3.5 star rating

Samsung SF310 Review

Pros: Attractive design; Fast performance; Strong graphics for price; Comfortable keyboard; Good software package
Cons: Clickpad jumpy at times; Lid picks up fingerprints
The Verdict: The sleek Samsung SF310 offers comfort and speed and looks good doing it, but the touchpad could be better.

REVIEW

SPECIFICATIONS

Samsung's super-sleek Series 9 ultraportable is getting all the attention, but the company has another 13-inch notebook that costs less than half as much and provides comparable performance and battery life. The $729 Samsung SF310 features a muscular Intel Core i5-480M processor, a DVD drive, Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics, and Optimus technology to maximize endurance. Sure, it's not as thin or sexy as the SSD-packing Series 9, but the SF310 successfully shoehorns a lot of power into its attractive 4.6-pound frame. Read on to find out how this notebook stacks up to other 13-inchers that cost less than a grand.

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Design

The Samsung SF310 is one classy-looking machine for the price. The notebook sports a glossy plastic gunmetal-gray lid with gently tapered edges. It picks up fingerprints quickly, but the color masks them somewhat.

Attractive chrome accents bisect the laptop, which has rolling wave-like humps toward the back on either side. Measuring 13 x 9.2 x 1.3 inches and tipping the scales at 4.6 pounds, the SF310 weighs as much as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but it's 0.4 pounds heavier than the ASUS U31JG. Even so, the SF310's compact size makes it simple to slip into bags, and it's certainly light enough to be a travel companion.

Flipping up the SF310's lid reveals an all-black interior with a 13.3-inch display and an island-style keyboard that sits inside its own recessed well. We like the brushed-metal gray wrist rest and chrome accents. Above the keyboard you'll find four small silver buttons that control the volume and the Wi-Fi radio. A black power button, circled by blue lighting, adds a touch of color on the right side.

Samsung SF310

Keyboard and Touchpad

Samsung's island-style keyboards are usually well designed, and the SF310's is no exception. Its black keys are large, well spaced, and provide satisfying travel, making for comfortable typing. They also provide a soft click when hit for pleasing tactile feedback.

Samsung SF310

Below the keys is a large 3.9 x 2.4-inch touchpad made by Elan, which integrates the buttons into the design. We scrolled though web pages, zoomed in and out of photos, and flipped between images using two- and three-finger gestures without much effort. Still, the touchpad was erratic at times, which resulted in a jumpy cursor. And while the center of the touchpad clicks down when pressed, you need to use the bottom left and right sides of the pad to make selections.

Ports and Webcam

The Samsung SF310 is outfitted with a good selection of connections for its size. The left side houses a 4-in-1 card reader, headphone and mic jacks, and a VGA and an Ethernet port. Underneath a flip-down flexible dust cover are two USB ports and an HDMI output for pushing video to HDTVs. We're not a fan of these covers because they just get in the way. Power and Kensington security slots are here as well. One more USB port sits on the laptop's right side along with a DVD SuperMulti Drive.

Samsung SF310

Samsung SF310

The 0.3-megapixel webcam on the SF310 was quick on the draw when snapping pictures. Image quality was just average; sample videos were bright enough in well lit areas but dim in our office and noticeably blocky.

Samsung SF310

Display and Audio

The Samsung SF310's 13.3-inch display (1366 x 768 pixels) won't exactly bowl you over in terms of brightness. Still, the glossy panel exhibited high contrast with well-saturated colors and deep blacks. Both the 480p trailer for True Legend on Hulu and the 720p trailer of Green Lantern looked great. Viewing angles are acceptable too, though a little wider beyond 45 degrees would be better. Unlike the RV511, the SF310 doesn't include Intel WiDi technology, so video output is limited to the notebook's HDMI port.

