Though 13-inch Ultrabooks have been getting all the press lately, notebook makers have started making larger laptops that are thin and light enough to carry. The 15.6-inch Samsung Series 7 Chronos is a case in point, weighing just over 5 pounds with a chassis that's less than an inch thick. The notebook's light weight, long battery life and powerful AMD graphics make the Chronos 7 a portable multimedia monster, but does that justify its $1,299 price?
Click to EnlargeLike most of Samsung's premium notebooks, the Series 7 Chronos has an understated gunmetal gray chassis made from brushed aluminum, with all of the sides, the lid, the deck and even the bottom made out of the same material. Even the buttonless touchpad matches the matte gray palmrest. The only splash of color comes from the bright blue status lights above the keyboard, which has dark brown island-style keys.
At 5.1 pounds and measuring 14.3 x 9.3 x 0.9 inches, the Chronos 7 is thinner and lighter than the Dell XPS 15z (15.2 x 10.3 x 0.97 inches, 5.6 pounds) and the HP Envy 15 (14.9 x 9.6 x 1.1 inches, 5.8 pounds). However, the Sony VAIO S (15 x 10.1 x 0.9 inches) is significantly lighter at just 4.4 pounds.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe Chronos 7's backlit-island style keyboard offers a good level of tactile feedback, suffers no flex and throws in a numeric keypad for good measure. However, the deep palmrest forced us to extend our arms further away from our body than we would have liked. Worse, resting our wrists on the cold metal deck was uncomfortable because of the sharp front lip. On the Ten Thumbs Typing test, we got a 3 percent error rate with a speed of just 74 words per minute instead of our average 80 wpm, 1 percent mark.
On the bright side, the Chronos 7 offers five different levels of keyboard backlight brightness. So hunt-and-peck typists will have an easy time finding keys in the dark.
The 4.2 x 3-inch Elan touchpad performed adequately, considering its buttonless design. Unlike many other clickpads, our cursor only occasionally jumped or got stuck in mid-swipe. We were able to perform multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolling and three-finger swipe for forward/back to work with ease, though we could not get rotate to work. The touchpad supports three-finger swipe down for changing windows or up for opening My Computer.
The Chronos 7's 1600 x 900 matte display provided sharp images that were relatively colorful, but didn't pop off the screen like we would have hoped. When streaming 1080p YouTube trailers for "Man on a Ledge" and "The Avengers," colors such as Captain America's blue costume or Thor's red cape were fairly accurate, but not deep. Considering that competitors such as the Dell XPS 15z, HP Envy 15 and Sony VAIO S offer sharper 1920 x 1080 resolution panels, the Chronos 7 really falls short.
Measuring just 167 lux, the Chronos 7's screen seems pretty dim, particularly in comparison to the 243 lux screen on the HP Envy 15 or the super-bright, 300-nit screen on the Dell XPS 15z. Forget about gathering the family around the Chronos 7 for movie night. Even at full brightness, images began washing out at just 45 degrees to the left or right.
Samsung's Easy Settings software allows you to change picture modes from No Effect to Standard, Movie, Soft or Sharp Modes. We found that Movie mode, which turns on by default when you play a video, casts a greenish-yellow pall, making light-colored characters look a little jaundiced. After disabling movie color enhancer and switching to no-effect mode, colors became more accurate, but still seemed flat.
While not as rich as the industry-leading audio on Dell's XPS line, the bottom-mounted speaker and Sound Alive audio software on the Series 7 Chronos provide accurate music playback that's loud enough to fill a large room. When listening to R&B tunes such as "Forget Me Nots" or "Love and Happiness," bass and keyboards were vibrant and true. However, when we listened to the rock tune "Shout at the Devil," the drums and guitar sounded a bit harsh at maximum volume. Putting the SoundAlive software into Music mode instead of Movie or Standard mode made all the clips seem fuller and louder.
The Samsung Chronos 7 stayed pleasantly cool throughout our testing. After streaming a video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured the touchpad at a chilly 74 degrees Fahrenheit, the keyboard at a reasonable 92 degrees and the bottom at an acceptable 95 degrees. We consider temperatures above 95 degrees uncomfortable.
Ports and Webcam
The Chronos 7 has most of the ports you'd want from a system this size. On the right side is a slot-loading DVD burner and a single USB 2.0 port. On the left sit a Kensington lock slot, HDMI-out, an Ethernet port that pops open and closed to save space, two USB 3.0 ports, an audio in/out jack and a mini VGA connector. The front lip has a 4-in-1 card reader.
The 1.3-megapixel HD webcam took sharp and colorful images, but could not compensate for low-light situations. When we took a picture of our face in a shadowy area of our living room, our features were almost completely blacked out. Under a direct light source, however, the image was highly accurate.
Click to EnlargeWith a 2.2-GHz quad-core Core i7-2675QM CPU, AMD Radeon 6750M switchable graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive with an 8GB SSD cache, the Samsung Chronos 7 packs plenty of performance into its svelte frame. Whether we were playing games or watching full HD videos, performance was strong. On PCMark 07, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall system speed, the Chronos 7 scored 2,447, comfortably above the 2,226 mainstream notebook average, far stronger than the Core i5-powered Sony VAIO S (1,875), and on a par with the Core i5-powered HP Envy 15 (2,385).
