When Samsung entered the netbook market back in 2008, it was clear the company had done its homework. Its first model, the NC10, had a good keyboard and lasted more than 6 hours on a charge--at the time, a category best. Two years later, the category obviously isn't as hot as it once was, but Samsung is still delivering solid systems that meet netbook shoppers' expectations. The NC110 ($289), a descendent of the NC10, gets even better battery life and has a slicker design. Read on to find out how this machine compares to other budget netbooks.
The NC110 comes with two lid color options: black or blue. We tested the black model, which has a glossy (and smudge-prone) lid but a nice matte finish on the inside. The screen bezel has a textured finish that uses a subtle dotted pattern, but we're not keen on the space between the deck and display. The touchpad has a slim chrome trim, which adds a touch of class, and we like the tear-drop shaped hinges; the right one houses the power button.
At 2.6 pounds--a smidge lighter than most netbooks--and measuring 10.4 x 7.4 x 0.97 inches, the NC110 is light and sleek with a small bump for the battery on the bottom. This creates a downward-sloping design that some might find more comfortable for typing.
After playing a video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured 90 degrees Fahrenheit on the NC110's touchpad and 91 in the middle of the underside. The space between the G and H keys was a little hotter than we'd like (96 degrees). The vent area on the left side of the netbook reached 107 degrees--well above our acceptable threshold--but our lap never felt toasty.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Although the keys are a bit small, we like the look of the NC110's island-style layout. We experienced good travel and springy tactile feedback. All of the keys are placed properly, and we didn't notice any flex.
The 3.2 x 1.5-inch touchpad on the NC110 is nice and wide, offering plenty of touch surface for executing multitouch gestures. The single mouse bar underneath was long enough that we were easily able to distinguish left from right without looking. However, the button is quite narrow, and our finger strayed onto the touchpad often.
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Display and Audio
The 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600 resolution display is matte, just like the original NC10. Sadly, the horizontal viewing angles aren't the widest. Two people can watch video side-by-side, but add a third and color distortion begins to creep in. The display only pushes back about 20 degrees past vertical, and at the extreme end the screen gets a bit darker. Otherwise, we noted decent color depth, but images and video didn't pop as much as we'd like. The display is fine when surfing the web or working with documents.
The NC110's speakers are located under the front lip of the system and audio quality is good for a netbook. At 50 percent volume, we were able to fill a small room and hear an episode of House on Hulu over low background noise. We pumped it up to 75 percent while listening to the bridge on Adam Lambert's "Pick U Up" but didn't encounter any distortion. The cello layers in Zoe Keating's "Sun Will Set" were distinguishable, if not as crystal clear as we'd like.
Ports and Webcam
The NC110 offers your standard array of netbook ports: three USB (one chargeable), Ethernet, VGA, headphone, and mic. Unlike most Samsung netbooks and notebooks we've tested, SD cards don't stick out when inserted in the front-facing slot. There's still no spring lock, but this is a welcome improvement.
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The 0.3-MP webcam on the NC110 captured washed out, low-res images. On the plus side, we saw little blur, even when we moved around quickly.
Click to enlargeThe 1.66-GHz single-core Intel Atom N455 processor and 1GB of RAM earned the NC110 a score of 1,288 in PCMark05. This is more than 100 marks below the netbook average as well as comparable netbooks, such as the Toshiba mini NB505 (1,443) and the HP Mini 1103 (1,473). Its Geekbench score of 888 is below the netbook average (915) as well.
In our hands-on time with the NC110, we were able to use three programs at once (Word Starter, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Thunderbird) without experiencing lag. However, as with most single-core netbooks, when we opened Firefox with more than four tabs open, the system struggled, especially with other apps on deck.
The NC110 proved a bit slower than most netbooks in transcoding a 114MB MP4 file to AVI, completing the task in 6 minutes and 10 seconds (the average is 5:46).
The 5,400 rpm, 250GB hard drive completed the LAPTOP File Transfer Test in 3 minutes and 53 seconds for a rate of 21.8MBps, slightly above the 20.4 MBps average, but behind the Mini 1103 (28.6) and the mini NB505 (22.8). Surprisingly, the NC110 booted into Windows 7 Starter Edition in just 54 seconds, more than 10 seconds faster than most netbooks.
The Intel GMA 3150 integrated graphics chip inside the NC110 delivered a score of 154 on 3DMark06, slightly above that of most netbooks in this class. The Mini 1103 scored 149 and the mini NB505 earned 152. Even dual-core Atom systems such as the latest Acer Aspire One D260 fall a few points behind at 149.
Even with these few extra points, the NC110 isn't a graphics powerhouse. Full screen Hulu videos still hitched slightly--as on most netbooks--and the system dropped frames like crazy when we attempted to stream a 720p Vimeo video at full screen. Playing HD video from the hard drive was better.
Battery and Wi-Fi
The NC110 lasted 7 hours and 8 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi), more than half an hour longer than the average netbook. While this should last most users throughout the day, the HP Mini 1103 keeps chugging for almost an hour and a half more (8:27). The Toshiba mini NB505 finished a little bit ahead at 7 hours and 32 minutes.
The Broadcom Wi-Fi radio delivered throughput of 20.6 Mbps 15 feet from the router and 17.4 Mbps 50 feet away. The average netbook has much better throughoput (26.1/18.4 Mbps), as does the mini NB505 (33.2/22.0).
Software and Warranty
Click to enlargeAs with most Samsung netbooks, the NC110 is light on trialware. There's just Norton Internet Security, Norton Online Backup, 2XL Games, and the Oberon Media GamePack. For the webcam, there's CyberLink YouCam and Skype for video calls. For multimedia, Microsoft Silverlight comes pre-loaded, and the SRS Premium Sound Control Panel helps users tweak the audio.
Samsung-branded utilities include Easy Content Share for streaming media to other computers, Easy File Share for sending files to other systems on the same Wi-Fi network, Chargeable USB for enabling or disabling this feature on the left-side port, and Recovery Solution to protect you from losing data in a crash. Like all newer Samsung laptops, the NC110 comes with Fast Start. This utility allows the netbook to wake from sleep in just a few seconds upon opening the lid and puts it into a deep sleep to save battery when you close it.
Samsung covers the NC110 with a one-year parts and labor warranty and 24/7 tech support via e-mail or phone. Compare Samsung's tech support to other companies in our Tech Support Showdown, and don't forget to see how Samsung stacks up in our annual Best & Worst Brands report.
Aside from the black unit (NC110-A01US), this netbook also comes with a blue lid (NC110-A02US), but is otherwise identical.
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The Samsung NC110 (which lists for $329, but can be found online for $289) isn't the fastest or longest-lasting single-core netbook on the block. However, this netbook offers a stylish design, good keyboard and touchpad, glare-free display, and better-than-average speakers. Our biggest beef with this machine is its narrow touchpad buttons.
For about the same price, you can pick up the HP Mini 1103 or Toshiba mini NB505, both of which offer slightly better performance and longer battery life. Still, those who like the Samsung brand won't be disappointed with the NC110.