Samsung’s netbook range is pretty large with several models in the frame. The N120 is not the newest in the range, nor is it called a netbook – Samsung prefers the term ‘mini notebook’ – but we have to say we found it very usable during testing and we like it for all that.
There are two key reasons the N120 has pleased us: build and battery. The build quality is superb. The robust outer casing provides plenty of protection for the screen, while inside the white shell looks attractive and, very importantly, the keyboard is well made and solid, delivering a good return and being comfortable to use. Touch-typing at full speed was no problem for us.
Needless to say the screen suffers from being as small as it is. At 10.1 inches and offering 1024 x 600 pixels it is fine for Web browsing, using the BBC iPlayer and working on documents. But more complex activities which require two windows to be open at once are out of the question, as are any activities that benefit from more display area, such as image editing. Such is the way with this size of notebook/netbook.
Whatever Samsung says, the N120 is a netbook in specifications terms. It runs an Intel Atom N270 processor and the operating system is Windows XP Home. There’s no optical drive. There is a 1.3-megapixel webcam, and a netbook-like array of ports and connectors comprising VGA out, headphones and microphone, three USB connectors, a card-reader for SD compatible formats (it doesn’t support Memory Stick) and an Ethernet connector.
Speakers to the left and right of the screen deliver enough volume for private media streaming. The quality is not great but it is better than we’d expected to hear. Plug in a headset and the quality is good enough for listening in comfort while you work or play.
What really endears us to this netbook, though, is its battery life. We regularly got half a day’s web browsing from it with the screen brightness low but not too low to be usable, and Samsung provides a suite of battery management tools which let you fiddle with settings. This gives a visual readout of the effect your tweaks have on battery life.
You can even force the processor to speed down and set colour depth to 16-bit or 32-bit depending on whether you want to go for broke on battery life or not. And there’s a neat trick in that you can turn screen auto-dimming on, but exclude specific applications so that the screen remains well-lit when they are running.