Samsung's N210 continues the company's tradition of creating solid netbooks with good keyboards, excellent displays, and above average audio. What makes this $379 system stand out is its distinctive, scratch-resistant finish and an instant-on feature with a cool widget-based interface. However, the competition from Acer and ASUS is heating up, with both manufacturers offering long-lasting netbooks under $300. We mostly like this machine, but is it worth the relatively high price tag?
The 2.8-pound N210 has a similar design to previous N series netbooks but with some welcome aesthetic flourishes. A textured pattern of small rectangles with rounded edges embedded in the pearl white lid (also available in black) is covered by a clear shell. This multi-layered treatment adds a sense of depth while warding off scratches. We're also pleased that the N210 eschews fingerprint smudges both on the lid and the matte deck under it.
The transparent shell also creates a border around the bezel, and viewed from the side, echoes the shape of the chrome strip that borders the keyboard deck. Unfortunately, the power button is still a slide-switch on the front lip of the system; we prefer an easier-to-find button. In addition, SD cards still stick out a half an inch when inserted into the slot on the front edge.
One unwelcome change from previous Samsung netbooks is that the N210 gets noticeably warm. We measured temperatures between the G&H keys and the middle of the underside at 101 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. We measured even hotter temperatures by the front edge (110) and the vent (110). However, the touchpad stayed an acceptable 91 degrees.
Keyboard and Touchpad
In a departure from most earlier N series netbooks, the N210 has an island-style keyboard that stretches from edge to edge on the deck, with ample space between the keys. Though the style is different, the N210 delivered a good typing experience, offering springy tactile feedback. We were able to reach our normal typing rate right away. However, we noticed that keystrokes didn't register every now and then, resulting in strange typos or a failure to execute commands on the first try.
The 2.5 x 1.6-inch touchpad is fairly large and allowed for smooth navigation of the desktop. Almost too smooth; the cursor moved a little bit too fast. Our biggest issue with this netbook is the small and narrow mouse bar. There's a line to delineate the left and right sides, but it feels fairly cramped compared to other netbooks we've tested recently. We opted to use an external mouse after a few hours of use.
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Display and Audio
The N210's 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600 LED-backlit matte display offered bright colors and deep blacks despite the lack of a glossy finish. In fact, we were able to use the N210 comfortably in direct sunlight.
Vertical viewing angles were very good, as we were able to push the display all the way back--about 50 degrees from vertical--and not encounter color distortion. Horizontal viewing angles are a bit narrow, but two people will be able to share the screen with no problem.
Samsung made audio quality a priority in their N140, and the N210 follows in that system's footsteps, pumping better than average sound from the small speakers tucked under the front lid of the netbook. At 60 percent volume the speakers were able to fill a medium-sized room while playing "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z. Even at 100 percent we didn't notice any distortion.
Ports and Webcam
As with the N140, the N210 includes one chargeable USB 2.0 port on the left side. Otherwise, the port spread is typical for a netbook. On the left: the aforementioned chargeable USB 2.0, Ethernet, headphone, mic; on the right: VGA, 2 USB 2.0, Kensington lock slot; on the front: power switch, 3-in-1 media card reader.
The 0.3MP webcam delivered images with decent color and backlight balance. At this quality we weren't surprised when our Skype friend noted that our image blurred each time we moved while chatting, even if it was slight. Samsung bundled CyberLink YouCam with the N210 for adding effects to stills and video capture, plus one-touch uploads to YouTube.
Click to enlargeOne extra we were happy to see was the HyperSpace instant-on OS. Users can choose the default OS at boot--HyperSpace (by pressing F6) or Windows 7 Starter--and whether to turn on the operating system selector screen at startup. Once HyperSpace loads, you're presented with a tabbed interface that includes the weather, Gmail, News, Twitter and other popular applications. A status bar at the top lets you view your battery life, audio volume, wireless network, and other status indicators, as well as a Google search box. You can also customize the interface with a few different apps.
Unfortunately, HyperSpace isn't as instant-on as we'd like. After turning the machine on, it took 8 seconds for the OS selector screen to appear; after that, it took 36 seconds to fully boot into HyperSpace, and another 13 seconds to launch the browser to Google's home page. All told, that's nearly a minute, about as long as it takes a typical netbook to boot into Windows 7 Starter. One nice feature, though, is that you can switch from Windows 7 Starter back into HyperSpace in about 15 seconds.
