Samsung – N350 review

Dual-core netbook with an excellent keyboard
Photo of Samsung – N350
£349

With its glossy outer shell, the N350 looks very similar to Samsung’s N230 netbook we reviewed a couple of months ago. They are both 10.1-inch models, but the big difference is that this new model has one of Intel’s new dual-core Atom processors beating away inside.

Samsung’s done a great job in terms of making the N350 as portable as possible. Although it has the same width (264mm) and depth (188mm) as the N230, it’s a fair bit thinner, at just 23mm compared to the N230′s 34mm. At 1kg, it’s also around 200g lighter. The end result is an extremely compact and portable netbook. However, there’s a good reason for its lightweight nature: a smaller-than-average battery. We’ll talk more about this in a moment.

Flip open the lid and you’re greeted by the 10.1-inch display. The screen has a netbook-standard resolution of 1024×768, but it differs from most in that it lacks a glossy coating. While glossy displays make movies and photos look more vibrant, they also attract reflections like there’s no tomorrow. This matt display, on the other hand, keeps reflections to a minimum and makes outdoor use possible. The display is further helped by being ludicrously bright. When using it in dimly-lit environments, we found we had to crank it down to half-brightness just to save our eyes.

Powering the N350 is Intel’s Atom N550 processor. This is a dual-core CPU running at 1.5GHz and, thanks to support for Hyperthreading, Windows views it as a quad-core chip. However, as with all netbooks running Windows 7 Starter, Samsung has only been able to supply the processor with 1GB of memory. The N350 does feel a little more sprightly compared to single-core netbooks, but it’s not a massive leap in performance. We still experienced those small-but-frustrating delays when performing relatively simple tasks.

Graphics are handled by the integrated Intel GMA 3150 chipset. This has a clock speed of just 200MHz and, as with all netbooks that rely on integrated graphics, means the N350 isn’t suited to gaming.

Other specs include a 250GB hard drive that ticks along at 5,400rpm, and an integrated webcam. Also built in are 802.11n wireless, 10/100 LAN and Bluetooth. Unsurprisingly, Samsung hasn’t found room in the budget to fit a 3G module, so mobile broadband will require the use of a separate USB dongle.

Samsung knows a thing or two when it comes to creating netbook keyboards, and the one on the N350 is great to type on. Its chiclet-style design is comfortable and the keys have just the right amount of feedback. With minimal flexing, it also feels solid and there are no nasty clacking noises when typing. Samsung’s made good use of the space available, stretching the keyboard across almost the entire width of the chassis. Some of the keys towards the right edge have been slightly reduced in size, but it’s not a massive issue.

The touchpad has a good texture and is comfortable to use, but the two buttons sitting below it are very thin and have a bit too much travel. When pressing them during testing, we frequently bashed our thumbs against the edge of the casing.

Samsung includes a three-cell, 2950mAh battery with the N350, which is rated at just 33Wh. During intensive use with the screen’s brightness at full whack and wireless switched on, we measured a power draw of 11W. As expected, this resulted in the battery being drained in three hours, which really isn’t that great. Switch the wireless off, drop the brightness down to half-mast and steer clear of processor-intensive tasks, and you should be able to achieve four, possibly even five hours.

We’re certainly not against netbooks with small batteries, and some people will happily take a reduction in battery life if it means a lighter and more portable netbook. However, a shorter-than-average battery life should result in a lower-than-average price – and that’s not the case with the N350.

Company: Samsung

Contact: 0845 726 7864


Verdict
There no denying the N350 is a well-crafted netbook. It's small, light and great to type on. However, the high price and disappointing battery life hamper its overall appeal. The dual-core Atom chip is one of the main reasons for the high price, but the fact is you really don't get much of a performance boost from it. Ultimately, Samsung's N230 is a better offering. It has the same great design, twice the battery power and the performance of its single-core processor isn't far off that of the dual-core model on this N350.