Just because the netbook is fast becoming obsolete doesn’t mean its extinct. So while many would-be buyers of a small, cheap compact computer have turned their attention to arguably more suitable tablet PCs – well, almost exclusively the iPad – it really hasn’t stopped the likes of Samsung from trotting out new netbook models like the Samsung NS310.
We’d be so happy to report that the netbook has finally evolved and is fulfilling customer needs better now. More speed to make the interface responsive, as well as performance to get the work done, actual graphics capability to play the odd Windows game, true all-day battery life... Sadly, every netbook in 2011 still obstinately fails to tick any of those boxes.
If this latest Samsung NS310 is anything to go by, the netbook really is still stuck in a timewarp from 2008.
Rather than break free of the shackles of Microsoft and Intel that control the specifications of what a customer can buy, Samsung opted instead to trot out another Wintel netbook, pimping up the tired platform with a lick of paint. Witness the Samsung NS310’s electric-blue finish. And a backlit keyboard, to lend some illusion of innovation.
There’s nothing else new here that wasn’t available three years ago, other than Bluetooth 3.0 and the operating system – the first main tranche of netbooks were fitted with Windows XP; now we have the flatter-looking Windows 7 Starter, a slower version of Windows that Microsoft is widely believed to be effectively giving away to manufacturers, lest they get tempted to install a more fitting platform.
Round and around
The bright blue casework of the Samsung NS310 is nicely rounded on every edge and corner, making it a not at all unpleasant shape to handle. Exactly like Apple’s current white MacBook in fact, a perhaps not unsurprising move given Samsung’s propensity to slavishly copy Apple designs whenever it thinks it can get away with it. And the low weight is worth noting too - a shade over 1kg, at 1061g.
To hit that weight, though, Samsung has equipped the Samsung NS310 with a piddling 25Wh battery. This has the advantage of sitting flush in the belly of the laptop, rather than extending out the back pier-like, but it does mean runtimes will be all-too short.
In the MobileMark 2007 Productivity battery test, the Samsung NS310 lasted less than four hours (221 mins). Compare this to older Samsung netbooks, such as the Samsung NB30, that weren’t such slaves to fashion and the mains charger, and which could muster nine hours and more from their decent-sized batteries.
There has been an update in the main processor for the Samsung NS310 – but the move from single-core Intel Atom to dual-core Atom N550 looks to be more a marketing exercise, if the benchmarks are to be believed.
Older netbooks with single-core Intel Atom processors tended to score around 36 points – plus or minus two points – in the WorldBench 6 real-world speed test.
The Samsung NS310, with its shiny new dual-core Intel N550 processor, scored 37 points. So don’t expect those dual-core boasts to count for anything useful in real performance.
Witness the claims made on Samsung UK's website: 'Jumping online while out and about is now a lot easier with the Samsung NS310 and its new Intel Atom N570 (Dual Core) Processor [sic]. It brings a lot more mobile power to your system and enhances the media experience with improved video playback, and also the internet experience with reduced wait/open times.'
The Samsung NS310 uses a low-power integrated graphics processor, the Intel GMA 3150, which takes up to 256MB away from the very limited 1GB of system RAM.
In our graphics tests, the Samsung NS310 played just 2fps in our standard FEAR game test for laptops. We dropped detail settings to High, where it still scored 2fps.
Falling further to a pixellated Low detail setting, it played an average 25fps, albeit with 54% of that playback below the magic 25 frames per second.
The low-resolution screen is grimly glossy, with the usual associated reflection issues when used in daylight or under overhead lighting.