Samsung NP-Q320 Laptop
At a Glance
With the exception of a lackluster screen, this is a slick general purpose laptop with a good bit of power for the price.
For many people, the pricing sweet spot for the perfect laptop is between $800 and $1000. Full-fledged yet svelte, Samsung's NP-Q320 all-purpose notebook ($949 as of September 10, 2009) has the muscle to serve as your primary work/school/home computer. The laptop is compact and light enough (4.8 pounds) not to break your back, it has a 13.4-inch screen that you don't need to squint at, and it's powerful enough to run most major applications well. Still, this nice all-purpose laptop suffers from a couple of minor usability problems.
Problem number one is the backlit LED screen. Given its 1366-by-768-pixel resolution and at 13.4-inch-diagonal size, you'd expect such a screen to save power and perhaps improve color or contrast. But the NP-Q320's screen doesn't show colors or contrast ratio very well. Images look slightly washed out at maximum brightness, and blacks are not quite black enough. And unfortunately, as you lower the brightness level, the contrast gets worse. The poor range of vertical viewing angles leads me to believe that the NP-Q320 uses a six-bit TN (twisted nematic) panel--a regrettably common component in budget-conscious laptops.
The keyboard is easy to type on, and the trackpad is responsive and accurate, with left and right buttons that permit accurate no-look pressing. Some keys (such as Alt and Ctrl) are a bit narrow, evidently to make room for a seemingly unnecessary menu key to the right of the spacebar. Still, for its size, I found this notebook comfortable to work on.
The right edge hosts a slot-loading DVD drive, a USB port, and a power connector, leaving little room for anything else. As a result, Samsung crowded the left edge with connectors: ethernet, VGA, USB, USB/eSATA combo, HDMI, microphone, headphone, and ExpressCard. Though it's great to see so many options on a smaller notebook, I wish that the industrial design hadn't prevented any plugs from going in the back. Lacking room for an SD card slot on either side, Samsung placed the slot all by itself on the front edge. (The little plastic plug for this slot is nearly impossible to pull out, by the way.) The front edge also hosts a row of blue and amber LEDs to indicate power, hard-drive usage, Wi-Fi, and so on.
The NP-Q320's performance compares favorably with that of other notebooks in the $800-to-$1000 price bracket. The 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor loped to a WorldBench 6 score of 94--impressive for a sub-$1000 laptop. The nVidia GeForce G 105M with 256MB of RAM (the weakest discrete graphics system nVidia sells) handles image production; and it's certainly a step up from any sort of integrated graphics. But while it can manage casual games pretty well, the NP-Q320 is out off its league when challenged by a high-end game. At 1024-by-768-pixel resolution and high quality settings, the laptop managed a frame rate of just 22 frames per second on Unreal Tournament III and 21 fps on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Still, the nVidia chip does a better job with video decoding than Intel's integrated graphics, which can make a big difference if you plan to put the HDMI port to use. The notebook's battery life of 3 hours, 56 minutes puts it a little behind the average for this category. The Acer TravelMate 6293 continues to rool the roost on this measure, with a battery life of almost 8 hours.
At $930 (for the configuration we tested), the Samsung Q320 poses strong competition for other well-equipped 13-inch notebooks, such as the Dell Studio XPS 13. Samsung's model has a little more muscle than that, but it isn't quite as stylish. Overall, the NP-Q320 is a pretty good value for a general-purpose laptop. Like the Toshiba Satellite U505-S2940, this machine is a bit heavier than most 13-inch models, but it's compact and lightweight enough to carry around all day at school or work, big enough to work on easily, handsome enough not to walk around with in public, and fast enough to be your primary computer. If the screen were better, the NP-Q320 would be an outstanding bargain.