The 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450 CPU and 1GB of RAM delivered a score of 1,362 on PCMark05, about 100 marks below the category average. This score is close to the HP Mini 210 (1,365) but still trails the Toshiba mini NB305-N410 (1,383) and ASUS Eee PC 1001P (1,384) a bit. The Geekbench score of 925 is not only well above the netbook average (854) but the same score as the category-leading mini NB305.
We experienced snappy performance when we had 3 or 4 programs open, but the N210 struggled once we got up to 6 or 7 at one time. While writing this review in WordPad, we also ran Google Chrome with up to 4 tabs, Internet Explorer, Notepad, as well as Windows Media Player and encountered few problems. Once we upped the number of tabs in Chrome we noticed more lag.
The 250GB, 5,400 rpm hard drive completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test in 3 minutes and 44 seconds, for a speed of 22.7 MBps. This score is once again well above the average netbook (16.1) but also ahead of much of the N210's competition, including the Eee PC 1001P (17.5), mini NB305 (20.6), and HP Mini 210 (17.3). The business-class HP Mini 5102 only beats it by 3 MBps (25.7).
Given this speed, we were surprised that it took the netbook 1 minute and 22 seconds to boot into Windows 7 Starter, but suspect that trialware loading at startup is the culprit more than the hard drive itself. The average is just 59 seconds.
With Intel's integrated GMA 3150 graphics driving the N210, its 3DMark06 score of 153 isn't surprising. The category average is 222, but that figure includes systems with Nvidia Ion graphics. When compared to other GMA 3150 (Pine Trail) netbooks, the N210 is average.
We were able to stream a standard definition episode of The Colbert Report but at full screen the clip hitched, even after buffering. Casual gamers will appreciate that gameplay on one of the included Shockwave titles--Dairy Dash--was surprisingly smooth and fast. However, when playing a Facebook game (Pet Society) our virtual creature moved sluggishly.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Samsung is slowly regaining the ground it lost in the battery life category with the N210. The netbook lasted 6 hours and 59 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, 45 minutes above the 6-cell average. While it lags way behind category leaders such as the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P (10:36), HP Mini 5102 (10:08) and the Toshiba mini NB305 (8:37), the N210 comes out ahead of the HP Mini 210 (6:37) and the Sony VAIO W (6:42). Seven hours will get most users through the day with moderate-to-frequent use.
At 15 feet from the router, the N210 achieved throughput of 21.1 Mbps, a smidge above the 21.1 average. Too bad the data rate dropped to just 10.5 at 50 feet, which is well below the 17.4 average and every other netbook we've tested this year. In other words, stay close to the router if you're going to stream music or video.
Click to enlargeIt took the N210 just 2 hours and 12 minutes to fully charge the 6-cell battery, averaging 31.1 watts for a LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 9.8. This is well below the average netbook (17.1) and one of the most efficient of Pine Trail machines we've seen so far, bested only by the Eee PC 1005PE-P (9.3) and the Eee PC 1001P (8.2). The N210 has an EPEAT Gold rating, earning 21 of 27 points.
Software and Warranty
Samsung pre-loaded its usual suite of branded utilities and programs with the N210, including Recovery Solution 4, Easy Display Manager, Easy Network Manager, and Update Plus to keep each program up to date. There's also the AnyPC client for remote access, CyberLink YouCam, and Microsoft Works. Trialware includes 60 days of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 Edition, McAfee SecurityCenter, and several Flash games.
Samsung covers the N210 with a one-year parts and labor warranty with 24/7 toll-free phone support. Click here to see how the company fared in our Tech Support Showdown.
The Samsung N210 offers solid overall performance, close to 7 hours of battery life, and an attractive design. We also like the matte screen and loud speakers. However, this machine faces stiff competition from the ASUS Eee PC 1001P, which costs $80 less and lasts nearly 90 minutes longer on a charge. And the $399 Toshiba mini NB305 offers a better touchpad/mouse button combo and longer endurance for not much more money. The N210 is good, but it's not the best.