Editors’ Note: The Samsung NC10 we reviewed was imported from Korea. Our unit ran Korean Windows XP and had a Korean keyboard. We will update this review with any noticeable differences between the Korean version and the U.S.-based version.
The Samsung NC10 has joined the ranks of 10-inch netbooks—including the Eee PC 1000H, MSI Wind, and Lenovo IdeaPad S10—and it beats them all. The $499 NC10 may have the same cookie-cutter specs as its competitors, including a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and Windows XP, but its spacious, well-positioned keyboard and more than 6 hours of battery life make this system our favorite 10-inch netbook yet.
The Samsung NC10 isn’t the flashiest netbook to grace our labs. The white matte lid (also available in Navy Blue in the U.S.), whose only adornment is its mirrored Samsung logo, is smooth, and its rounded square edges give the system a more professional look than the MSI Wind or the Eee PC 1000H manages. The silver trim and glowing blue and reddish orange status lights on the front edge project a futuristic aura. The blue glowing power button, positioned on the circular right hinge, reminds us of the premium Sony VAIO TT.
Measuring 10.3 x 7.3 x 1.2 inches and weighing 2.8 pounds (with its six-cell battery), the NC10 is similar in size and weight to its rival 10-inch netbooks, the 3.2-pound ASUS Eee PC 1000H and the 2.6-pound Lenovo IdeaPad S10 and MSI Wind. Click to enlargeThe NC10 is about half an inch longer than Lenovo’s S10 but about the same length as the MSI Wind and the Eee PC 1000H. Nevertheless, we had no problem holding it on our lap in a tightly cramped train seat. When we walked around the city with the NC10 and its AC adapter in a shoulder bag (bringing the travel weight to 3.4 pounds) we felt no strain.
Large, Spacious Keyboard
When it comes to the keyboard, the NC10 easily bests those on the MSI Wind and Eee PC 1000H. The 93 percent–full size layout is comfortable, and the raised keys provided nice tactile feedback. Unlike the Eee PC 1000H, the panel didn’t flex at all. The feel of the keys and the size of the keyboard isn’t all the NC10 has got going for it: unlike the 1000H and the Wind, the key positioning of the NC10 is near perfect. The right Shift key is full size and directly below the Enter key. When typing this review in WordPad we rarely mistyped words. (Our review unit’s Korean keyboard was lacking a backslash/pipe key; in its place was a Korean character. We will update this review when we receive our American review unit.)
In order to accommodate the spacious keyboard, Samsung had to make some compromises. At 2.3 x 1.1 inches, the NC10’s touchpad is disappointingly small and vertically very narrow, requiring more movement and backtracking than we would like. While the mouse button—a single rocker bar—lacks a divot to separate the left and right sides, we didn’t have any problems clicking and didn’t have to press too hard on it to get a response. We would prefer two dedicated buttons, but this arrangement is still better than the vertically oriented touchpad buttons like those on the HP 2133 Mini-Note or Acer Aspire one.
The touchpad has a dedicated scrolling bar, which was useful for moving through long Web pages. It also supports multi-touch controls and drivers from Synaptics, which allow for the typical pinch-and-zoom functions for pictures and Web pages. The NC10 can also recognize other gestures; we will update this review with our impressions once we procure the U.S. version.
The NC10 houses the typical netbook ports, including 3 USB ports, a 3-in-1 memory card reader, mic and headphone jacks, a VGA port, and an Ethernet jack. Unlike Lenovo’s S10, the NC10 lacks an ExpressCard slot for adding a mobile broadband modem card, but you can always use a compact USB modem.
Matte Display, Decent Audio
The NC10’s wide, matte, 10.2-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel screen is crisp and accommodating, and we were able to keep a Web page and a document in WordPad open side by side. Content on the screen was vivid; a streaming episode of Saturday Night Live on Hulu.com looked clear and detailed. 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 of the chassis, produced loud sound. Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream” sounded full and balanced with Samsung Enhanced Digital Sound enabled; music sounded a tad flatter when we disabled the feature. Compared with the ASUS Eee PC 1000H’s Dolby-powered speakers, we hardly detected a difference between the two.
