It's not often that we see notebooks under $800 that can stand up to competition that costs hundreds of dollars more. Samsung's latest big-screen machine, the R780, fills this bill. Available at Best Buy for a low $799, this over-achieving 17-inch system is set on changing the way consumers think of budget notebooks. For that price you get a fast Core i5 processor and a 1GB Nvidia graphics card that can handle the latest games, plus a stylish red-and-black design that looks and feels more expensive than the price tag would suggest. You won't be able to use the R780 long away from an outlet, but overall this notebook is an excellent value.
Editors Note: Around mid-June, Samsung discontinued the sale of the Samsung R780 in the U.S. market, butoverturned the decision shortly thereafter due to customer outcry.The manufacturer has confirmed that, as of July 4, 2010, Best Buy will sell the Samsung R780 via its website (supplies may be limited). According to our Samsung contact, it will not be sold in stores. You can purchase the notebook here at BestBuy.com (opens in new tab).
Boasting Samsung's Touch of Color design, the R780 has an attractive deep red finish that fades to black towards 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. And despite this 6.4-pound system's relatively large footprint (16.2 x 10.7 x 1.6 inches) it doesn't look boxy or heavy. 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.
While using the R780 on a desk we didn't notice excessive heat. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we recorded temperatures of 93 degrees on the touchpad, 98 degrees at the center of the keyboard, and 100 degrees on the underside. The back left area by the vent reached up to 122 degrees, which is troubling, but chances are you won't be using this system in your lap much.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The island style keys on the R780 are well sized and spaced, offering springy return and good travel. Users who rely on keyboard shortcuts will appreciate that the keys on the edges are properly placed. The slight roughness helped keep our fingernails from sliding into the spaces between keys.
Though the roomy 3.5 x 1.8-inch touchpad has the same wave pattern as the rest of the deck, a slight roughness demarcates it from the smooth, glossy wrist rest. Four small, blue lights mark the touchpad's corners and only light up when it's in use. Pinch and zoom gestures worked well, but rotation required some work to get right. Our biggest issue with the touchpad is that it's not centered underneath the G and H keys like most other laptops, though we got used to its positioning quickly.
Underneath the touchpad sits a long, glossy single mouse bar. We prefer two distinct mouse buttons, and the bar is narrow enough that some 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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Video and Audio
The R780's gorgeous 17.3-inch LED 1600 x 900-pixel display is the perfect showcase for everything from Windows 7's Aero Glass effects to HD video. The glossy screen delivered bright colors and deep blacks, and features wide vertical and horizontal viewing angles. The glossiness meant we saw our reflection during some dark scenes, but it wasn't too distracting. We enjoyed a wide range of video, from a standard definition recap of Damages on Hulu to a 1080p trailer for The Discoverers. Both languid and fast motion rendered well, and transitions from dark to light betrayed no errant pixilation.
The deceptively small speakers on the R780 surprised us with audio quality 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 were happy to hear a full range of sound, including the distinct bass line from Superchick's "One Girl Revolution (Battle Mix)", which we usually misson notebooks.
Ports and Webcam
Ports are in abundance on the R780. On the left is power, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, a chargeable USB, an eSATA/USB combo port, Expresscard 3/4, headphone and mic. On the right are two more USB ports and a dual-layer DVDRW 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 Samsung netbooks, the card sticks out about a half an inch from the chassis and doesn't secure with a spring lock.
Samsung includes CyberLink's YouCam software for its 1.3MP 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 R780's 2.26-GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM earned this notebook a PCMark Vantage score of 5,933, more than 1,000 marks above the desktop replacement category average of 4,851. This outstrips the more expensive, Core i3-powered Toshiba Satellite P505-S8010 (4,997), the Gateway NV7901u with a Core i5 CPU (5,814), and even the Acer Aspire 8940G (5,834) with Core i7 inside. No doubt the 1GB Nvidia graphics card helped.
