Samsung Series 5 14-inch Ultrabook (NP530U4B) Review

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Pros: Very light and thin for 14-inch laptop; Good audio; Comfortable keyboard; Runs cool

Cons: Screen has limited viewing angles; Below-average battery life; Keyboard not backlit; Inconsistent wake-from-sleep times

Verdict: The 14-inch Samsung Series 5 is the first Ultrabook with a built-in optical drive, but the screen and battery life could be better.

One of the most unique Ultrabooks yet, the Samsung Series 5 14-inch squeezes a DVD drive into a machine that's a mere .8 inches thick. Think of it as a digital security blanket for those who still have the desire to use physical DVDs and install software from discs. Priced at $879, the Series 5 14-inch is also one of the most affordable laptops in its class. For your money, you also get a Core i5 processor and a hybrid hard drive that promises fast boots and resume times along with gobs of storage. Is this Ultrabook a good deal?

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Design

The Series 5 14-inch is not as svelte as 13-inch Ultrabooks, but it is thinner and lighter than most 14-inch laptops. Measuring 13.1 x 9.0 x 0.82 inches and weighing an even 4 pounds, this Samsung is lighter and thinner than the Dell XPS 14z and Lenovo U400s (both .9 inches thick and 4.4 pounds).

We'll say this about the Series 5. It's certainly stylish: Not only did the silver-gray aluminum lid and deck on the system have a sleek and subdued look, but it felt sturdy and resisted fingerprints. The bottom panel is made of plastic.

Keyboard and Touchpad

We really enjoyed typing on the Series 5 14-inch's island-style keyboard. The matte black keys were large, had a slightly gritty surface, and a satisfying amount of travel and response when typing this review. Too bad the layout isn't backlit, one of the compromises Samsung apparently made to keep this system relatively affordable.

We also liked the spacious 4 x 2.1-inch Elan touchpad on the Series 5 14-inch. Multitouch gestures were easy to execute, and we appreciated the large, discrete mouse buttons below, which had just the right amount of snap.

Display and Audio

The Series 5's screen is 14 inches with a standard resolution of 1366 x 768. We measured the brightness of the (advertised) 300-nit display at 222 lux, which puts it above the category average (214 lux) and Lenovo U400 (165 lux). However, other Ultrabooks outshined this panel, such as the Portege Z835 (260 lux) and the ASUS UX31, which had a blazing 391-lux display.

This notebook's display has a matte finish, which helps reduce glare, but we found the viewing angles to be limited to pretty much directly in front of the notebook -- move even a little in any direction, and the image began to wash out. When watching the trailer for "The Dark Knight Rises," colors were fairly bright, but we noticed pixelation in darker areas, and contrast wasn't as high as we'd like. It costs considerably more, but the 1600 x 900 screen on the new Series 9 is miles better.

The stereo speakers above the keyboard kicked out a good amount of sound. Rock tracks such as AC/DC's "Have a Drink on Me" and Jay-Z's "U Don't Know" came through clear, with vocals, mids and highs crisp. Bass was lacking, as it typical for systems this thin, but the audio has plenty of punch.

Heat

The Series 5 14-inch is one cool customer. After streaming a video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured just 80 degrees, the space between the G and H keys was 89 degrees, and the middle of the underside was 85 degrees. That's well below 95 degrees, the threshold of what we consider to be too hot.

Ports and Webcam

Arrayed around the sides of the Series 5 14-inch are a healthy helping of ports. In addition to the power port on the left is an Ethernet, two USB 3.0, VGA, HDMI, and a combo headphone and mic jack. The right side has a 4-in-1 card slot, a USB 2.0 port and the tray-loading DVD /RW drive.

The 1.3-MP webcam centered above the display turned in a fairly good performance. During a Google Chat call our skin tone looked accurate, but images on the whole were grainy and lacked detail.

Performance

A 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor and 4GB of RAM inside the Series 5 14-inch provided adequate, but hardly overwhelming power. On PCMark 07, the Series 5 notched a score of 2,042, about 100 points below the category average (2,149), 500 points less than the Toshiba Z835, and 1,600 points less than the ASUS UX31. Still, you'll have no problem performing everyday tasks, such as writing documents, surfing the Web and watching movies.

Part of the reason for the performance gap is that, similar to the Toshiba Z835 and the Acer Aspire S3, the Samsung Series 5 14-inch has a 16GB ExpressCache in addition to its 500GB hard drive, which means it can boot and resume from sleep quickly, but doesn't provide the kind of performance you'd get from an SSD.

It took the Series 5 a long 3 minutes and 57 seconds to duplicate a 4.97GB folder of multimedia. This translates to a rate of 21.5 MBps, less than half the ultraportable average (44 MBps), and a quarter that of the U300s (88 MBps). Even the Toshiba Z835 managed a better 28 MBps.

