It may be a little late to the razor-thin notebook contest, but the Samsung X360-34P has a lot more to offer than just a low profile. This 13-inch ultraportable is not only lighter than both the Apple MacBook Air and Lenovo ThinkPad X301, it features much better battery life. Of course, the X360 shares another trait with the MacBook Air and X301: a high price tag. It sells for about $2,299 online, but with its comfortable keyboard, easy-access ports, and blazing solid state drive, the X360 is one of the best notebooks in its class.
The Samsung X360 is available in two configurations: the X360-34P (the model reviewed) features a 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD; the X360-34G, which is about $600 cheaper, has a 1.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9300 chip, 3GB of RAM, and a 5,400-rpm, 120GB hard drive.
Like its larger counterpart, the X460, the X360-34P has a red brushed-metal panel covering about three-quarters of its lid. The rest, along with the inside of the notebook, is a glossy piano black plastic, a signature look for Samsung across a number of its product lines. Aside from its looks, the first thing you notice about this system is how light it is. At 2.8 pounds, it’s more than half a pound lighter than the X301 and 0.2 pounds lighter than the MacBook Air. In fact, the X360 is the same weight as such netbooks as the latest Acer Aspire One, MSI Wind U120, and Samsung NC10.
Despite its thinness, Samsung didn’t skimp on ports. On the left side of the system as it faces you is an Ethernet port, one USB port, an ExpressCard/34 slot, and headphone and microphone jacks. On the opposite side is a VGA port, HDMI, two more USB ports, and a 7-in-1 card reader. Having HDMI on board is especially handy for outputting video and audio using a single cable. The Lenovo ThinkPad X301 lacks this feature (though it does have a DisplayPort), and the MacBook Air requires using a Mini DisplayPort adapter.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
As is proving increasingly popular among other notebook manufacturers, the X360 features an island-style keyboard that, while requiring a minor adjustment period, offered a very comfortable typing experience.
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The keys (coated in what Samsung says is antibacterial material) were very lively, provided a good amount of feedback, and better yet, were not noisy at all. The only quibble is that the Page Up and Page Down buttons are too close to the Right and Left arrow keys; we often found ourselves paging down when we meant to scroll to the right.
The touchpad, which supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-and-zoom, was decently sized, and had very low friction. The mouse buttons, too, were a good size, and required almost no effort to press. Like the keys, they, too, were very quiet.
Display and Audio
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The 13.3-inch, LED-backlit display had excellent viewing angles side to side—nearly 180 degrees, in fact—but the image tended to degrade more quickly in the vertical plane. While its resolution of 1280 x 800 is less than that of Lenovo’s X301 (1440 x 900), images and videos were very crisp and vibrant.
Although the X360’s two 1.5-watt speakers are helped somewhat by Samsung’s Enhanced Digital Sound (EDS) technology, the audio delivered by this ultraportable is mediocre. Listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” streamed from Pandora, the speakers were loud enough for one person, but tinny, and had almost no bass. When we put the notebook on our lap, the downward-firing speakers were muffled, and the song sounded even worse.
Using EDS in the Control Panel, you can toggle between a Music mode and a Movie mode; the former adds definition to mid-range sounds and the latter makes higher tones sound crisper, but on such small speakers, the effect is more painful than anything else.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam delivered decent images in a Skype call, but we found it was necessary to tweak the brightness/contrast and saturation settings; out of the box, our mug appeared washed out. Audio was decent, too; unlike our experiences listening to music, our caller sounded clear and full.
In terms of benchmarks, the X360 matched the Lenovo X301 stride for stride. Its Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 processor and 3GB of RAM powered the system to a score of 3,184 in PCMark Vantage (which measures Vista application performance). By contrast, the ultraportable average is 2,896, and the X301 notched a score of 3,157. Users can also select between three different modes—Silent, Normal, and Speed—to tweak the X360’s performance.
The X360 took 6 minutes and 13 seconds to transcode a 55MB video file (640 x 480) from MPEG-4 to H.264 using VLC Media Player, and it took the machine 4 additional minutes to perform the same task while streaming Friday Night Lights on Hulu. That’s not spectacular, but we noticed no slowdowns while typing this review in Microsoft Word while having Internet Explorer open in the background.
The X360’s 128GB SSD is one of the fastest you can get inside a notebook. It completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media) in 2 minutes and 20 seconds, a rate of 36.4 MBps. That’s 17 MBps faster than the category average, and 4 MBps faster than the 64GB SSD in the X301. The SSD didn’t do much for startup time, though: The X360 booted Windows Vista Business in 79 seconds, 15 seconds slower than the category average.
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This is not a system meant for gaming. On graphics tests 3DMark03 and 3DMark06, the X360’s Intel GMX4500 integrated graphics scored 1,809 and 714, respectively. Both are slightly above the category averages of 1,661 and 842, and the X301’s scores of 1,812 and 683. Not surprisingly, the X360 scored an abysmal 16 frames per second when playing F.E.A.R. with settings on autodetect; with the screen set to 800 x 600 in Far Cry 2, the X360 eked out a rate of 8.6 fps.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The Intel WiFi Link 5100 802.11a/b/g/n radio delivered strong throughput both at 15 feet (19.1 Mbps) and at 50 feet (16.1 Mbps) from our router; both figures are 1 Mbps above the ultraportable average. An episode of How I Met Your Mother streamed smoothly and without any interruptions from CBS.com. Considering this notebook is aimed at mobile professionals, we were hoping that Samsung would offer the system with integrated wireless broadband—such as with the Lenovo X301—but it’s not a deal breaker.
The six-cell, 5,400-milliamp battery notched a very strong runtime of 5 hours and 9 minutes, which, while 10 minutes less than the category average, is nearly 2 hours longer than the X301 lasted. (The X301 has an optional three-cell battery that’s supposed to add 3.2 hours of extra juice, but it occupies the system’s optical drive bay.) An extended nine-cell battery for the X360 sells for $229, which will get you closer to Samsung’s claim of “up to 10 hours” of battery life.
Security, Software, and Warranty
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Business users will appreciate the X360’s fingerprint reader, TPM circuitry, and Kensington lock slot. The bundled software includes Samsung Recovery Solution III, Samsung Magic Doctor, Samsung Update plus, Easy Display Manager, Easy Battery Manager, Easy Network Manager, Easy Speed up Manager, McAfee Virus Scan, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Professional 2007.
Samsung X360 Verdict
If you have the money and you’re torn between the style of the MacBook Air ($2,499 with a 128GB SSD) and the functionality of the Lenovo ThinkPad X301 ($2,613 when similarly configured to the X360), the Samsung X360-34P delivers the best of both worlds. Although it lacks an optical drive, this machine (about $2,299 online) has an excellent keyboard, is exceedingly light, and will suit road warriors who require long endurance.