Samsung SF310

The two bottom-mounted speakers on the SF310 got surprisingly loud; they're certainly powerful enough to resonate within a small room. That said, audio sounded flat with too much high end. "Pharaohs & Pyramids" by Cut Copy, for instance, was brash at maximum volume and lacked the thumping bass the track usually has. This is despite the integrated SRS Labs audio processing, which did manage to pleasantly widen the sound field.

Heat

After we played a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the SF310's touchpad remained a cool 75 degrees while the center of the keyboard (between the G and H keys) measured a relatively warm 95 degrees. Thankfully, the underside of the notebook returned a manageable reading of 87 degrees. Be advised that the SF310's back vent belched a dragon-like 112-degree stream of hot air. Still, when the notebook was on our lap, the only noticeable heat was some warmth emanating from the keyboard.

Performance

Configured with a 2.67-GHz Intel Core i5-480M processor and 4GB of RAM, the Samsung SF310 performed well. On PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures overall system speed, the SF310 scored 5,446, about 450 points above the thin-and-light average. This showing also holds up well against the $814 ASUS U31JG-A1 (2.53-GHz Core i3), which scored a slightly higher 5,550 on the same test. The $1,199 13-inch Macbook Pro (2.3-GHz Core i5) also slightly outperforms the SF310 with a score of 5,534. The SF310 positively trounced the $599 AMD Fusion-powered MSI X370 (1.6-GHz AMD E-350 CPU), which managed just 2,509.

It took a decent 1 minute and 2 seconds for the SF310's 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive to boot Windows 7 Home Premium. That's a shade faster than the category average, and it handily beats the ASUS U31JG-A1 (1:22). The SF310 did not prove nimble on our file transfer tests, with the laptop copying a 5GB folder of mixed files in 3 minutes and 58 seconds. That translates to a slow data rate of 21.4 MBps, below the average for thin-and-light notebooks (24.6 MBps). The 13-inch MacBook Pro (28.1 MBps), the ASUS U31JG (26.8 MBps) and the MSI X370 (24.5 MBps) all got the upper hand on this test.

The SF310 converted a 114MB MP4 file to AVI using Oxelon Media Encoder in a quick 47 seconds, much shorter than the category average (1:01). The ASUS U31JG-A1 matched this time (0:47), as did the 13-inch MacBook Pro (0:47).

Graphics

Don't be fooled by the Samsung SF310's small stature; this laptop packs a pretty good graphics punch. Nvidia's Optimus technology intelligently switches between Intel's integrated graphics and a more robust Nvidia GeForce 310M discrete GPU. The SF310 notched a 3DMark06 score of 3,828. That's 500 points higher than the thin-and-light average and enough to best the MSI X370 (2,260; AMD Radeon HD 6310). However, both the ASUS U31JG-A1 (4,371; GeForce GT 415M GPU) and the 13-inch MacBook Pro (4,509, Intel HD 3000) fared better.

Real-world gaming scores also reflected the SF310's graphical prowess, with the laptop notching a smooth 60 frames per second while playing World of Warcraft in autodetect mode. Gameplay slowed to 28 fps with all the visual effects turned up. While this is well below the thin-and-light average (99/32 fps), it's on a par with the ASUS U31JG (61/27), and it blows past the MSI X370 (26/12).

In Far Cry 2, the SF310 mustered only 24 fps at 1024 x 768, so you'll want to steer clear of more demanding 3D titles.

Battery Life and Wireless

The Samsung SF310 will get you through a good portion of the day, but it's definitely not the longest-lasting 13-incher out there. The notebook's six-cell battery lasted 5 hours and 24 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test; that's better than the thin-and-light average of 5:02, but is outpaced by the U31JG (6:29), the X370 (7:05), and the 13-inch MacBook Pro (8:33).

Equipped with a Broadcom 802.11n Wi-Fi card, the SF310 offers fair wireless performance. At a distance of 15 feet from the router, it achieved a data rate of 28.5 Mbps, which dropped to 21.6 Mbps at 50 feet. The average thin-and-light notebook gets 34.2 and 21.9 Mbps from those respective distances. A Bluetooth 3.0 radio is also on board to connect phones, speakers, and a range of other mobile accessories.

