Samsung Series 7 Chronos review

Samsung Series 7 Chronos

The original Series 7 Chronos that we reviewed last year was very much a high-end laptop [see page 2], costing around £900 with a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, discrete AMD Radeon GPU and impressive eight-hour battery life. This latest addition to the range is a more modest affair, stepping down to an Intel Core i5 processor. Samsung lists it at £799 although we’ve seen it available at a more affordable £599.95 at John Lewis, for example. See Group test: what's the best laptop for under £1000?

The basic design remains unchanged, though, with a 15.6in display housed in a sturdy case with a very smart, brushed-metal finish. It’s fairly heavy, weighing in at about 2.4kg, and it measures 24mm thick, which isn’t too bad for a 15.6in model that also includes a built-in DVD drive. See all mid-range laptop reviews.

It also retains the decent battery life that is the watchword of the Chronos range. We got a full seven hours of streaming video over Wi-Fi. You might even stretch that to eight hours for intermittent web browsing or running office tasks.

It’s a nice machine to work on, with a well-designed keyboard and trackpad. The keys sit quite proud of the main keyboard panel, with a smooth action, and there’s a spacious trackpad as well (105 x 75mm), so the Chronos will be comfortable to use for long periods of time.

Samsung pays attention to detail, with a slot-loading DVD drive, colour-coded function keys, and the built-in microphone placed closer to the user on the front edge of the keyboard.

It’s odd that Samsung has opted for a micro-VGA port that requires the purchase of a separate adaptor, but there’s the much more useful HDMI port as well, along with gigabit ethernet for network connectivity.

The screen is something of a mixed bag though. It’s not touch-sensitive, so if you’re sold on the Metro interface of Windows 8 you might want to look elsewhere.

Samsung Series 7

We don’t consider that the great loss, and we were more interested to see that the screen of the Chronos has a welcome matt finish to reduce the glare and reflection that afflicts the majority of modern laptops.

The screen’s limited angle of viewing leaves something to be desired, and brightness fades rapidly as you move to the side. A screen this size could also benefit from full-HD resolution (1920 x 1080), although 1600 x 900-pixels is acceptable at this price, trumping the budget-bin 15-inchers that come with 1366 x 768-pixel panels.

Performance of this 2.5GHz Core 5 model is somewhat down on its Core i7 counterpart. It’s more than adequate for handling basic tasks such as running office software, and with 8GB of memory and 1TB hard drive it can handle the photo- or video-editing too.

We were concerned about the hard drive, huge at 1000GB; potentially slow at 5400rpm. But this is backed up by an 8GB solid-state module. It helped with boot times, taking 25 seconds to reach the Windows 8 Start screen and launch Internet Explorer. And in the lab it helped the Chronos edge just past the 3000-point mark in PCMark 7.

You can probably forget about gaming, though. Relying on the integrated HD 4000 for graphics means that the Chronos can’t run Batman: Arkham City at 1600 x 900 very well at all. We could only nudge it up to a playable 27fps by dropping to 1280 x 720 resolution and turning all the graphics options right down to their lowest possible settings.

Go to next page to see review from Android Harrison from 25/01/13.

The Samsung Series 7 Chronos is a high-spec 15in laptop wrapped in a serious dark grey body. It’s unquestionably gunning for the premium notebook market – quite likely hoping to find the confirmed Windows PC user who is teetering on the point of acquiring one of Apple’s 15in MacBook Pro models.

And Samsung has done a good job of porting some of the quality of components, along with several of Apple’s original technology ideas, to this laptop. And at a much lower price. 

For main processor, it takes the same 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core as the entry-level 15in MacBook Pro, and likewise adds the same AMD Radeon HD 6750M for graphics. There’s more video memory here, 1GB against Apple’s 512MB, and system memory and storage are similarly raised, to 8GB and 750GB respectively.

That disk storage carries one trick we’ve not seen on a laptop before – an extra 8GB of flash memory on the motherboard to accelerate performance. Akin to Intel’s Smart Response Technology (SRT), this ExpressCache feature is licensed from Diskeeper and combines fast NAND flash with a capacious hard disk.

The aim here is to bring together huge capacity and quicker transfers. The result is said to give SSD-like performance for a relatively small price.

In our tests, the Samsung Series 7 Chronos could cold boot Windows 7 in 30 seconds. That was with a clean install of Windows and no bloatware – expect longer if you have anti-virus or Microsoft Office installed, for instance.

Build and features

Construction is very tidy, with less of the clutter and flaps that adorn a normal Windows notebook. The back of the display is smart brushed aluminium, although once you lift the lid you’ll find the corpus of the machine is entirely painted plastic. 

The Series 7 has the same magnetic catchless lid first seen on the white MacBook – with a curious cutout in the body for hooking in a finger to lift the lid, essentially identical to the shape sculpted into the MacBook Pro.

