Editors’ Note: The Samsung NC20 we reviewed was imported from Korea. Our unit had Korean Windows XP, a Korean keyboard, and a smaller-capacity battery than what will be offered in the United States. We will update this review, and reserve the right to change the rating, once the U.S.-based version becomes available.
Samsung’s NC10 raised the bar in the netbook category by providing one of the most usable keyboards and more than 6 hours of battery life. But like all 10-inch netbooks, its smaller form factor had limitations when compared with full-size notebooks. Enter the newest member of the NC family, the Samsung NC20 ($478 if ordered from overseas; expected price in U.S. is between $500 and $600). This machine has a more spacious 12-inch display and a full-size keyboard, which makes it look more like a traditional notebook than any other netbook to date.
Other than its screen size, the biggest difference between the NC20 and other netbooks is that this one is powered by VIA’s Nano U2250 processor and Chrome9 HC3 integrated graphics, as opposed to Intel’s Atom CPU and integrated graphics. The NC20 is not as powerful or thin as premium ultraportables, but it provides adequate performance and a good deal for those willing to pay extra for a bigger screen and keyboard.
Larger Yet Similar Design
The Samsung NC20 shares the NC10’s design. Its rounded lid sports an identical matte white cover (the U.S. version will be black). Surrounding the edges of the netbook is a silver trim complemented with glowing blue and reddish orange status lights on the front edge, which project a futuristic aura. A blue glowing power button is on the rounded right hinge.
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The Samsung NC20 is larger than other 12-inch systems—including its closest competitor, the Dell Inspiron Mini 12—and higher-end 12-inch ultraportables such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X200. At 11.5 x 8.5 x 1.2 inches, the NC20 is thicker than the Mini 12 by 0.4 inches. It is also heavier than your average 2.8-pound netbook, tipping the scales at 3.4 pounds with its standard six-cell battery. While we couldn’t toss this machine into a purse as with the NC10, the NC20 slid into a shoulder bag without a problem.
Spacious Keyboard and Touchpad
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The expanded chassis allows the NC20 to house a full-size keyboard, up from the 93 percent–size keyboard on the NC10; however, the touch and feel of the keys are the same on both. The raised keys provide nice tactile feedback and were comfortable for long typing stints, and there are no spacing issues like those of many netbooks on the market: the right Shift key is full size and directly below the Enter key. However, we were puzzled as to why Samsung decided to keep the arrow keys and the function keys slightly smaller than the rest, given the extra space on the deck.
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Also renovated is the touchpad, which now measures 2.8 x 1.7 inches, a marked improvement over the trackpad on the NC10 (2.3 x 1.1 inches). The mouse button, while longer, remains a single rocker bar and lacks a divot to separate the left and right sides. The scrolling bar was useful for moving through long Web pages.
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The NC20 houses the same ports as the NC10, including three USB 2.0 ports, a 3-in-1 memory card reader, mic and headphone jacks, a VGA port, and an Ethernet port. We would have liked to see the extra space used to accommodate an ExpressCard slot for adding a mobile broadband modem card and/or an HDMI port.
The NC20’s glossy 12-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel resolution screen makes quite a difference in everyday use; compared with 10-inch displays on any number of netbooks, the extra two inches allowed us to keep two Web pages open side by side and read them comfortably. We never reached for our larger notebook to accomplish certain tasks, such as editing a batch of pictures.
The screen has just the right amount of gloss, and horizontal viewing angles were good: a friend sitting next to us was able to watch a YouTube clip, and tilting the screen back caused minimal glare.
Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel webcam, which provided clear images in a video chat over Skype. There was no motion blur when we waved to a caller in California. The microphone, located on the top right of the keyboard, produced steady sound during a ten-minute voice call.
The dual speakers located on the bottom front edge of the system produced loud and consistently good sound. On maximum volume, MGMT’s “Kids” filled a living room; we could make out the lyrics from more than 15 feet away.
