The Samsung N310 is a stylish and far-from-subdued netbook that's shaped like a big rubber pebble.
It's kind of hard not to start with the Samsung N310's case. The Samsung N310 - also known as the Samsung Go - is a little weighty for a netbook, but you don't notice that when you see the curved corners, which almost make it seem slimmer than what its measurements (262x184.5x29.8mm) indicate. (It is still a little bigger than the Asus Eee PC 1005HA, though.)
Its standout design makes it pop compared with many basic, boxy netbooks on the scene. The only problem: did Samsung really need to emblazon its corporate logo in a 20,000-point font across the Samsung N310's lid? We get that the company wants a little recognition for a good job, but there are more subtle ways to do it. Like neon lights.
That rounded design, with a rubberised shell, fools you into thinking that the Go is more rugged than it really is (kind of like the Latitude 2100). The Samsung N310 comes in four hues: Mint Blue, Midnight Blue, Sunset Orange, and Jet Black. A little rubber stopper covers the VGA port and a flap covers the ethernet jack, but everything else sits out there just as you'd expect.
But before we bore you with the standard litany of netbook ports, we'd like to talk about something else that pops with colour: the Samsung N310's 10.1in screen.
Like most netbooks, it has a native resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels. If you want something higher (good luck), you could always plug into a VGA port. The LED-backlit, glossy screen is nicely ensconced into the housing. We had to push the screen back to roughly a 45-degree angle; but once it was in that position, we could watch test video locally from the Samsung N310 and streamed from Hulu with fairly crisp results. Not much in the way of a distracting glare, either.
The keyboard's cut-out keys leave little islands of buttons floating on the surface. Since they're reasonably well spaced, typing on the Samsung N310 is a breeze - so much so, that you have to go out of your way to hit the wrong key accidentally. And, we must say, the keyboard works very well.
The touchpad, while a good size, could be bigger. The single-bar mouse button works well enough. In short, it's there and we don't hate it.
Specs-wise, you'll find nothing particularly shocking in the Samsung N310: Intel's 1.6GHz Atom N270 CPU, 1GB of RAM (upgradable to 2GB), and a 160GB hard drive lurk under the hood. In terms of netbook performance, that's decidedly middle of the road. In use the four-cell battery gave us around three hours (the fact that the US market gets a six-cell battery is mildly irritating).
Otherwise, examine the rest of the Samsung N310, and you'll get a sense of netbook déjà vu. Lining the rig are three USB ports (two of which are powered), a 1.3Mp webcam, mic and headphone jacks, a flash card reader, Bluetooth, and 802.11b/g, in addition to the aforementioned ethernet and VGA-out jacks.
Good news: Samsung continues its generosity with software, providing a full easy-to-use suite. Samsung Recovery Solution III is a handy backup and system-restore program that even throws in a few suggestions regarding the possible causes of your machine's problems, giving you a recommended course of backup action to resolve the matter. Easy Network Manager lets you quickly and effortlessly connect to networks; it's a superfluous bit of software for anyone remotely savvy enough, but it puts a pretty face on the standard Windows XP option. And as its name suggests, the Battery Life Extender and Easy Battery Manager makes it simple to toggle the battery-saving modes.
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The Samsung N310 has some nice touches, and its striking design will be popular with some. We liked it. But at heart the Samsung N310 is an average netbook, with a higher than average price.