The underside is cleanly finished, without even a battery hatch to spoil the lines; yes, Samsung has copied the concept of the non-removable battery. And like a MacBook, there’s a generous-sized lithium battery inside so you’re less likely to get frustrated at being unable to swap over to a spare when you run dry. 

Really exploiting that huge 80Wh capacity, the Samsung lasted over 8 hours (492 mins) in the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test. 

That’s appreciably longer than the 311 mins we measured for the top-spec 15in MBP. It’s not a valid comparison between models though, even if we had pitched the comparable models against each other with identical 2.2GHz Core i7: while both feature switching technology to defer to low-power integrated Intel graphics when AMD’s horsepower is not needed, Apple’s laptop does not switch under Windows 7 and the company’s Boot Camp drivers.

In Windows, an Apple MacBook has its full-power, battery-sapping graphics running at all times. As a rough comparison, sticking to OS X, Apple lists 7 hours ‘wireless web’ runtime.

Performance

Overall system performance of the Samsung Series 7 Chronos was also measurably higher, as recorded by our WorldBench 6 benchmark, with the Samsung scoring 138 to the Apple’s 132 points.

And remember, that’s a 2.2GHz versus a 2.4GHz Core i7, suggesting that the ExpressCache was clearly nudging up system speed.

Connectivity is well covered by the Series 7 Chronos. Most ports are ranged along the left side, leaving space for a slot-load DVD drive on the right à la Apple. Two USB 3.0, HDMI, a mini-VGA port (that interfaces with a supplied dongle) and a 3.5mm headset jack populate the edge.  

Samsung wasn’t so successful at squeezing in ethernet to the plastic chassis, but there is a port here too with a weakly hinged flap that drops down to accept an RJ45 plug. On the front edge of the laptop is an SD/SDXC card slot.

In the all-important areas of human interface, Samsung has laid something of a curate’s egg. The keyboard is Scrabble-style and comfortable to type upon, with well-spaced keys having a reassuring action. These keys are also backlit, albeit with a more distinctive edge-light effect instead of glowing through the letter characters that Apple pioneered.

And the large trackpad is another Apple carryover, buttonless and with some basic multi-touch capability, if sadly clunky here compared to the slick operation in Mac OS X. But it’s the screen that literally caught our eye.

This is a nicely glare-free matt panel, with reasonably high resolution at 1600 x 900 pixels. And that pixel count gives away the aspect ratio, a film-friendly 16:9 that’s hard to escape on any laptop now.

Colour fidelity is a little poor, and viewing angles worse, but it does go unfeasibly bright when required.

Set within a thin aluminium bezel, the screen is one area where the Samsung arguably trumps Apple’s notebook choices, most of which have glass-fronted displays that are too reflective for easy viewing.

With the help of the AMD graphics, the Samsung was capable of respectable gaming performance. We measured an average framerate of 55fps while playing FEAR at Maximum detail settings.

Verdict:

With the Series 7 Chronos, Samsung has turned its talents to making a commoditised version of the Apple MacBook Pro. It has much of the same technology inside, and borrows heavily in certain design cues, but using cheaper materials to allow a lower price. Where the entry-level 15in MacBook Pro costs a handsome £1549, the Samsung can be had for £900. The screen is in some ways better (unless you specifically order an anti-glare for the Mac, at an extra £120) although build quality and ease of use trail some way behind the MacBook.

Samsung Series 7 Chronos: Specs

  • 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M dual-core (3.1GHz Turboboost)
  • 15.6in (1600 x 900) matt TN LCD
  • Windows 8 (64-bit)
  • 8GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • 1TB HDD (5400rpm) + 8GB SSD ExpressCache
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n with 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • slot-load DVD±RW
  • micro-VGA (adaptor required), HDMI
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
  • SDXC card reader
  • 1.3Mp webcam with built-in mic
  • headphone socket
  • 80Wh lithium-in battery
  • 362 x 239 x 24mm
  • 2.4kg
  • 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M dual-core (3.1GHz Turboboost)
  • 15.6in (1600 x 900) matt TN LCD
  • Windows 8 (64-bit)
  • 8GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • 1TB HDD (5400rpm) + 8GB SSD ExpressCache
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n with 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • slot-load DVD±RW
  • micro-VGA (adaptor required), HDMI
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
  • SDXC card reader
  • 1.3Mp webcam with built-in mic
  • headphone socket
  • 80Wh lithium-in battery
  • 362 x 239 x 24mm
  • 2.4kg

OUR VERDICT

It’s hard to fault a laptop that provides useful battery life, if you can find it for £600. The Chronos provides a good combination of performance and features for that price, and is a good option if you need an affordable workhorse laptop that can last most of a working day.

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