This was borne out again in our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, where we match 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses. The Series 5 took 7 minutes and 37 seconds to perform this task, which is better than the category average by about 3 minutes, and 4 minutes faster than the Toshiba Z835, but 2 1/2 minutes slower than the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s.

Boot and Wake Times

Samsung claims that the cache inside the Series 5 14-inch and Fast Boot Technology enable the Ultrabook to boot in 20 seconds. In our testing, it took 31 seconds, which is still 20 seconds faster than the ultraportable average, and on a par with the ASUS Zenbook UX31 (29 seconds) and the Toshiba Z835 (26 seconds).

Another requirement of Ultrabooks is that they wake from sleep in 3 seconds or less. We found that the Series 5 14-inch would do so in about 2 seconds, but half the time it took as long as 7 seconds.

Graphics

As with most notebooks with integrated graphics, the Series 5 Ultrabook's Intel HD 3000 GPU was sufficient for playing movies and light gaming, but not much more. Its 3DMark06 score of 3,430 is on a par with the HP Folio 13 (3,425), and about 200 points less than the Toshiba Z835 (3,620).

On our "World of Warcraft" test, the Series 5 14-inch again was pretty much on a par with other Ultrabooks, averaging 27 fps with the settings on autodetect. While that's barely playable, and well below the average (38 fps), it's even with the HP Folio 13 (27 fps) and the ASUS UX31 (26 fps). To be fair, the UX31's display has a much higher resolution of 1600 x 900.

When we increased the settings to max, the Series 5 scraped together an unplayable 12 fps, which is 5 fps below average.

Software

Keeping it light, the Series 5 14-inch has just a few preinstalled apps: A 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security, WildTangent Games, and Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition.

Samsung includes its "Easy"-branded utilities in a colorful and intuitive interface: Easy Settings lets you adjust everything from the ExpressCache to power management to audio presets; Easy Software Manager makes sure that all the notebook's drivers and apps are up to date; and Easy File Share lets you transfer files to other notebooks on your network.

A Software Launcher utility places a small bar at the bottom of the screen, which has links to Customer Support, Utilities, Multimedia, Security and Microsoft Programs. Users can also customize this bar, but considering you can just as easily pin items to the Taskbar, this seems like a waste of space.

Battery Life

Aside from a thin profile, one of the other defining characteristics of Ultrabooks is that they have long battery life. Unfortunately, the Series 5 14-inch comes up a bit short. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the Series 5 lasted 5 hours and 29 minutes. That runtime is enough to get you through a good part of the day, but well short of Ultrabooks such as the HP Folio 13 (7:50), the Z835 (6:48) and the UX31 (5:58). The Series 5 also lasts shorter than the thin-and-light notebook average (6:12).

Configurations

While Samsung doesn't offer any other configurations of its 14-inch Series 5, the company has a 13-inch Series 5, which doesn't include an optical drive. That model retails for $899.

Warranty and Support

The Series 5 comes with a one-year warranty. Click here to see how Samsung fared on our annual Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands report.

Verdict

If you like the idea of having an optical drive built into a highly portable notebook, the Samsung Series 5 14-inch is certainly worth considering. It's one of the lightest 14-inch laptops around, features a sturdy design and comes with a comfy keyboard and touchpad. This Ultrabook also does a good job keeping its cool. However, the display's limited viewing angles give us pause, as does the below-average battery life.

In terms of sheer portability, we prefer the 13-inch Toshiba Portege Z835, which, for the same price as the Series 5 14-inch, can be outfitted with the same processor and a 128GB SSD that offers better performance. While it's not as sleek, the HP Pavilion dm4 offers a Core i5 processor, discrete AMD graphics, a 750GB hard drive, and a fingerprint reader for the same price. The Series 5 14-inch is a well-designed Ultrabook, but it's not the best option for your money.

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Author Bio
Michael A. Prospero
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor
Michael A. Prospero has overseen reviews on Laptopmag.com since 2007, focusing on producing the most thorough and authoritative mobile product reviews. After receiving his Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia in 2003, Mike worked at Fast Company. Prior to that, he worked at The Times of Trenton, George and AlleyCat News.
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2467M
Operating System MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 16GB SSD and 500GB HDD
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive + mSATA SSD
Display Size 14.1
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive DVD SuperMultiDrive
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Intel HD 3000
Video Memory Shared
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Wi-Fi Model
Bluetooth Bluetooth 3.0
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 4 x 2.1 inches
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone/Mic
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 4-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 1 Year Standard Parts and Labor/24-7 tech support
Size 13.1 x 9.0 x 0.82 inches
Weight 4 pounds
Company Website http://www.samsung.com