Handling, design and build: comfortable to use, well-made aluminium finish
Unlike some of its rivals, Samsung has splashed out on some bold colours for the R730. The back of the screen is covered with a gorgeous red panel, and the brushed aluminium interior looks great. You could easily be forgiven for thinking this was a laptop from a more powerful range. The finish is excellent and the hinge that supports the screen seems solid.
Typing on the keyboard is reasonably soft and quiet, with large, flexible keys measuring 15 mm square on the top surface and 18 mm square at the base. There's a full-sized numeric keypad with all the keys you'd find on a desktop keyboard, and we're glad that Samsung has used the space wisely. All that's missing are multimedia hotkeys, which are hardly indispensable; shortcuts are still available via the Fn key. A backlit keyboard would have been good too, but that's an option that's mostly reserved for more high-end laptops.
Compared to Apple's MacBooks, for instance, the multi-touch trackpad isn't exactly enormous. It's still comfortable to use and scrolling and accuracy are both impeccable. We also noticed that it was backlit by four LEDs, one in each corner (which does make the light less than even). It makes it easy to find in the dark, and while it looks good, you can't turn if off.
The webcam is pretty ropey. Detail is burned out of overexposed areas and it could evidently do with more resolution.
Overall, this is a pretty quiet laptop. You can hear a gentle whirr when you don't work it too hard, and that picks up with more demanding tasks like photo editing or encoding video. The fan doesn't go crazy though, so your ears won't suffer too much.
Disappointingly, the selection of ports is rather weak. There are only three USB 2.0 ports, where we'd expect at least four on a laptop of this size. Otherwise, there are VGA and HDMI video outputs, RJ45 (but not Giabit Ethernet), a three-in-one memory card read and a pair of audio jacks for headphones and a mic.
Underneath, there are two panels that open to give access to the RAM and the hard drive; the DVD writer can also easily be removed.
|Red cover with pattern and Samsung logo
||DVD writer and two USB 2.0 ports
|| Power, VGA, RJ45, HDMI, USB 2.0, mic and headphone jacks
Processor Power: an all-rounder that can handle HD video
Windows 7 index: 4.9. Details: CPU 5.5 - Memory 5.5 - Graphics 4.9 - Gaming graphics 6.0 - Main hard drive 5.8.
The Samsung R730 uses an entry-level dual-core processor. It's powerful enough for editing documents, going online and displaying photos and videos. You can also edit photos and video, as long as you're patient as operations can take a lot longer in this case. Using our standard test procedure, this laptop reached a rather respectable score of 78. On our scale, an index of 100 represents the performance of our standard reference model, the Fujitsu-Siemens Amillo Xi3650, which has an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400.
The 32-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium is included, but we would have preferred to see the 64-bit version which can handle 4 GB of RAM properly. From the moment you switch it on, it takes 66 seconds to display the reach the Windows desktop, and another ten or so to finish loading the main software (without antivirus). It switches off in 11 seconds.
You can play Blu-ray equivalent 1080p HD video with just the processor, but we recommend you use the excellent hardware decoding provided by the dedicated Nvidia graphics card, leaving the CPU to get on with more important jobs.
3D Gaming: a couple of titles without too much detail
The GeFore 310M from Nvidia is an entry-level graphics card, so, even if it does a lot better than an Intel chipset would do, you still can't expect to enjoy the very latest games. You can forget about playing games like Crysis, which are absolutely unplayable in their native resolution. On the other hand, you can still have fun with games like Race Driver: GRID or titles that rely on Valve's Source Engine: we played Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead with detail set to either low or medium.
Audio Quality: stick with the headphones
The speakers Samsung has included on the R730 aren't exactly great, although we had expected to find much worse. There's plenty of detail, but the sound isn't very rounded. The result is a dry sound, with a lack of bass and too much treble. You should stick with the headphone jack, which produces a much better quality signal. It's a shame that Samsung didn't bother with an S/PDIF optical audio port on this laptop.
Portability and Battery Life: best keep the charger on hand
A 4000 mAh, six-cell battery isn't enough to keep you going for very long. We only managed to make it last for two hours in our video playback test (with the screen at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in and WiFi turned off). That's obviously not long enough if you plan to use it on the go as this laptop can't survive away from a power outlet for mare than a few hours.
But with a bulky frame and a 17.3'' screen, the R730 isn't the most mobile laptop anyway. Although at 2.84 kg it's relatively light for this segment, we can't imagine you'll want to carry it with you very often.