The Samsung NC10 rose to the top of our favorite-netbooks list when it first hit the market in October 2008, and despite some strong new competition, Samsung remains atop the heap with its new N110. Though this netbook's internal organs are the same as its predecessor, including a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, Windows XP Home, and a 160GB hard drive, Samsung has extended the touchpad and increased the six-cell battery’s capacity to give this $469 netbook a lengthy 7 hours of runtime. Add in a top-notch keyboard, and you have the netbook to beat.
When we reviewed the original Samsung NC10, we didn’t find it to be the flashiest netbook. While the N110 didn’t get a drastic remodeling, the matte lid has been replaced with a black glossy coating, and though it looks sleeker, it’s a magnet for fingerprints. The system also takes on a softer look with rounded edges around the palm rests. The burgundy trim along the bottom edge of the chassis takes styling cues from other Samsung notebooks, like the R610, and offers a professional look.
The N110 is the same weight and size as its forebear. Measuring 10.3 x 7.3 x 1.2 inches and weighing 2.8 pounds (even with the higher-capacity six-cell battery), the N110 is slightly wider and thicker than HP Mini 2140, but thinner and lighter than the 3.2-pound ASUS Eee PC 1000HE. When we popped the N110 (in its included felt case) and its AC adapter in a bag, the travel weight of 3.4 pounds didn't put any strain on our shoulder.
Large, Spacious Keyboard
Thankfully, Samsung left the keyboard on the N110 untouched. The 93 percent of full-size layout is comfortable, and the raised keys provided nice tactile feedback. The feel of the keys and the size of the keyboard isn’t all the N110 has got going for it: The right Shift key is full size and directly below the Enter key, right where it should be. While we continue to prefer the feel of the coated and durable keys on the HP Mini 2140, the Samsung N110’s comfortable keyboard will satisfy even the fastest of touch typists.
Expanded Touchpad, Ports
At 2.3 x 1.1 inches, the touchpad on the Samsung NC10 was disappointingly small and vertically very narrow. Samsung has incrementally expanded the trackpad on the N110 to 2.5 x 1.3 inches, which is now comparable to those on other netbooks, including the Acer Aspire One AOD150 and the MSI Wind U120, but it's not quite as large as that on the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE.
Also improved is the mouse button, which is slightly more raised than on the original, though it still remains a single rocker bar, and lacks a divot to separate the left and right sides. We would prefer two dedicated buttons, but this arrangement is still better than the narrow single button on the latest Aspire One and the vertically oriented touchpad buttons on the HP Mini 2140. The dedicated scrolling bar on the N110's touchpad was useful for moving through long Web pages.
The N110 houses the same netbook ports and slots as the NC10, including 3 USB ports, a 3-in-1 memory card reader, mic and headphone jacks, a VGA port, and an Ethernet jack. Unlike the HP Mini 2140, the N110 lacks an ExpressCard slot for adding a mobile broadband modem card, but you can always use a USB modem.
New Glossy Display, Decent Audio
The matte display of the NC10 has been replaced with a glossy, 10.2-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel screen on the N110. Like other netbooks with similarly sized displays, Web pages fit to size and didn’t require any horizontal scrolling. Content on the screen was bright; a downloaded episode of The Office looked clear and detailed. Though glossy, tilting the screen back to its maximum of 45 degrees didn’t produce glare, and horizontal angles were good enough to share the screen with a second person.
The speakers, positioned on the bottom front of the N110's chassis, produced decently loud sound. Kevin Rudolf’s “Let It Rock” sounded full and balanced with the Samsung Enhanced Digital Sound setting enabled; music sounded a tad flatter when we disabled the feature.
In a video call over Skype with a friend in Africa, the integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam offered good images. Our caller said we looked clear and could even make out a colleague standing behind us. The microphone, located on the top right of the keyboard, produced steady sound during a 40-minute voice call to a family member in California.
Solid Performance, Speedy Hard Drive
Configured like its predecessor, the N110’s 1.6-GHz Intel Atom CPU and 1GB of RAM running Windows XP provided good performance for a netbook. Notching 1,513 on PCMark05—155 points above the category average—the N110 was able to handle our usual mobile tasks, including simultaneously conducting video calls over Skype and surfing the Web with multiple tabs open.
The Intel GMA 945 integrated graphics chip with 128MB of shared memory delivered a score of 633 in 3DMark03, which is 30 points higher than the NC10 and 21 points higher than the category average. Its 3DMark06 score of 90 is just below the netbook average, and lower than the Mini 2140 (125) and Acer Aspire One AOD150 (123). Nevertheless, a downloaded high-definition 720p video clip played back smoothly with no hiccups or pauses. However, as with other netbooks with this chipset, the N110 could not play a 1080p clip.
The N110’s 5,400-rpm, 160GB hard drive booted Windows XP Home in a fast 37 seconds. The LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media) took 5 minutes and 16 seconds—a rate of 16.1 MBps, which is 2.3 MBps faster than the netbook average but not as fast as the Acer Aspire One AOD150 (17.7 MBps).
Superior Endurance, Wi-Fi Performance
While the NC10 lasted a solid 6 hours and 34 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the N110 comes with an even higher-capacity six-cell battery (5900 mAh versus 5200 mAh) without adding bulk to the design. On the same test, the N110 lasted 7 hours and 24 minutes. Not only is this much higher than the six-cell mini-notebook average of 5:43, but it beats out even the six-cell HP Mini 2140 (7:19) and the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (7:08).
Though not outfitted with 802.11n, the 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card provided a strong connection to the Net. Delivering well above-average throughput of 20.7 Mbps and 18.5 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively, we were able to maintain a strong signal far from our access point; video clips streamed on Hulu.com were void of pauses or buffering delays.
Software and Warranty
Samsung bundles its own utilities with the N110, including the Samsung Recovery Solution III (which creates a restore file of the operating system) and Samsung Magic Doctor (which detects problems with applications and helps to correct any issues). Other tools include an Easy Network Manager for connecting to a wireless access point. Samsung covers this netbook with a one-year warranty and 24/7 toll-free technical support.
Samsung has created a near-perfect netbook in its N110. Thanks to the improved ergonomics of the touchpad, and north of 7 hours of battery life, it improves on an already stellar system and continues to beat out the competition. Though customers can get similarly configured netbooks with six-cell batteries for considerably less money—the Acer Aspire One AOD150 costs $120 less and the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE $70 less—the N110 offers a better keyboard and better endurance than both of those models and is lighter than the ASUS. Samsung’s $469 premium price tag is well worth it for those who cherish longer battery life.