Review: Samsung NP900X3A

 
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Published: April 21, 2011 11:00 PM
By Pierre Anzil / Alexandre Botella
While Apple has created the desire for high end laptops and ultras, Samsung wasn't going to leave it free to dominate the sector all alone. The Samsung response comes in the form of this 13.3 inch with a 128 GB SSD, a matte panel, a duraluminium shell (aluminium alloy) and a latest generation core i5 processor. This should equip it to tread on the MacBook Air 13.3 inch flower beds!

Design and build: scaled-down and practical


NP900X3A

The keyboard is as nice to use as it is to look at. Keying is quiet and instinctive. Note that the keys are backlit and you can deactivate this feature to preserve battery life. There's also an fn lock key which allows you to lock the function key as active. Great for when you're watching a film and all you need to be able to do is vary brightness and volume.

The touchpad has a nice feel and glide. It looks a lot like the one on the MacBook and also uses the same features (zoom, scroll and so on). You can click anywhere on the surface and the right click can be done Mac style, by placing one finger on the pad and clicking with another.

Compaq Mini 311cThe webcam gives a good image with accurate colours. Movements do lack a bit of fluidity and you lose detail when in a dark environment but it's acceptable for daily use as long as you light the room enough.

As we said at the top, the finish is up there with that on Apple products but in order to be able to give us as slim a shell as possible, Samsung has used what isn't particularly standard connectivity and this is potentially less practical. Apart from the two USB ports and the headphones/mic socket which are standard, the rest is in mini format. The video out is a mini-HDMI rather than an HDMI, the card reader is for micro SD cards (much less common) rather than SD and the Ethernet socket has been replaced by a connector that is designed to be used with an adaptor to which you attach the RJ45 cable (photo below). Of course, wi-fi is available pretty much everywhere these days, but when it's not, you will need your adaptor. While we've seen more practical set-ups, it still has an advantage over the MacBook Air: plugging this adaptor in doesn't put you one USB port down.

 
While it doesn't make much noise, this laptop does tend to heat up when you push the components hard. Hot air is expelled between the screen and the keyboard. Looking at the temperature readings, Samsung should perhaps think about upping the power of the fan a bit.  

Temperature readings at the front and on top of the NP900X3A when you push the components hard.
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera

NP900X3A
On the left, the connectors with cover in place

dm3-2160sf_capot Hood


NP900X3A
  Power supply, mini-HDMI out, USB 3 ports
NP900X3A
 
micro SD card reader, mic/headphones combo, USB 2.0s


Processor power: slightly disappointing

The processor used in the NP9 - the Core i5-2537M - gives a the sort of performance that is much closer to that of low consumption CPUs (CULVs) than those at the high end of the core i range.

In practice it can handle pretty much anything (retouching photos, 3D modelling, video encoding, office documents, Internet navigation). It's just slower than other ultras such as the Asus Bamboo. We scored it at 78 after running it though our test protocol, which is fine for this type of machine. The MacBook Air 13.3 inch, its direct competitor, scored just 50.

HD video playback (720p or 1080p) is handled no problem by the NP9's integrated chipset. The same goes for video streaming.

The use of an SSD in place of a hard drive limits the storage capacity (only 128 GB) but gives the NP9 good responsiveness, which you certainly notice when you boot the machine up: it takes just 27 seconds and 10 seconds to switch off.

Gaming: low capacity

Like the Macbook Pro 13.3 inch, this Samsung ultra-portable makes do with the Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset. It can handle recent games such as Starcraft 2 or Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 with graphics details at minimum, but this obviously won't be enough for gaming enthusiasts.

Audio: decent

The sound is pretty good considering how small and slim the NP900X3A is. While the use of SRS effects is questionable, the speakers give good sound reproduction but a little under what you get on the MacBook Air.

Battery life pretty good

While this NP9 gives better performance than the MacBook Air 13.3 inch, battery life is worse. This 13.3 inch Samsung lasted 30 minutes less than the MacBook Air under the same conditions (video playback, headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², wi-fi and Bluetooth deactivated). 5h15 is nevertheless pretty good in view of the performance offered and slim line (33 x 23 x 1.6 cm). At 1.3 Kg it'll be easy enough to carry around.
5/5 Samsung NP900X3A DigitalVersus 2011-04-22 00:00:00

Pros

  • Matte panel
  • Nice design and finish
  • Good CPU performance
  • Battery life 5h15

Cons

  • Poor colour accuracy
  • Low gaming capacity
  • Very reduced interface connectivity

Conclusion

While it's more powerful than the MacBook Air, the Samsung NP900X3A suffers from the same faults, namely limited connectivity and very low capacity in games. It is, nevertheless, a light, well-finished, high-quality model that'll make an excellent alternative for those who don't want to use Mac OS.

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