Samsung N150 Plus Review

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$349

Pros: Attractive design ; Responsive keyboard ; Glare-free matte display ; Great audio quality ; Excellent power/sleep management

Cons: Finicky touchpad and narrow mouse buttons ; SD Cards don't insert fully

Verdict: Good looks, strong sound, and a sleep mode that uses very little power make this premium netbook a solid choice.

What's does the "Plus" in N150 Plus stand for? This particular version of Samsung's popular 10.1-inch netbook is exclusive to Best Buy and features a stylish red/black lid that's reminiscent of the brand's higher-end laptops. You also get a utility for reducing power in sleep mode versus the standard N150 and a larger 250GB hard drive. However, several mini-notebooks cost less than this $349 model--including the $329 N150--and the touchpad could be better. So should you spring for the Plus or pass?

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Design

The N150 Plus (N150-11)makes a good first impression with its glossy lid. It's an attractive deep red and black with a subtle dot pattern, though it picks up fingerprints in a hurry. (The N150 is also available in multiple colors for less cash, including Bermuda Blue, Gloss Black, Flamingo Pink, Matte Blue, and white). A dark red strip wraps around the sides and front of the machine, reminiscent of the chrome strip on the original NC10.

Under the lid we found a matte deck, bezel, and display instead of a glossy red/black deck. This looks a little dull but eliminates the annoyance of fingerprints. The battery raises the N150 Plus' chassis about a quarter of an inch in the back, making for a comfortable typing angle. Small speaker grills sit just under the front lip of the system.

The N150 Plus doesn't have a power button in the hinge like older Samsung netbooks; instead, you'll find a flip switch on the front. Unlike the rounded hinge design of the past, the N150 Plus has a turned-up, oblong flair that mitigates the slight bulk of the six-cell battery in the back.

The N150 Plus fits comfortably in our hands; at only 10.4 x 7.4 x 1.4 inches and 2.8 pounds, it feels lighter than it looks.

Heat

After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we recorded temperatures of 81 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 87 degrees at the center of the keyboard, and just 84 degrees on the underside in the middle, all of which are acceptable. However, the back left area by the vent reached up to 99 degrees, which caused a little discomfort when the N150 Plus was in our lap.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The chiclet-style keyboard on the N150 Plus is very similar to the layouts on the N210 and NB30, and it's still one of the best we've experienced on a netbook. The keys are springy and responsive, allowing us to reach our normal typing speed right away. Users who often rely on keyboard shortcuts will find that keys on the edges are correctly sized and placed, though the keys along the top are a little too small for comfort.

The 2.5 x 1.4-inch touchpad is around the same size as other N series netbooks, but it feels cramped. That's because the default settings for the scrolling areas on the pad take up more area than necessary, and we constantly found ourselves accidentally scrolling or jumping to different places in browser or word processor windows.

Thankfully, you can turn off edge scrolling and stick with two-finger scrolls or reduce the scroll area to suit your usage. The Smart-Pad utility (found under Control Panel > Mouse) also has settings for several multitouch gestures, including three-finger swiping.

As with the Samsung NB30, we found the single touch bar too narrow. It has a dip to delineate the left and right buttons, but we wish Samsung would use Toshiba's netbook mouse buttons as a model and make them larger.

Display and Audio

The N150 Plus' 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel LED-backlit matte display offered bright colors and deep blacks despite the lack of a glossy finish. We used the netbook in the sun and didn't notice any glare. We're also glad that there were no distracting reflections when watching dark scenes in movies or TV shows. Unfortunately, viewing angles weren't very wide.

The N150 Plus' audio quality is among the best we've heard on a netbook. Setting the volume at 75 percent allowed us to hear Adam Lambert's "Pick U Up" clearly over a high-speed fan in a small room. Sounds didn't even distort at 100 percent when soprano divas were hitting the high notes in our recording of Lakm.

Ports and Webcam

All of the usual netbook ports are here: power, Ethernet, chargeable USB, headphone, and mic on the left, 3-in-1 memory card slot and power switch/slide on the front. The remaining two USB ports and a VGA port sit on the right side.

The 0.3-megapixel webcam above the display captured acceptable still images and video, though we had to tweak the settings (in CyberLink YouCam) to achieve better color and contrast balance. Each time we moved our Skype buddy noticed significant blur--even the movement of our mouth was blurry.

We don't understand why Samsung continues to include memory card slots that are so shallow. SD cards stick out half an inch and don't include a spring lock, so they don't feel very secure when they're in. This not only makes it hard to fit the N150 Plus in a sleeve when an SD Card is inserted, but it also ruins the aesthetic.

Performance

The 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and 1GB of RAM earned the Samsung N150 Plus a score of 1,300 on PCMark05. This is 133 marks below the netbook average (1,433) and also a bit below scores earned by other systems with this chip, including the ASUS Eee PC 1001P (1,384), MSI Wind U160 (1,406) and Samsung N210 (1,362). We also noticed that the machine betrayed a little sluggishness when we had more than six tabs open in Google Chrome while also running other programs (OpenOffice Writer, Windows Media Player, and Skype).



