Touch-screen Windows 8 notebooks are going mainstream, and Samsung hopes to tap into the trend with its Series 5 UltraTouch NP540U3C. This sleek 13.3-inch Ultrabook features a powerful Core i5 processor and 32GB of ExpressCache paired with a 500GB hard drive for swift performance. And it's all packaged in a brushed aluminum design that weighs less than 4 pounds. Priced at $849, this ultraportable certainly isn't cheap, but it costs only $84 more than a Windows 7 model without touch. Find out how this machine stacks up.
Click to EnlargeThe 13.3-inch Series 5 UltraTouch is a dead ringer for Samsung's larger 14-inch Series 5 NP530U4B. It features a vertical brushed aluminum lid, which gives way to a thin vertical strip of gray plastic along its top edge. A polished Samsung logo adorns the lid's right side, which adds just a bit of flair. Pop the lid and the same brushed aluminum styling carries over to the Ultra's keyboard deck. However, the bottom of the system is plastic.
Below the 13.3-inch display is a faux speaker grille, to the right of which is the laptop's power button. (The actual speakers are situated on the underside of the system.) The Ultra's keyboard features a matte black coating, while its touchpad gets a gray paint job surrounded by chrome piping, the only real design flourish found under the Ultra's lid.
Click to EnlargeWeighing 3.6 pounds and measuring 12.4 x 8.6 x 0.58 ~ 0.69 inches, the Series 5 UltraTouch is far lighter than the 4.8-pound 14-inch Toshiba Satellite P845t (13.7 x 9.2 x 0.95 ~1.14 inches), as well as the 4.6-pound 14-inch HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 (13.5 x 9.3 x 0.9). To be fair, both of those notebooks have larger 14-inch screens. The 13-inch Sony VAIO T13 Touch is also a heavier 4 pounds.
We have one major complaint about the Series 5 UltraTouch's design. The edges of the system are sharp, which can make typing and even opening and closing the lid uncomfortable. Even swiping in from the sides of the display reminded us that this system could probably slice cheese. This is more of a nitpick, but we also didn't like hearing a mild suction noise whenever lifting the lid, as if the touch screen were stuck to the keyboard.
MORE: Samsung Best and Worst Notebook Brands 2013 Rating
Click to EnlargeThe Series 5 UltraTouch's 13.3-inch 1366 x 768 touch screen offered clear images and accurate color reproduction. While watching a 1080p trailer for "Iron Man 3," Tony Stark's red-and-gold Iron Man armor gleamed in the light of a nearby fireball and contrasted well with the blue-green depths of the sea as the suit sank to the ocean floor in a later scene.
Unfortunately, viewing angles were subpar, causing the image to wash out at modest angles. The Ultra's display registered 223 lux on our brightness meter, just below the 234 lux average.
Overall, we found the Series 5 UltraTouch's screen to be nicely responsive in the Modern UI and while using Windows 8 gestures. The display responded well to everything from swiping in from the left to switching apps to moving around Live Tiles.
Click to EnlargeTwo speakers located on the underside of the Series 5 UltraTouch were more than loud enough to fill a small office. While listening to the Black Keys' "Sinister Kid," the speakers pushed out clean audio, but the sound was slightly flat. When we switched on the included Sound Alive software, however, the track sounded far more robust. The software has several presets that correspond to various musical genres, including rock, pop, and hip-hop. We preferred to keep the presets to default, since it offered the best overall performance.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeTyping on the Series 5 UltraTouch was serviceable but not pleasant. In addition to the sharp front edge of the deck, which could dig into your wrists, the keys felt stiff. There's a good deal of tactile feedback here, but we had to press down harder than we wanted. The lack of a backlight for the layout is another turnoff, especially for a system in this price range.
Although slightly stiff, the Series 5 UltraTouch's discrete mouse buttons were responsive and offered a satisfying click when depressed. The Ultra's smooth touchpad was equally as responsive, making it easy to perform Windows 8 gestures. A few times the touchpad's palm rejection failed to kick in, sending our cursor to the top of the screen.
MORE: Laptop Buying Guide 2013: 8 Essential Tips
Click to EnlargeThe Series 5 UltraTouch comes with Microsoft's Windows 8 OS, which provides users with both the touch-friendly Modern UI and the more traditional Desktop interface. The Modern UI is divided into Windows 8 apps, Samsung apps and downloaded apps.
Swipe in from the right side of the screen to launch the Windows 8 Charms menu, where you can access the operating system's Search and Share features, as well as the Start, Devices and Settings menus. Swipe in from the left to access your running apps or swipe up from the bottom while in the Modern UI to open the Apps menu. Swiping down from the top of the screen with an app open will quickly close it.
Bundled Windows 8 apps for the Series 5 UltraTouch include the operating system's News, Mail, Photos, Calendar, Internet Explorer, Skype, SkyDrive and Bing.
