Ivory and brown? Yes, and it works. The $629 Samsung SF510--a Best Buy exclusive--is a budget-friendly laptop with plenty of flair. Armed with an Intel Core i3 CPU, this 15-inch notebook is an excellent choice for consumers looking for something powerful enough for everyday computing in a curvy design that is anything but ho-hum.
Not many ivory notebooks come through our labs, but the SF510 wears the color well. Although the lid is glossy, it looks pretty elegant and it doesn't pick up fingerprints. The sides and bottom are also ivory, but they have a matte finish. Wavy chrome accents line the right and left edges of the SF510, lending a bit of an edge to the machine when closed.
Open this laptop up and you'll see that the raised edges of the wave create a shallow well for the keyboard on the chocolate-covered deck. We like that the deck is minimal--just a few silver buttons above the keyboard for controlling volume and Wi-Fi on the left and the power button on the right.
The 13.7 x 9.7 x 1.1-inch chassis is svelte for a 15-inch notebook. At 5.4 pounds, the SF510 is a little too heavy to carry around often, but it's easy to shuttle from room to room.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The SF510 features an island-style keyboard that's spacious and flex-free. Although the key feel wasn't the best we've experienced, we were able to get to our normal typing speed right away. The only real trade-off for having a full keypad on the right side of the layout is a slightly shrunken right Shift key.
The generous 3.8 x 2.4-inch clickpad on the SF510 took some getting used to. It's not as finicky or difficult to use as HP's clickpads from last year, but it's not as effortless to use as those found on Apple's MacBooks. The left and right mouse button require a fair amount of precision, and you'll have to be more mindful of your finger placement to avoid clicks that don't register.
Despite these drawbacks, multitouch gestures were easy to execute, and cursor control was nice and smooth.
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Display, Audio, Multimedia
The glossy 15.6-inch, LED-backlit display's 1366 x 768 resolution is expected in this price range. Overall, colors were bright, blacks deep, and pixels smooth in HD content, making for an enjoyable experience when watching videos or working in Word. We just wish we didn't have to tilt the lid back to keep the image from washing out.
Thanks to SRS Premium Sound, the SF510 produces excellent audio. The speakers at the top of the deck pumped volume enough to fill a large living room at just 50 percent. We appreciated the decent bass when listening to "Telephone" by Lady Gaga, and the SF510 even captured the cello's resonance in tracks from Zoe Keating's "Into the Trees."
Streaming media is in this notebook's DNA, as the SF510 includes a couple of easy ways to play or send content to other devices. The DNLA-backed Easy Content Share utility makes it simple to set up file sharing and media streaming between devices--including Galaxy S phones. Intel's Wireless Display is also built in, which allows users to stream content from the notebook to an HDTV. However, you'll need to buy Netgear's Push2TV adapter ($79) to enjoy this feature.
Ports and Webcam
Click to enlargeThe SF510 has a standard port spread for a budget system. One of the three USB ports has Samsung's Chargeable USB feature enabled, which allows users to juice up devices when the notebook is off or sleeping. We appreciate that Samsung has finally designed its memory card slots so that SD cards don't stick out as much. They're still not completely flush with the system, since the slot doesn't include a spring lock, but at least they no longer get in the way.
Aside from these ports, the SF510 includes Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, headphone and mic ports, plus a DVD drive along the left and right edges.
The webcam didn't impress. It captured dark images with little vibrancy. There doesn't appear to be any backlight correction, either, as the option was greyed out under Advanced Settings. On the plus side, our Skype call wasn't too blurry, even when we moved fast within the frame.
Owing to the 2.4-GHz Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM, the SF510 is a solid performer. It's not going to be your go-to laptop for gaming or heavy-duty content creation, but it was powerful enough to handle upwards of 15 tabs in Firefox. On PCMark Vantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the notebook notched a strong score of 5,563, comfortably above the mainstream notebook category average of 4,756 and ahead of the HP G62t (5,306) and the Toshiba Satellite A505 (4,793).
