At a Glance
This lumpy netbook's biggest selling points: It's screen and good battery life. But you could buy a full laptop for less.
Netbooks are all the rage these days, and some companies, like Dell, are practically giving them away.
So of course, someone's bound to bulk up a netbook. The 10-inch screens that max out at 1024-by-600 resolution seem just too restrictive. And how about throwing in better battery life, too?
That's the thinking behind Samsung's $549 NP-NC20. The 12.1-inch screen offers a full 1280 by 800 pixels--enough for true 720p high-definition playback. The good news is that playback of DVDs and 720p high-def movies does look pretty good, and the frame rate is fairly smooth. The display, while adequate, won't win awards for color fidelity or contrast. Black levels and viewing angles are the limiting factors, given that this panel seems to be a 6-bits-per-pixel TN type.
Unfortunately, the NP-NC20's display, like those of many current laptops, has one of those glossy-finish screens that make reading and viewing media difficult when there's any glare whatsoever. By comparison, two other netbooks currently host 12-inch displays: Lenovo's IdeaPad S12 and the HP Pavilion dv2 (HP's machine is technically a tweener-class netbook/notebook).
The bad news: Audio is pretty poor through the speakers, and why would you want to lug this around just to play movies? I say "lug" because this machine is a little weighty. With the power brick, it's 4.1 pounds. And it measures closer in size to a laptop than many netbooks--11.6 by 8.5 by 1.5 inches. To be fair, the NC-20 has a lot of things going for it. That extra girth enables a more robust keyboard layout, making typing less of a chore than on some netbooks. However, you have to press the function (Fn) key when using Home or End--keys often used in word processing or browsing the Web. The trackpad is a little wonky as well. It's got a single button; press the button on the left side, and it's a left mouse button; press it on the right side, and you get a context click. But it's easy to get it wrong if you strike near the center of the bar. I'd have preferred two distinct buttons.
All the I/O ports are on the two sides, not buried in the rear. One USB, VGA, audio, and ethernet port each grace the left side, while the right panel contains two more USB 2.0 ports, a Kensington lock slot, and the power connector. The SD card slot is recessed slightly under a lip in the front, but is still readily accessible. That's about it. Nothing mind-blowing or new compared to what's already on the market.
Performance is a different matter. The Via Nano processor seemed to chug a bit if we opened up more than about six tabs in Firefox 3.5. Word 2007 also ran pretty slowly, with visible stuttering through scrolling of large documents. It's odd that DVD playback is crisp and smooth, while scrolling a Word or Excel file is on the slow side. And you wouldn't want to run any games on this, even though the built-in S3 Chrome graphics is theoretically DirectX 9-capable. Some older games may run, but there's just not enough main memory after allocating 128MB for graphics.
But let's put all that in a little bit of perspective here. The average netbook, powered by an Intel Atom CPU, scores about 36 in our WorldBench 6 tests. The NC-20 clocks a 41. Hardly a speed demon, but a slight clip faster. As for battery life, it survives for 5 hours, 53 minutes on a charge, which is toward the higher end of the netbook spectrum. (To date, Toshiba's NB205-310, with its nearly 10-hour battery life, has yet to be unseated.)
Given that you can buy a Lenovo IdeaPad G530 notebook for $499--$50 less than price of this netbook--I have to question the overall utility of the NC-20. Just ask yourself: Why bother with a netbook, when I can get a full-featured laptop that's a little heavier but costs less? If you're hell-bent on a 12-inch screen, consider Lenovo's IdeaPad S12 (an nVidia Ion-based version is due out soon) or HP's pricier--and more potent--Pavilion dv2.