempted to try your hand at entertaining yourself with it as well, but you'll get mixed results. In games, the R610 is a bit of a dud, running Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and UT 3 at around 16 frames per second (flip books have more fluid animation). I also loaded up one of my current standbys, Valve's Left 4 Dead, a great-looking game. But even at 720 by 480 resolution and medium settings, the R610 stumbled when action got too busy. The 9200GS video card is clearly geared more toward video decoding duties for HD content (which the R610 handled perfectly well with various HD video files) than for action games.

In battery life tests, the R610 wins back a couple of points, lasting approximately 3 hours on a charge. For a larger all-purpose machine, that's fairly average.

Stylistically, the R610 is attractive but it's far from a standout. While the high-gloss surface looks nice, that style invariably attracts scratches, smudges, and fingerprints that take constant polishing to remove. Otherwise, it seems okay. Samsung: Please consider moving forward aesthetically--just look at what Lenovo does with its IdeaPad Y650, a similarly equipped system.

The R610's keyboard is comfortable and easy to use. Unlike most other recent large notebooks, the R610 avoids dedicated media controls or extraneous function keys, for a cleaner, more elegant surface. It also makes room for a good-sized 10-key number pad, offsetting the alphabet portion of the keyboard to the left to do so, an alignment that takes some getting used to. But while the left Ctrl key is at half-size to accommodate the Function modifier key (a pet peeve of mine), it sits in the lower left corner as it should, so touch-typing skills from standard QWERTY keyboards still apply.

By far the biggest--and most surprising--disappointment is the screen. The native display resolution is a comparatively low 1366 by 768, which makes it difficult to manage multiple tasks effectively. This isn't always fatal, as the Lenovo Y650's similar display still managed to look sharp enough with good colors, brightness, and viewing angles. The R610, on the other hand, looks bad. And it comes from a company that's delivered several notebooks whose screens we saluted, such as the X460.

The R610's image quality is slightly blurry, the colors seem washed out, and the vertical viewing angles are much worse than on comparable notebooks. You need to adjust the screen to the correct angle, or you're going to have a tough time seeing colors accurately. While the brightness is high, the glossy screen doesn't become noticeably less viewable in moderate sunlight. The R610 can handle video without any noticeable problems, but the quality of the screen may convince you to avoid media on it entirely. Samsung does offer a version of the R610 with a 1080p display (along with a Blu-ray drive), so if you're absolutely set on this model, I would strongly advise ponying up for the upgraded display if you can afford it.

At least the R610 has a reasonable layout. The easily-removable battery has an LED indicator for how much juice is left. The hard drive and the RAM are located under separate, easily removed panels that are accessible with a minimum of fuss, but the plastic tabs in place mean you must pry a bit to get at each expansion area.

The R610 also has a reasonable selection of inputs bristling around its sides. On the right is a USB port and the DVD-RW drive; on the left, an ExpressCard slot, another USB port, VGA and HDMI outputs, and headphone and microphone jacks. On the back are a pair of USB ports, a gigabit ethernet connection, and a modem port. And an SD card slot juts from the front. While the hookups would look a little ridiculous if you had to use most or all of the ports at once, the array does make quick plug-ins of your USB devices convenient (since ports are almost anywhere you could conceivably reach). However, I'm disappointed by the lack of eSATA ports. Though still considered slightly higher-end, hybrid USB/eSATA ports are appearing in a growing number of notebooks these days, and the absence of one here is a shame.

Things perk up a little with the included speakers. Apart from the usual issues with notebook audio--namely, no bass to speak of and slightly muddy middle and upper ranges--the speakers provide otherwise clean sound and good volume. The audio hardware also seems to be well shielded, with no perceivable buzz or hum over the headphone, even at high volume.

The backup software suite gets the job done, with the now-standard recovery utilities allowing you to easily create backup images with a minimum of stress. I won't ding Samsung for it, but seeing a driver-level backup option in a future version would be welcome--Acer's software does that. The interactive user guide is a nice touch, and a good replacement for the confusing multilanguage nightmares that ship with most laptops.

The Samsung R610 at first sounds like a great deal: For around 900 dollars (list), you're getting a huge screen and dedicated video capability with a reasonably attractive exterior. Unfortunately, the screen quality greatly erodes that value proposition. Still, if your bank account can handle a little more strain (for an upgraded display), the R610 could be worth a second look. After all, it costs less than the likes of Dell's XPS Studio 16 and HP's HDX16.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The R610 is a nice looking laptop, but with a low-resolution subpar display it's a hard sell.

    Pros

    • Full-sized, comfortable keyboard
    • Great software suite

    Cons

    • Difficult-to-see, low-resolution screen
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