Unlike just about every other netbook (including the NC10), all of which use Intel Atom processors, Samsung opted for a 1.3-GHz VIA Nano U2250, which was designed for highly mobile computers. Coupled with 1GB of RAM and Windows XP, the VIA Nano processor showed mixed performance compared with the Intel Atom N270, N280, and Z530 processors. On PCMark05, the NC20 scored 1,432, which, while roughly 70 points higher than the netbook average, was about 60 points below that of the NC10 (which uses a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU), and 156 points below the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (which uses a 1.66-GHz N280 chip).
However, when we ran Geekbench (which measures total system performance), the NC20 notched a score of 953. That’s 176 points higher than the NC10, and 139 points higher than the Dell Inspiron Mini 12, which has a1.6-GHz Intel Atom Z530 processor.
Transcoding a 2-minute-and-17-second MPEG-4 clip was far from speedy; it took both the VIA-powered NC20 and the Atom-powered NC10 slightly less than 12 minutes to convert the file. By way of comparison, the Gateway UC7807u, with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, took just 3:07 to complete the same task.
Click to enlargeIn everyday tasks, the VIA Nano CPU provided the same performance as other netbooks we’ve tested. Programs loaded at a decent rate, and the NC20 didn’t exhibit lag when multiple apps were open. When we placed a video call over Skype while simultaneously writing a document in OpenOffice and surfing the Web in Firefox 3, the NC20 was able to keep up. Working in the Web browser was a smooth experience; we were able to listen to streaming music over Pandora, refresh our Twitter feed, as well as visit sites and edit blog posts without any issues.
The NC20 remained relatively cool when working with it on our lap. Unlike the VIA C7M processor (found in the HP Mini-Note 2133) that got extremely hot, the NC20’s keyboard stayed a cool 85 degrees. The right edge of the system got the hottest during heavy usage, registering 96 degrees.
The VIA Chrome9 HC3 chipset earned a score of 606 on 3DMark03, which is slightly lower than the 612 category average. On 3DMark06, the NC20 notched 131, or 40 points higher than the category average. The NC20 played a 720p WMV clip of swimming dolphins smoothly; however, playback of a 1080p clip lagged and was choppy, similar to our experiences on Intel Atom N270–powered systems.
The NC20’s 5,400-rpm, 160GB hard drive booted Windows XP Home in a sluggish 1 minute and 10 seconds. That’s 15 seconds slower than the netbook average. The LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media) took 5 minutes and 13 seconds, or a rate of 14.8 MBps. That result is slightly above average for a netbook (13.8 MBps), but not as fast as the NC10 (17.4 MBps) or the Lenovo S10e (16.7 MBps).
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 NC20—owing to its larger screen—trailed behind it—and most other six-cell netbooks. The NC20 lasted 4 hours and 17 minutes, which is respectable but almost 90 minutes shorter than average for netbooks with six-cell batteries. However, this test was performed using the standard 5200-mAh battery that came with our Korean unit; the U.S. version of the NC20 will be equipped with a higher-capacity 5900-mAh battery, which should provide additional runtime. This review will be updated when we receive the U.S. unit for testing.
The 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card provided a strong connection to the Net. Delivering a strong 20.0 Mbps and 18.6 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet (1.3 MBps and 3.4 MBps faster than the average netbook), respectively, we were able to maintain a strong signal far from our access point; video clips streamed from YouTube and Hulu.com were void of any pauses.
Samsung bundles its own utilities with the NC20, 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 Network Manager for connecting to a wireless access point and CyberLink’s YouCam for tweaking the webcam settings. Samsung covers this netbook with a one-year warranty and 24/7 toll-free technical support.
The Samsung NC20 blurs the line between netbooks and low-cost ultraportables. While the VIA Nano processor isn’t as powerful as a mainstream Core 2 Duo CPU, it provides similar if not slightly better performance than Intel’s current Atom offerings. And the NC20 offers better performance than the Dell Inspiron Mini 12. When it comes to the U.S., the NC20 will cost about $100 more than the 10-inch Samsung NC10 ($449) or the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE ($399), which both are more compact and offer longer battery life. However, the upshot with the NC20 is in the more comfortable 12-inch computing experience, which we think many will be willing to pay extra for.