The 500GB, 5400-rpm hard drive completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test in 3 minutes and 18 seconds, for a rate of 25.7MBps. This is about 5MBps lower than the category average (30.8) but faster than the Satellite P505 (22.8), Gateway NV7901u (21.0), and Aspire 8940G (21.8). Boot time was accordingly speedy -- 55 seconds -- and 10 seconds below the 65 second average.
While writing this review in Microsoft Works we listened to a streaming podcast of WNYC's Radio Lab with more than 8 tabs open in Google Chrome, including a Flash game on Facebook, and CyberLink YouCam running in the background. We noticed no lag or sluggishness.
Users looking to do some video editing will find the R780 a good choice. It took the notebook just 1 minute and 1 second to transcode a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI with Oxelon Media Encoder. Speedier than the category average (1:10), the Aspire 5740G (1:11), and the Satellite P505 (1:12), this Samsung was only bested by the Gateway NV7901u's score of 55 seconds.
Graphics Performance and Gaming
NVIDIA's GeForce GT 330M discrete graphics card drove the R780 to a 7,069 3DMark06 score, just below the desktop replacement notebook average of 7,143. This isn't bad when you consider the category includes several high-end gaming systems. The more expensive Gateway NV7901u (7,418) and Aspire 5740G (7,166) outscored the R780, but not by much.
The R780's Far Cry 2 frame rates of 66 fps (1024 x 768 autodetect) and 24 fps (1600 x 900 maximum) aren't blazing, but definitely playable and close to (but below) the category averages of 70 and 31 frames per second. These scores are also nearly identical to those of the Gateway NV7901u (73 and 30 fps, respectively). Game play on World of Warcraft was even better, with the R780 notching a speedy 240 fps at autodetect resolution-- well above the Gateway and Acer (211 and 178 fps, respectively) and a respectable 54 fps at the max resolution.
For qualitative testing we fired up Batman: Arkham Asylum to see how well the R780 handled the rich graphics this game offers at full resolution. We weren't disappointed: smooth game play, richly detailed environments, and awesome depth of color. Not only could we see the stippling on Batman's chest plate but also the different shades of green in the Joker's hair. Fraps measured the average frame rate at 25 fps (1600 x 900) while we played, which isn't stellar compared to something like the Alienware M15x. Then again, that system costs three times as much.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The 802.11b/g/n radio from Realtek inside the R780 achieved throughput of 47.4 Mbps 15 feet from the router and 22.1 Mbps at 50 feet. It falls behind both the Gateway NV7901u (50.4/24.8) and the Aspire 5740G (50.3/30.3), but will give users enough strength to stream video and music easily at a distance.
The only major disappointment is the R780's endurance; its 6-cell battery lasting only 2 hours and 11 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. Desktop replacements don't generally last long (the average is only 2:28) and the Samsung's score is above the Satellite P505 (1:54). However, the Gateway NV7901u managed a full 3 hours. You're not likely to spend too much time away from an outlet with a system this size, but we'd like a bit more longevity.
Click to enlargeThe R780 took 2 hours and 5 minutes to fully recharge, and used an average of 56.2 watts during that time. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency rating of 53.6 is better than the 79.0 category average. EPEAT rates the system as Gold with 21 points.
Software and Warranty
There isn't much software loaded on the R780 beyond the company's branded apps and utilities. Samsung's 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 up to date.
Users also get the Microsoft Works office suite, CyberLink's DVD Suite, the aforementioned YouCam, and the AnyPC client for remote PC access. The minimal trialware includes McAfee Security Center and Microsoft Office Professional 2007.
Samsung covers the R780 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.
Samsung hits all the right spots with the R780. This 17-inch machine has great graphics muscle for a low price while delivering luxury laptop looks. At the list price of $929 it's a decent choice, but for the Best Buy price of $799 the R780 is a steal. While the $849 Gateway NV7901u edges out this system in some areas--particularly battery life--it doesn't match the R780's superior design. Budget-conscious consumers looking for the best big-screen laptop should snatch up this notebook.