Click to EnlargeFrom Samsung, users get the Nextflix app, StumbleUpon, Evernote, Norton Studio and Samsung's S Player movie player, S Gallery and S Camera webcam app. Samsung aso included its Allshare Play app, which allows users to stream media to compatible DLNA-enabled devices.
Other apps include the popular "Plants vs. Zombies," Music Maker Jam (for making music on your laptop)' and the Samsung Signature Store, which gives users quick access to Samsung products, including tablets, smartphones, speakers, offices printers and more.
MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
After streaming a full-screen Hulu video, the Series 5 UltraTouch's touchpad registered 79 degrees Fahrenheit, while the keyboard reached 90 degrees. The underside of the laptop climbed to a mild 88 degrees. Although those temperatures are below our 95 degree comfort threshold, there were some hot spots. The middle left portion of the underside reached 103 degrees.
Click to EnlargeAlthough it lacks a DVD drive, the Series 5 UltraTouch has pretty much everything most users need when it comes to connectivity options. The right side houses an SD Card slot and two USB 2.0 ports. The left side includes a full-size HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port, a mini VGA port, the power connector, a dual microphone and headphone jack and Ethernet port.
Click to EnlargeThe 1.3-megapixel webcam produced fairly good results in our testing. Photos captured under fluorescent lighting were clear, with only a bit of grain visible. Don't try using the camera in low light, though. Your video will just end up looking like a cut scene from the "Paranormal Activity" movies.
Click to EnlargePowered by a 1.7-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB 5400-rpm hard drive mated to a 24GB ExpressCache SSD, the Series 5 UltraTouch will easily handle your daily tasks. On the PCMark07 benchmark, which tests a system's overall performance, the Series 5 Ultra scored 3,358, just ahead of the category average of 3,214.
This showing is lower than the 4,131 notched by the HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4, despite the fact that system sports practically identical specs. The Toshiba Satellite P845t-S4310, which includes the same Intel Core i5 processor as the Series 5 and HP, but packs 6GB of RAM as opposed to just 4GB, actually scored lower than its two competitors, registering 2,568.
The Series 5 Ultra's 24GB ExpressCache drive helps it boot Windows 8 in just 17 seconds. While that's slower than the HP Envy TouchSmart's 13-second boot time, it's faster than the Toshiba Satellite P845t's 20 seconds.
The Series 5 Ultra fell in the middle of the pack on our LAPTOP File Transfer test, copying 4.97GB of mixed media files in 3 minutes and 1 second at a rate of 28.1 MBps. The Toshiba Satellite P845t got 23 MBps, while the HP Envy TouchSmart delivered a higher 35 MBps.
Click to EnlargeThough you'll have no problem playing casual games like "Cut the Rope" on this Ultrabook, more taxing titles are are pretty much out. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics chip mustered only 22 frames per second on "World of Warcraft" with the settings on auto-detect. The HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 registered 28 fps (also unplayable), while the Toshiba Satellite P845t got a higher 42 fps.
Among the above three systems, the Series 5 UltraTouch pulled down the lowest score on the 3DMark11 graphics test: 545. The HP and Toshiba scored 570 and 634, respectively. The average ultraportable gets 768.
MORE: 5 Ways to Supercharge Your Laptop For Under $100
Click to EnlargePowered by a four-cell lithium polymer battery, the Samsung Series 5 UltraTouch lasted a fairly good 6 hours and 4 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi on 40 percent brightness. That's a bit short of the 6:20 ultraportable average, but much better than the HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4's 5:36 minutes and the Toshiba Satellite P845t's 4:45 minutes.
Configurations and Warranty
Click to EnlargeOur $849 NP540U3C-A01UB included a touch screen, 1.7-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 24GB ExpressCache SSD and Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics chip.
If you need more power, you can opt for the beefier NP540U3C-A01US, which includes 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. If you want the touch-screen experience without the expense, you can pick up the slightly less powerful NP540U3C-A02UB. For $799, you get a 1.8-GHz dual-core Intel Core i3-3217U processor and the same 4GB of RAM, plus a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive and 24GB ExpressCache SSD found in the NP540U3C-A01UB.
Samsung offers users a one-year standard parts and labor warranty. See how Samsung fared in our Best and Worst Brands Report and Tech Support Showdown.
Click to EnlargeThe Samsung Series 5 UltraTouch lives up to its name in some ways, providing an accurate touch screen for navigating Windows 8 along with good overall performance and above-average audio quality. And while the battery life could be better, this notebook's 6 hours of runtime beats competing touch notebooks. Unfortunately, someone at Samsung forgot the sandpaper. The edges on this Ultrabook are simply too sharp, which resulted in some uncomfortable moments. We strongly encourage the company to tweak the design, which is otherwise sturdy and well built. Until then, our rating will stay at a middle-of-the-road 3 stars.