The Samsung Q310-34P is a good thin-and-light notebook for work and play that doesn't skimp on battery life. It also offers good looks without being over the top. But while system offers solid performance, is it worth $1,299?
The glossy black lid of the Samsung Q310-34P doesn't look radically different from other thin-and-light notebooks. Once you open the system, however, your eyes will be drawn to the subtle but sophisticated Touch of Color design on the deck borrowed from Samsung's TVs: the polished black design has red gradation highlights as you move from the bottom of the keyboard to the front of the notebook.
The Q310-34P measures 12.7 x 9.5 x 1.1 inches and weighs 4.8 pounds, making it the same weight as theHP Pavilion dv3510nrwe recently reviewed, although it's noticeably thinner. On the right side of the system you'll find a USB port, an 8X optical drive, ExpressCard/34 slot, headphone and microphone jacks, and a blocked modem port; on the left are VGA and HDMI ports.
Click to enlargeThe front houses a 7-in-1 memory card reader, while the rear contains an Ethernet jack and two stacked USB ports that may prove troublesome when attempting to plug in multiple devices at once. The base of the machine has easy-access mini-PCI and RAM panels and a very handy button that gives you an at-a-glance percentage reading of the the notebook's battery life without needing to power on the system.
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The keyboard is good, without too much flex, but the touchpad is a bit on the small side and features mushy mouse buttons that lacked a satisfying click. It should be noted that the keyboard has a silver nano antibacterial coating designed to keep cooties at bay.
Display and Audio
The 1280 x 800-pixel screen looked good while we were watching a DVD of There Will Be Blood. Despite the glossy display, the visuals weren't impaired by distracting reflections, and we enjoyed wide viewing angles. Surprisingly, the audio was good for a non-multimedia machine; sounds were crisp and music didn't sound as tinny as on other systems. The integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam served up solid images that suffered from muted colors with only a minimum of blurring when we made Skype video calls. The Q310-34P's display was on a par with theLenovo ThinkPad SL300(another 13.3-inch, 1280 x 800 notebook), but its audio was a hair better.
Click to enlargeSnappy Performance
The Q310-34P was able to overcome the sluggishness that plague some Vista machines, courtesy of a speedy 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor and 3GB of RAM that booted Vista in a remarkably quick 48 seconds. Windows and menus opened swiftly, and we didn't have to endure the swirling Vista loading icon very much. The smooth performance was captured on our PCMark Vantage test where the Q310-34P managed a 3,370 score, which is on a par with the HP Pavillion dv3510nr (3,480), more than 2,000 points higher than the SL300 (2,176), and more than 500 points better than your typical thin-and-light notebook.
The 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive packs enough room for tons of photo, music, and video files. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, it notched a speed of 17.3 MBps, which is a bit better than the 16.3 MBps category average.
Samsung's decision to use Intel's GMX4500 integrated GPU may help keep costs down, but it comes with the trade-off of weak graphics muscle. When we fired up F.E.A.R., the game chugged along at 17 frames per second at 800 x 600-pixel resolution, which dipped to a poky 8 frames per second at 1200 x 800-pixel resolution. The poor performance translated into a 3DMark03 score of 2,090 and 3DMark06 score of 823--both scores are well below average, but not surprising.
Wi-Fi Performance and Battery Life
The integrated 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi radio pushed data along at a rate of 20.0 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 16.6 Mbps at 50 feet; both are on a par with other thin-and-light notebooks. We could stream episodes of Ghost Train from Hulu.com without any hiccups, and content-heavy sites such as ESPN.com loaded in just over 12 seconds.
If you want good endurance, the Q310-34P delivers. Its six-cell battery lasted 4 hours and 41 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test--34 minutes longer than the category average and exactly 1 hour longer than the HP Pavilion dv3510nr. However, the Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 notched 8:52 with a nine-cell battery, and that system costs less than a grand. Samsung also offers a nine-cell battery for the Q310 for a steep $229; we will update this review after we've tested the notebook with this battery.
Click to enlargeBundled Software
Besides the Windows Vista Business operating system (Samsung opted for this version of Vista in order to satisfy both business and mainstream customers, as Business contains all of the features of Home Premium), the Q310-34P comes preinstalled with Adobe Acrobat Reader, LightScribe, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Professional 2007, and a slew of Samsung's homegrown utilities. These include Easy Battery Manager, Easy Display Manager, Easy Network Manager, and MagicDoctor (a program that diagnoses various aspects components of a notebook and offers solutions to potential problems). Samsung backs the notebook with a one-year standard warranty and 24/7 tech support.
The Samsung Q310-34P is one of the better-designed 13-inch notebooks we've tested, and it offers good performance. However, the business-oriented $949 Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 offers nearly double the endurance of the Q310-34P (without charging an arm and a leg for an extra-capacity battery) and the $200 cheaper HP Pavilion dv3510nr features an extra gig of RAM, discrete Nvidia graphics, and a backlit keyboard (although it lasts an hour less on a charge). If good looks and an excellent Vista experience is what you want, the Q310-34P is a tempting option, but other 13-inch notebooks offer better bang for your buck.