The Samsung Q430 Cuts Corners but Still Feels Nimble
At a Glance
The Samsung Q430 skimps on the display and ports, but strong performance and battery life do much to offset that problem.
The Samsung Q430 has the specs required to zip through work and play. Unfortunately, a dull display, pointless and annoying software extras, and a few cut corners hold the Q430 back from excellence. But even so, its strong underlying performance makes the laptop worth considering for general-use, midrange buyers.
The Q430 is a Best Buy exclusive that costs about $830 (as of September 20, 2010) and delivers (for the most part) a solid lineup of components. You get a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard disk, and an nVidia GeForce 310M graphics processor with 512MB of dedicated RAM. These parts helped power the Q430 to a very respectable score of 108 on our WorldBench 6 test suite.
In real-world testing, the Q430 can run nearly anything, from business productivity software to demanding games. The GeForce 310M drives this gaming performance, keeping pace with nearly any recent title. For general use, the laptop nimbly juggles many open applications, letting you multitask with ease. Strong battery life is another highlight: The laptop ran for 4 hours, 16 minutes on a single charge in our tests.
The Q430's input devices are undistinguished, however. The keyboard works adequately--though I'd prefer a slightly tighter rebound on the keys--and the surface is comfortable for touch-typing. The laptop lacks any extra buttons to launch browsers or activate special commands, but I'd rather have the manufacturer omit them than flood the keyboard useless extras. You access basics such as volume and brightness control with a function-key modifier.
The trackpad feels only slightly different from the surrounding palm-rest, which causes regular swipes to carry too far. Worse, it stops registering movement a full fingertip from its edges; you'll get disoriented when the mouse just sits despite looking as though it should be responding. The trackpad's two distinct buttons are easy to feel, but their smooth texture can seem a bit slimy.
The 14-inch glossy display has a sufficient 1366 by 768 pixels, but it skimps on color and contrast. You'll have to crank the brightness up to the maximum setting for best definition. At lower settings, blacks and grays begin to merge. Colors are okay, but they lack the flair of a great laptop.
Audio performance is fine for a laptop, but by no means outstanding. Music and dialogue favor high tones and can sound garbled, as if you're listening to a conversation across the room. As on most competing laptops, low drums and other bass effects are only suggested.
For connections, you get three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, audio-in and -out, a Webcam, and a flash-card reader. The laptop's Wi-Fi supports b/g/n networks--and that's nearly it. Samsung doesn't provide any Bluetooth, eSATA, FireWire, USB 3.0, or other ports to help in a pinch. The Q430 includes a 100Base-T Ethernet port, but nothing for gigabit ethernet.
Among the few software extras is the CyberLink DVD suite to help with the built-in DVD burner. Far less welcome is the Best Buy Software application, which pops up to annoy you at each launch. You also get the Google Toolbar and other needless additions.
Even with a mediocre display, a thin roster of ports, and barely sufficient audio, the Samsung Q430 has enough positives to win over midrange buyers. In particular, the laptop's strong processor and good battery performance help you overlook its shortcomings.