The Samsung R610-64G hovers in a strange place between a traditional mainstream notebook and a full-fledged multimedia desktop replacement. A svelte 6 pounds (for its size), the R610 is the lightest 16-inch notebook we’ve tested, and with a street price of $999, it’s also one of the cheapest. Its classy black chassis is one of the most attractive we’ve seen in this form. But to achieve its low price, the R610 skimps on performance and features such as dedicated media controls, a full HD screen, and a Blu-ray drive option.
Sleek, Touch of Color Design
The R610’s attractive, understated look is classy enough for the boardroom, yet trendy enough for the dorm room. With the lid open, the thin chassis measures a mere 1.3 inches at its thickest point and 0.8 inches at its thinnest. This is significantly thinner than some other 16-inch systems, most notably the Acer Aspire 6930G, and just a hair larger than the Sony VAIO FW series.
Like other Samsung notebooks with the manufacturer’s signature Touch of Color design, the R610 has a glossy black exterior that’s accented by a dark red gradient stripe on its front lip. A tasteful array of green and blue status lights for the hard drive, power, and Wi-Fi shine through the gradient.
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Full-Size Keyboard, Warm Touchpad
Unlike competitors such as the Acer Aspire 6930 and the HP Pavilion HDX 16, the R610 has no special media control center or custom buttons. However, the wide system does sport a full keyboard, complete with a numeric keypad, that makes life easy for gamers or spreadsheet editors. All of the special-character keys are in the proper position for touch-typing. The system lacks strong tactile feedback, though, as the keys did not pop back at us with as much force as we would have liked.
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The touchpad features a pleasantly coarse surface that made it easy for us to manuever accurately around the desktop. The two mouse buttons are easy to press, without becoming noisy. Unfortunately, the touchpad gets a bit warm. During our battery test, we measured the pad at a relatively high 95 degrees Fahrenheit, while other key areas such as the keyboard and the back bottom remained a comfortable 88 degrees.
Screen on the Samsung R610
Click to enlargeThe 16-inch, 16:9 screen operates at a native resolution of 1366 x 768, which works well for showing widescreen video without bars, but is a far cry from full 1080p (1920 x 1080) or the 1600 x 900 resolution offered by some other 16-inch notebooks. Compared to the 16-inch Acer Aspire 6930G, the R610’s screen is brighter, but less sharp and vibrant. Viewing angles were solid from 45 degrees, provided that no light is reflecting off the glossy screen.
When it comes to productivity, even some 14-inch notebooks, such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad SL400 which has a 1440 x 900 option, are available with more workspace. No wonder the default desktop icons and fonts look too large: the native resolution seems too low for a display this size.
Audio and Video
The 16-inch, 16:9 screen allowed us to play a widescreen DVD of Spiderman at full-screen, with just a thin black bar at the bottom of our window. However, at both partial and full-screen sizes, bright colors, like Spiderman’s red costume, appeared muted, and darker colors, like the night sky, were grainy and filled with noise. When we watched a high-definition streaming episode of Fringe on Fox.com, the image quality also suffered from noise and even some blockiness in dark scenes.
Sound from the speakers was loud enough to be heard across a room, but was harsh and tinny, both when playing music via Napster and when watching a DVD. We highly recommend that users attach speakers or headphones.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam delivered smooth but blocky, noisy video indoors. In low light, our head was given a pallid, yellow tinge.
Just Enough Ports on the Samsung R610
The Samsung R610 has all the basic ports, with no real surprises. The left side is adorned with an ExpressCard slot, mic and headphone jacks, HDMI, VGA, and one USB port. The right side, which contains the optical drive, has one USB port. The front lip houses the 3-in-1 card reader, while the back has the Ethernet, modem, and Kensington lock slots, along with two more USB ports, which are stacked on top of each other, making it difficult to use bulkier thumb drives.
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The Samsung R610 combines acceptable overall performance with below-average graphics scores. The system’s 2.0-GHz Core 2 Duo T5800 processor, 3GB of RAM, and Nvidia GeForce 9200M GS discrete graphics chip yielded a score of 3,173 in overall performance benchmark PCMark Vantage, which is just above our category average of 3,041 for mainsteam notebooks and below the similarly priced Acer Aspire 6930G’s score of 3,252.
In real-world multitasking situations, the R610 functioned as well as we’d expect a mainstream notebook to perform. We were able to conduct a video call on Skype, play a clip on YouTube, and draw a picture in Windows paint at the same time, without any of the three applications slowing down.
Hard drive performance was about average for a mainstream notebook, with the R610 completing the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, in 5 minutes and 6 seconds—a rate of 16.6 MBps. That’s just shy of both the category average (16.8 MBps) and the Acer Aspire 6930G (17.0 MBps). The Samsung’s 250GB, 5,400-rpm Western Digital Scorpio Blue hard drive also delivered a reasonable 58-second boot time.
Graphics and Gaming on the Samsung R610
The Samsung R610’s Nvidia GeForce 9200M GS discrete graphics disappointed. Its 3DMark06 score of 1,883 was well behind the 2,723 category average for mainstream notebooks and even worse when compared to the 4,275 score delivered by the Aspire 6930G.
In the game F.E.A.R., the R610 had an average rate of 55 frames per second at 800 x 600 resolution and 28 fps at its native 1366 x 768-pixel resolution, where the category averages are 65.9 and 26.7 fps, respectively, and the Aspire 6930G got a blazing 74 and 59 fps.
Solid Wireless on the Samsung R610
The R610’s Intel WiFi Link 5100 802.11a/b/g/n card provided impressive transfer rates of 20.3 Mbps from 15 feet and 17.3 Mbps from 50 feet. These comfortably beat the respective category averages of 18.2 and 15.6 Mbps for mainstream notebooks.
Endurance Improves With Extended Battery
With its bundled six-cell battery, the Samsung R610 managed a measly 2 hours and 27 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), an hour less than our mainstream average—and about half of what Samsung advertises. Compared to other 16-inch laptops, this was more than an hour less than the similarly priced Acer Aspire 6930G (3:34), but was fairly close to what we saw from the Sony VAIO FW series (2:34) and much better than we got from the HP Pavilion HDX 16 (1:59).
Fortunately, Samsung sells a nine-cell replacement battery for $229 that, on our tests, raised the battery life to an excellent 5 hours and 50 minutes and increased the weight to only 6.4 pounds. Conveniently, Samsung lets you know just how much juice life is left via a row of LED lights on the underside of the notebook near the battery.
Bundled Software and Warranty
The R610 comes bundled with a few useful Samsung utilities, including Samsung Magic Doctor, a diagnostic application, Samsung Recovery Solution III, a backup program, and Play Camera, which lets you shoot photos and video with the webcam. The system does not come with any media software, but instead relies on Windows Media Player to launch DVDs.
Samsung provides a one-year standard warranty on parts and labor for the R610.
Verdict on the Samsung R610
The Samsung R610 is, by far, one of the lightest and most portable 16-inch notebooks we’ve tested. It’s also one of the most attractive. However, when we look at the reasons for buying a 16-inch notebook over something more portable—multimedia playback, increased productivity, or gaming—this machine just doesn’t stand out. When it comes to multimedia, the R610 combines mediocre image and sound quality, with the absence of media controls.
If you’re looking for a 16-inch multimedia system, competitors such as the Acer Aspire 6930G offer more features—such as a Blu-ray drive and discrete graphics—for the same price. However, if you love the looks and thin design of the R610, you can learn to live with its shortcomings.