Samsung has recently stepped up its design game with a line of laptops whose facades impress as much as their powerful guts. The 15.6-inch, $949 Samsung R580 (available at Best Buy for just $829) sports an eye-catching style and the same powerful Core i5 processor as the larger R780. This model brings more than just a trimmed down size; a Blu-ray drive lets users play the latest movies in high definition. However, the display doesn't support 1080p, and we don't imagine many buyers plugging this laptop into a big-screen TV. So if Blu-ray is just a bonus, is this multimedia machine really a good deal?
Boasting Samsung's Touch of Color design, the R580 has an attractive deep red finish that fades to black toward the edges on the lid. On the inside, the front edge is red, but the back half is mostly black. The chassis picked up some fingerprints, but that was mitigated somewhat by the swirling Crystal Wave pattern.
The glossiness doesn't extend to the display's half-inch bezel, and the island-style keys themselves are matte with a slight hint of friction. A set of small speakers grace the top of the deck, and the power button sits to the right. Another nice touch: four small glowing LEDs surround the touchpad.
Weighing in at 5.6 pounds, the R580 isn't as light as the HP G62t (5.4 pounds) but it's lighter than other 15.6-inch notebooks, including the Toshiba Satellite L505. The system gives an impression of svelteness even though The 1.2-inch profile of this laptop makes it thinner than the HP G62t (1.4 inches) and Gateway NV5934u (1.5 inches).
After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we recorded temperatures of 85 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 86 degrees at the center of the keyboard, and just 87 degrees on the underside in the middle, all of which are acceptable. However, the back left area by the vent reached up to 107 degrees, which caused us discomfort when the notebook was in our lap. Before an hour was up we set the R580 on our ChillCase cooler to relieve us from the uncomfortable heat.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The R580's keyboard is the same size as the one on the larger R780, though the number pad has slightly smaller, narrower keys. The island-style keys are well sized and spaced, offering springy returns and good travel. Users who rely on keyboard shortcuts will appreciate that the keys on the edges are properly placed. The slightly rough texture helped keep our fingernails from sliding into the spaces between them.
Though the 3 x 1.8-inch touchpad has the same wave pattern as the rest of the deck, its matte surface demarcates it from the smooth, glossy wrist rest. Four small blue lights mark the touchpad's corners and only glow when it's in use. We wish that Samsung had given this notebook the same width as the touchpad found on the R780 (3.5 inches); there's plenty of room on the deck. Multitouch functionality was a little finicky, and sometimes the touchpad interpreted regular movement for scrolling. Pinch and zoom gestures worked well, though rotation required some work to get right.
Underneath the touchpad sits a glossy single mouse bar. We prefer two distinct buttons, and the bar is narrow enough that those who use one hand instead of two will have to adjust the way they work. The good news is that there's enough space between the bar and the touchpad that our finger didn't accidentally stray onto the latter.
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Display and Audio
The R580's beautiful 15.6-inch LED 1366 x 768-pixel display delivered bright colors and deep blacks. It also features wide horizontal viewing angles. However, the glossiness of the panel made vertical viewing angles fairly narrow. We enjoyed a wide range of video, from a standard definition episode of the BBC's Jekyll to a 1080p trailer for The Discoverers. Fast action scenes rendered well, and transitions from dark to light betrayed no errant pixelation.
However, Blu-ray playback was disappointing. For example, when watching a Blu-ray of The Manchurian Candidate we enjoyed smooth playback, but the image quality appeared slightly grainy. It just wasn't as crisp as we'd expect.
The deceptively small speakers on the R580 surprised us with sound that was as deep as it was loud. At 50 percent volume we were able to hear John Barrowman's earnest tenor and the backing strings on "All Out Of Love" over a high-speed fan. We pumped it up to 75 percent for Linda Eder's rendition of "Man of La Mancha" and didn't hear any distortion, even when the diva starts in on the whistle tones at the bridge. We even heard the distinct bass line from Superchick's "One Girl Revolution (Battle Mix)", which we usually miss on notebooks.
Ports and Webcam
Ports are in abundance on the R580. On the left is power, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, a chargeable USB, an eSATA/USB combo port, ExpressCard/34, headphone and mic. On the right are two more USB ports and the Blu-ray drive. Most of the ports are arranged and spaced well, though we wish the two USB ports on the right weren't stacked on top of each other. A 3-in-1 media card slot sits on the front left of the system. Unfortunately, as with all Samsung netbooks, the card sticks out about a half an inch from the chassis and doesn't secure with a spring lock.
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Samsung includes CyberLink's YouCam software for its 1.3-megapixel webcam. Users can add emoticons, backgrounds, frames, and more to snapshots and videos and upload video to YouTube right from the app. Unfortunately, the webcam captured muddy images that were only slightly improved by adjusting brightness, contrast, and other advanced settings. When chatting with a friend on Skype, they were able to see us in medium light situations but noted the color of our skin and shirt were off. They also reported a slight blur whenever we moved.