In a video conference over Skype, the integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam on our unit produced some of the best images of any netbook. Our caller, whom we frequently test netbook webcams with, said we looked clearer than we had in the past. The microphone, located on the top right of the keyboard, sounded clear, though it picked up a bit of echo and background noise. Still, our caller could hear us just fine without us having to speak up.
With its 1.6-GHz Intel Atom CPU and 1GB of RAM, the NC10 performed up to our netbook standards. We couldn’t run our usual PCMark05 test on the system, but in our experience, the NC10 was able to handle our usual mobile tasks easily. Simultaneously conducting video calls over Skype and surfing the Web with multiple tabs open caused no performance lag.
The Intel 945GSE Express integrated graphics chip with 64MB of shared memory delivered a score of 603 in 3DMark03, which is 66 points higher than the category average but 136 points lower than the Eee PC 1000H. Nevertheless, we didn’t see any differences between the systems in usual graphics intensive activities, such as watching a downloaded video of Mad Men.
The NC10’s 5,400-rpm, 120GB hard drive booted Windows XP Home in a decent 45 seconds. (Note: The NC10 will be available with a 160GB drive in the U.S.) The LAPTOP Transfer test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media) took 6 minutes and 50 seconds, or a rate of 12.4 MBps. Though it’s a decent speed for a netbook, the Lenovo S10 took only 4:53 (17.4 MBps) on the same test.
Superior Endurance, Solid Wi-Fi Performance
The NC10 distinguishes itself with battery life. Not only does it come standard with a six-cell battery (most netbooks, such as Lenovo’s S10, come standard with a three-cell), but the NC10 has the steam to last you through a flight from New York to California and then some. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the NC10 lasted 6 hours and 34 minutes. Not only is this much higher than the mini-notebook average of 2:27, but it beats out even the six-cell MSI Wind (5:13) and the Eee PC 1000H (4:28).
Note: When we first ran the LAPTOP Battery Test the NC10 yielded a runtime of 7 hours and 34 minutes. This was with the Samsung Battery Manager 2.0 enabled, which dims the screen to its lowest setting after 30 seconds of inactivity on the keyboard or touchpad. The screen is usable during this time, but it's uncomfortable. When we ran the battery test at 50 percent brightness with the Battery Manager disabled, the NC10 ran for 6:34; cranked up to 100 percent, it ran for 4:48.
The NC10’s 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card provided a swift connection for working in the cloud. Delivering a strong 20.8 Mbps and 16.9 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively, we were able to maintain a strong signal far from our access point. This blew away the MSI Wind (14.5/7.7 Mbps) and even the 802.11n-equipped ASUS Eee PC 1000H (10.4/6.1 Mbps). It maintained a strong connection during our day-to-day Web activities; streaming music over Slacker was fluid, and video clips streaming on Hulu.com were void of any pauses.
Software and Warranty
Like many other mini-notebooks, the NC10 runs Windows XP Home. Samsung also bundles its own utilities, including the Samsung Recovery Solution III (which creates a restore file of the operating system) and Samsung Magic Doctor (which will detect problems with applications and help to correct any issues). Other tools include an Easy Battery Manager 2.0 that allows for tweaking power-saving settings and an Easy Network Manager for connecting to a wireless access point. The NC10 also came preloaded with McAfee SecurityCenter (60-day trial) and Adobe Acrobat Reader. Samsung covers this netbook with a one-year warranty and 24/7 toll-free technical support.
Click to enlargeUntil now, no other netbook has been able to match the 10-inch MSI Wind’s endurance, strong performance, and spacious keyboard. Samsung’s NC10 is the only product that provides comparable—and even improved—features for a lower price. Its comfortable, well-positioned keyboard, speedy and spacious hard drive, and more than 6 hours of endurance make the $499 Samsung NC10 the most well-rounded 10-inch netbook on the market. While the $549 MSI Wind (with a six-cell battery) is an excellent choice, it will cost you $50 more. Those willing to sacrifice some touchpad room will find the Samsung NC10 to be a great mobile companion.
Watch our hands-on video to get a look at the Samsung NC10's performance and display.