The 750GB 7,200-rpm Hitachi hard drive, which is paired with an 8GB SSD cache module, booted Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) in a speedy 37 seconds, far less than the 59.6-second category average, the Sony VAIO S's 70-second start time, or the Dell XPS 15z's 67-second boot. The HP Envy 15 comes close with a 44-second start time. However, even with Samsung's ExpressCache utility activated, the Chronos 7 still took more than 5 seconds to wake from sleep.
The hard drive took just 2 minutes and 1 second to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which involves duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files. That's a rate of 42.1 MBps, about 40 percent higher than the 30.8 MBps category average and far faster than the Sony VAIO S's 24 MBps, the HP Envy 15's 25.1 MBPs, or the Dell XPS 15z's 32.2 MBps.
With its speed quad core processor, the Chronos 7 took just 4 minutes and 56 seconds to complete LAPTOP Spreadsheet Macro Test, in which we use OpenOffice calc to match 20,000 names with their addresses. That's far faster than the 6-minute and 39-second category average, the Sony VAIO's time of 5:27 or the HP Envy 15's 6:31 mark.
With its Radeon 6750M graphics chip, the Samsung Chronos 7 is more than powerful enough to play demanding games or full HD videos. On 3DMark06, a benchmark which measures overall graphics prowess, the notebook scored a strong mark of 9,983, more than double the mainstream notebook category average of 4,862 and well ahead of the Radeon HD 6630M-powered Sony VAIO S (6,821), the HP Envy 15 (AMD Radeon HD 7690M; 8,978), and the Dell XPS 15z (7,420), which has a GeForce GT525M GPU.
The Chronos 7's Radeon 6750M chip uses AMD's graphics-switching technology, which allows the system to use its low-power Intel integrated graphics when performing less-demanding tasks and its discrete chip for more-intense applications such as games. Using the bundled Catalyst Control center, we were able to exert fine control over which applications used discrete graphics, but we much prefer Nvidia's Optimus graphics switching technology because the latter already has profiles for most popular programs and uses a tray icon to indicate the current mode.
The Chronos 7 managed a strong frame rate of 68 frames per second in "World of Warcraft," with default settings on and 39 fps with special effects turned up. Those numbers are comfortably above the 60 and 27 fps category averages as well as the 43/28 fps turned in by the HP Envy 15. To be fair, though, the Envy 15 has a higher-resolution display.
When we tried playing the more demanding game "Far Cry 2," the Chronos 7 achieved a 54 fps rate at 1024 x 768 resolution, which dropped to 38 fps at its native 1600 x 900 resolution. Those numbers trump the 49 / 24 fps category averages and the 54 /24 fps offered by the HP Envy 15, but not by much. The Sony VAIO S provided a much higher low-res score of 88 fps, but its native res rate of 25 fps was unplayable.
Click to EnlargeNot only is the Chronos 7 light enough to carry everywhere, but it lasts long enough on a charge to go unplugged for hours at a time. The notebook posted a strong runtime of 6 hours and 23 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That time is significantly longer than the 4-hour and 52-minute mainstream notebook category average, the 5:01 turned in by the HP Envy 15, and the Sony VAIO S's time of 4:29. Just keep in mind that the notebook was in integrated graphics mode during this test.
Software and Warranty
The Samsung Chronos 7 comes with a modest collection of utilities. Samsung EasySettings lets you control everything from the color temperature of the monitor to the power and audio settings. Samsung EasyMigrate allows you to easily copy your important files from your old notebook. Samsung Kies helps you organize your media files. The Software Launcher places a little dock at the bottom of the screen with shortcuts to your favorite apps; we find such docks an unnecessary waste of space in light of Windows 7's customizable taskbar.
Samsung Easy File Share lets you share media files wirelessly between devices. CyberLink YouCam controls the webcam. Samsung Recovery Solution helps you make backups and restore your system in the event of disaster.
Our $1,299.99 configuration of the Series 7 Chronos comes with the Core i7-2675QM CPU, AMD Radeon 6750M graphics, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive and Windows 7 Professional. If you don't need Windows 7 Professional, you can purchase the identical configuration with Windows 7 Home Premium for just $1,149. Samsung sells a $999 configuration with a slightly lesser AMD Radeon 6490M GPU and Windows 7 Home Premium.
The Samsung Chronos 7 has a strong combination of portability and performance, particularly for a 15.6-inch system. Though its quad-core Core i7 CPU and Radeon 6750 GPU help it outperform the $1,249 HP Envy 15, we prefer the Envy for its brighter 1080p screen, better Beats audio and snazzier design. The Sony VAIO S also offers a superior screen and a much lighter chassis. However, if you want high-end quad-core performance in a notebook that's light enough to carry everywhere, the Chronos 7 is a solid choice.