The 500GB hard drive completed the LAPTOP File Transfer test in 3 minutes and 23 seconds for a rate of 25.1MBps. This is only a hair above the average (24.3), somewhat better than the Satellite A505 (22.1), but not surprisingly slower than the HP G62t's 7,200 rpm drive (31.8). Despite these middle-of-the-road results, the SF510 booted into Windows 7 Home Premium in just 45 seconds, well ahead of most mainstream notebooks which average 64 seconds.
The SF510 also proved speedy in the transcoding department, taking just 1 minute and 3 seconds to convert a 114MB MPEG-4 video to AVI format using Oxelon Media Converter. Both the G62t and the Satellite A505 took a few seconds longer (1:07 and 1:05, respectively) in Oxelon.
Intel's last-generation integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics are good enough to watch HD video and play casual games, but not much else. In 3DMark06, the SF510 earned 1,398 marks--well below the mainstream average of 3,568. Note that this notebook category contains a range of models with discrete graphics. Both the G62t and the Satellite A505 have integrated graphics, and the SF510's score is on a par with the HP (1,377) but lags a little behind the Toshiba (1,745).
Flash-based casual games played well, but moving beyond that was too much for the SF510. When playing World of Warcraft at the notebook's native resolution of 1366 x 768 with the game's recommended settings, we saw a slow 15 frames per second.
Wi-Fi and Battery
Click to enlargeThe Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6250 wireless card delivered throughput of 41.2 Mbps 15 feet from the router and 32.0 Mbps 50 feet away. This is much stronger than the category average (32.3/21.6 Mbps), but not as strong as the HP G62t (45.8/30.2 Mbps) or the Toshiba Satellite A505 (46.0/29.4 Mbps) at the closer range.
You may not spend a lot of time toting the SF510 around, but it's nice to know you don't necessarily need to schlepp the power cord. The notebook's six-cell battery lasted for an impressive 5 hours and 40 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi). This is not only well above the category average of 3:59 but also the G62t (4:03) and the Satellite A505 (3:17).
Software and Warranty
Samsung bundles a robust set of branded apps and utilities with the SF510, many of which we've seen on previous notebooks. We particularly like Samsung's Fast Start utility, which manages power so well in the Sleep state that there's no need to set the notebook to Hibernate, even if you're not going to use it for an hour. The laptop automatically wakes within seconds when you lift the lid, so you can get right to work.
The Chargeable USB utility allows users to turn powered-down charging off if they don't use it (which saves a bit of battery life). The Battery Life Extender (which increases the life of the battery, not its endurance) is useful for systems that remain plugged in more often than not.
The SF510 also comes with Samsung's Easy File Share utility, which connects to other devices in range via Wi-Fi for fast file transfers. The utility will walk you through setting up the host computer, then exporting the program to a USB drive or memory card so users can install the software on their other PCs.
Intel's My WiFi utility helps users manage the notebook's connection to other Wi-Fi enabled devices. It also facilitates sharing an Internet connection with another laptop. The utility doesn't provide a way to search for and connect to wireless networks (you still have to do that through Windows' native utility). Users who take advantage of the built-in WiMAX connectivity will need My WiFi in order to turn the wireless radio back on once you turn WiMAX off. We wish Samsung warned users with a pop-up, as we discovered this issue by trial and error.
Samsung covers the SF510 with a standard one-year parts and labor warranty and 24/7 phone, e-mail, and web support. Click here to see how Samsung did in our Tech Support Showdown.
At $629, the SF510 offers solid performance, great battery life, and a super slick design. While the HP G62t ($559 when similarly configured) also has plenty of style and comes out slightly ahead in performance, all of the extra features Samsung packs earn the SF510 our Editors' Choice award. The superior sound, fast boot and wake times, integrated 4G broadband, and built-in WiDi feature for streaming HD video to a TV make this one well-rounded mainstream machine.