Configuration Options

Our Samsung SF310-S01 review model (2.67-GHz Intel Core i5-480M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive) is the only configuration available. Though its list price is $799, it can be had for as low as $729 from major retailers such as Amazon and Buy.com.

Software and Warranty

Samsung includes a good software package on the SF310. A Battery Life Extender adjusts the charge level to prolong the life span of the battery. The Easy Content Share utility uses Windows media sharing to stream music, video, and pictures to DLNA-compliant gadgets on a home network. Another useful feature is the Fast Start utility, which enables a quicker wake-up from sleep. There's also the Samsung Support Center program to contact a Samsung support rep over the web, access system utilities, and better diagnose an issue with the laptop. For burning DVDs and CDs, there's the Cyberlink Media Suite, which includes Power DVD 8 for watching DVDs. A feature called Movie Color Enhancer promises to optimize video color quality, though toggling this feature didn't result in a perceptible difference.

Samsung SF310

Samsung backs the SF310 with a standard one-year warranty, which covers parts and labor. See how Samsung fared in our Tech Support Showdown and our Best and Worst Laptop Brands reports.

Verdict

Samsung SF310For $729, the Samsung SF310 provides an attractive design, a comfortable keyboard, and relatively strong processing and graphics muscle for the price. The only real drawbacks are the somewhat flaky clickpad and the fact that it doesn't last as long on a charge as some competing 13-inch notebooks. If those are potential issues for you, the ASUS U31JG-A1 may fit the bill with its longer battery life and comparable performance, though it costs $85 more. Otherwise, we recommend the SF310, as it looks, feels, and performs like a more expensive notebook.

Tags: Samsung SF310, reviews

Technical Specifications
Samsung SF310
http://www.samsung.com


The central processor unit, or CPU, is the brain of your notebook.
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CPU
2.67-GHz Intel Core i5-480M
Operating SystemMS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
The amount of memory our reviewed configuration comes with.
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RAM
4GB
The maximum amount of memory this notebook supports.
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RAM Upgradable to
8GB
Amount of data your storage drive can hold.
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Hard Drive Size
320GB
The rotation speed of a mechanical hard drive.
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Hard Drive Speed
5,400rpm
Your notebook’s storage drive (hard drive or solid state drive) holds your operating system, your programs, and your data.
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Hard Drive Type
SATA Hard Drive
Your notebook display is the primary viewing device for your laptop computer.
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Display Size
13.3
The number of pxiels (wxh) displayed on your screen at once.
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Native Resolution
1366x678
An optical drive allows you to play or record to DVDs, CDs, or Blu-ray discs.
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Optical Drive
DVD SuperMultiDrive
The speed of the optical drive.
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Optical Drive Speed
8X
Graphics chips are responsible for processing all images sent to your computer’s display.
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Graphics Card
Nvidia GeForce 310M
The amount of memory available for graphics processing.
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Video Memory
512MB
Wi-Fi connects you to a router or hotspot for wireless Internet access.
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Wi-Fi
802.11b/g/n
Wi-Fi ModelBroadcom 802.11n Network Adapter
Bluetooth allows you to connect to wireless devices such as headsets, smart phones, and speakers.
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 3.0 + EDR
Mobile broadband connects you to the Net from anywhere, even places with no hotspot.
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Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size3.9 x 2.4
Ports allow you to connect to external devices such as monitors, printers, MP3 players, and hard drivse.
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Ports (excluding USB)
HDMI; Headphone; Kensington Lock; Microphone; VGA
USB ports allow you to connect many external devices, from MP3 players to external hard drives.
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USB Ports
3
Card readers allow you to plug memory and expansion cards directly into a notebook.
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Card Slots
4-1 card reader
Warranty/Support1 Year limited including parts and labor
Size13 x 9.2 x 1.3 inches
Weight4.6 pounds
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