Click to enlargeThe Samsung R580 has the same CPU and RAM as its larger counterpart, the R780. The 2.26-GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM earned this notebook a PCMark Vantage score of 5,804, almost 2,000 marks above the mainstream category average. This outstrips the more expensive Core i3-powered Sony VAIO E Series (5,449), and Core i5 systems such as the Toshiba Satellite E205 (5,396) and the Dell Studio 15z (5,122). Though the R580 couldn't quite match the R780 (5,933) or the Acer Aspire 5740G (5,834), both of which feature 1GB graphics cards, it definitely makes a good showing.
The 5,400-rpm, 500GB hard drive completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test in 3 minutes and 14 seconds, for a rate of 26.2 MBps. This score is just ahead of the R780 (25.7 MBps) and higher than the mainstream average (21.8 MBps). It also beats the Sony VAIO E Series (21.7 MBps) and Toshiba Satellite E205 (21 MBps), though the Dell Studio 15z bests it with a speed of 28 MBps. Boot times were speedy as well: 51 seconds, which is 9 seconds below the category average.
While writing this review in OpenOffice Writer, we taxed the system by listening to a streaming podcast of WNYC's Radio Lab with more than 8 tabs open in Firefox, including the Flash-based Pet Society on Facebook, and both a Blu-ray movie and CyberLink YouCam running in the background. Even with all this the R580 zoomed along, only slowing when we played a clip on Hulu on top of all this.
It took the notebook just 55 seconds to transcode a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI with Oxelon Media Encoder. That's speedier than the category average (1:08), the R780 (1:01), and the Aspire 5740G (1:11).
Graphics Performance and Gaming
The R580's Nvidia GeForce GT 310M discrete graphics card with 512MB of memory delivered a drastically lower score than the R780's more powerful 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 330M. Though the R580 earned just 3,889 in 3DMark06--more than 3,000 points below the R780 (7,069)--the score is comfortably above the mainstream notebook average (3,360). The Aspire 5740G (Radeon HD 5650, 1GB of memory) earned 7,166, and the Sony VAIO E (ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470, 512MB) scored 4,112.
To test Nvidia's CUDA platform, we transcoded a 5:05 clip from MPEG-4 to AVI using vReveal (an application designed to use graphics hardware acceleration) in just 2 minutes and 11 seconds, more than a minute faster than the 3:24 average.
The R580's Far Cry 2 frame rates of 46 fps (1024 x 768) and 15 fps (1366 x 768) aren't blazing, but definitely playable and above or close to the category averages of 32 and 17 fps. The notebook was on a par with the VAIO E (47 and 18 fps) but came in behind the Aspire 5740G (72 and 35 fps). World of Warcraft was even better, with the R580 notching a speedy 137 fps at autodetect resolution and a playable 33 fps at the max resolution. This is much better than the category average (48 and 22 fps) and the VAIO E (60 and 25 fps), though the Samsung machine lagged behind the Aspire 5740G (178 and 64 fps).
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Running the LAPTOP Battery Test, the R580 lasted 3 hours and 22 minutes, almost 20 minutes shy of the average (3:40). However, it beats both the Aspire 5740G and the VAIO E (2:48 and 2:44), both of which pack Core i5 power.
The 802.11b/g/n Atheros Wi-Fi radio inside the R580 achieved throughput of 37.5 Mbps 15 feet from the router and 27.2 Mbps at 50 feet. Though this is slightly better than the Toshiba Satellite E205 (36.2/20.5 Mbps), it's not as strong as the Acer Aspire 5740G (50.3/30.3 Mbps) or the Sony VAIO E (45.1/32.8 Mbps).
Click to enlargeThe R580 took 2 hours and 5 minutes to fully recharge, and used an average of 40.7 watts during that time. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency rating of 25.2 is better than the 36.8 category average. EPEAT rates the system as Gold with 21 points (out of 27).
There are no other configurations of the R580 available in the U.S. at this time.
Software and Warranty
Best Buy includes its Software Installer on the R580 to guide novice users through adding the programs they find useful. Apps (both free and paid) are divided into 11 categories such as Gaming, Family, 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 suite of branded apps and utilities. The Chargeable USB utility 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 (definitely useful on this model); Samsung Update Plus automatically keeps all these apps current.
Users also get the Microsoft Works office suite, CyberLink's Blu-ray Disk Suite, the aforementioned YouCam, and the AnyPC client for remote PC access. The minimal trialware includes McAfee Security Center and Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007.
Samsung covers the R580 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.
Samsung hits many of the right spots with the R580. This notebook doesn't quite have the graphics muscle of its larger sibling, but it does manage to balance power and portability. The inclusion of a Blu-ray drive kicks the price up to $829 at Best Buy--$30 more than the R780. Given its quality and the fact that the R580's screen is less than full HD, we'd prefer a traditional DVD drive and a lower price instead. You'll get better value and the same great design with the R780, but if a 17.3-inch screen is more than you need, the 15.6-inch Acer Aspire 5740G meets or beats the R580 in most performance tests and costs almost $100 less due to its lack of Blu-ray. Still, the Samsung R580 is a good pick if you're looking for a notebook that's stylish, powerful, and fairly mobile.