The 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test in 3 minutes and 56 seconds for a transfer rate of 21.6 MBps; this beats the category average (17.6 MBps) and the Eee PC 1001P (17.5 MBps). Though it's below the Wind U160 (24.8 MBps), the N150 Plus is only 1.1 MBps behind the N210 (22.7 MBps). The 57-second boot time was a few seconds faster than the netbook average (61).

Using Oxelon Media Encoder, the N150 Plus took 5 minutes and 44 seconds to transcode a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI. Though not the speediest, this time still comes in under the 6:24 netbook average.

Graphics

With Intel's integrated GMA 3150 graphics driving the N150 Plus, its 3DMark06 score of 156 doesn't come close to the average netbook (216), but that figure includes systems with Nvidia Ion graphics. The showing is on a par with the Eee PC 1001P and the N210 (155 and 153, respectively), and only a bit behind the Wind U160 (163). Standard definition video clips of the BBC's Jekyll stored on the hard drive played smoothly, though the netbook didn't handle an HD trailer of The Discoverers well. Full-screen Hulu videos hitched a bit more than we usually notice with netbooks.

Fast Booting Software Saves Power

For users who find the differences between Sleep and Hibernation confusing and value a speedy wake time, the Fast Boot utility is perfect. After leaving the N150 Plus in sleep mode for about 9 hours, the battery had lost less than 10 percent of its power. That's impressive. We also liked that the netbook woke immediately when we lifted the lid, a function we're used to seeing in high-end notebooks and, of course, Apple MacBooks. Those who want finer control over the netbook's power states can toggle this feature on and off.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The N150 Plus lasted 7 hours and 12 minutes running the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi), almost an hour longer than the average netbook (6:24) and a smidge over the Samsung N210 (6:59). Samsung still lags behind category leaders in an area where it once dominated--namely the ASUS Eee PC 1001P (8:40), Gateway LT2118U (9:06), HP Mini 5102 (10:08), and Toshiba NB305 (8:37)--but over 7 hours is plenty of juice to get most people through the day.

At 15 feet from our router, the Atheros AR9285 wireless radio inside the N150 Plus achieved throughput of 24.4 Mbps; at 50 feet throughput dropped to 19.9 Mbps. Comfortably above the 23.0/18 Mbps category average, this score is above or on a par with the Eee PC 1001P (20.3/19.3 Mbps) and Samsung N210 (21.1/10.5 Mbps). The Wind U160 is far more powerful up close (34.5 Mbps), but doesn't come close to the N150 Plus at 50 feet (10.5 Mbps).

Green Testing

It took the N150 Plus just 2 hours and 1 minute to fully charge the six-cell battery, averaging 40.3 watts, for a LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 11.3. This is considerably better than the average netbook (15.8), signaling that this is a fairly green machine. The N150 Plus has a Gold EPEAT rating, earning 21 of 28 points.

Software and Warranty

Best Buy includes its Software Installer on the N150 Plus to guide novice users through adding programs they find useful. Apps (both free and paid) are divided into 11 categories such as Family, Gaming, Money Management, and Pictures and Video. Users can also purchase Geek Squad support and service from this interface. We like the idea behind this, particularly for the less tech-savvy. However, many of the free applications listed weren't software at all. When we "installed" Netflix and eMusic, the SI added icons to the desktop that launched the browser, not desktop apps. This can be confusing for the very audience the Software Installer is meant to help.

Beyond this, Samsung includes its robust suite of branded apps and utilities. The Chargeable USB program allows users to turn this feature on or off; Easy Display Manager provides utilities for resolution, display, and rotation; Easy Network Manager gives extra options for managing connections; Battery Life Extender caps the battery's charge at 80 percent to prolong its life for systems that are often kept plugged in; Easy Content Share walks users through sharing media across computers; Samsung Update Plus automatically keeps all these apps current.

The Samsung N150 Plus comes with Microsoft Office 2010 pre-installed (sort of). When you first click on the icon in the Start menu, a splash screen launches with three choices: activate, buy a full version, or use Office Starter 2010. Starter Edition only includes Word and Excel, and while both of these programs have basic functionality, power users may find them limiting. Office Home & Student is $149, but the fully-featured OpenOffice.org suite is completely free and works well on netbooks.



Samsung covers the N150 Plus with a one-year limited warranty with 24/7 toll-free phone support. Click here to see how the company fared in our Tech Support Showdown.

Verdict

The Samsung N150 Plus has it all: good looks, decent performance, long battery life, and a keyboard that doesn't frustrate our fingers. We especially like how little power this netbook uses in sleep mode when you take advantage of its Fast Boot software. Overall, we prefer the $50 cheaper ASUS Eee 1001P because it has a better touchpad and lasts longer on a charge. But style mavens who want good audio quality and the ability to use their netbook outdoors will be satisfied by this machine.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450
Operating System MS Windows 7 Starter Edition (32-bit)
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 2GB
Hard Drive Size 250GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 10.1
Native Resolution 1024x600
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel GMA 3150
Video Memory Shared
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 3-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 10.4 x 7.4 x 1.4 inches
Weight 2.8 pounds
Company Website http://www.samsung.com/us