Samsung RF511 review

15” laptop with Intel Core i5 processor & USB 3.0
Photo of Samsung RF511
£600

Samsung’s latest laptop is pleasingly priced for those who are after a do-it-all solution for the living room or bedroom, as it is an all-round laptop aimed at general users, rather than road warriors, gamers or remote worker. It’s reasonably fast and will be advanced enough for mainstream users, but in the face of tablets, netbooks, ultrabooks and 10 hour+ batteries, we fear for the long-term future of workhorse laptops, such as the RF511.

Something special?

The RF511 certainly doesn’t look like something special. It’s equipped with an LED-backlit LCD screen measuring 15.6 inches in diameter, with a gloss black screen-surround that is interrupted only by a subtly mottled texture – with chrome-look hinges, attaching it to the main body. Two stereo 3W speakers either side of the usual volume and power controls are perched above a lowered recessed keyboard, which sees white characters on black buttons against a metallic-look background. The trackpad, meanwhile, is matte grey-black, as are its surroundings. The overall design represents a rather drab coming together of some very conservative ideas, though users after pure functionality won’t mind.

Key feature

The RF511’s key feature is its Intel Core i5-2430M processor, something that sees it edge ahead of similarly priced rivals. Armed with 1GB RAM (8GB is the maximum) and a hard disk that stretches to an impressive 750GB, this laptop runs Windows 7 Home Premium. All of which is plenty enough for casual home users, but gamers should look elsewhere (an alternate version of the RF511 is available with a NVIDIA graphics card).

Physically, the RF511 ticks all the boxes; that LED panel is flanked by ports for a pair of headphones (a nice touch if the RF511 is going to be used while travelling), microphone, an internal mic, a HDMI output, and a VGA output. It also features a super multi dual-layer drive that can handle virtually any optical disc (save for Blu-ray), with a 1.3 megapixel webcam situated above the screen.

What the RF511 does have, that will constitute as an upgrade for many, is both USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 3.0. Data can be sent and received at speeds of up to 24 MB per second – a huge improvement on Bluetooth 2.1.

Performance

The RF511’s trackpad proved sensitive enough in our tests, with a natural feel at all times that remained after a few hours’ use. That was coupled with impressive accuracy, though the right and left click buttons have a cheap sound when pressed. Some will want to rely on a mouse, so it’s good to see that the two USB inputs on the right-hand side of the RF511 are situated near the top. Lefties may be irritated by this, as it’s on the opposite side of the case for left-hand users.

We found the keyboard reasonably capable; firm strokes and fast typing were all coped well, where each stroke gives a rather hollow sound that never approaches a high-end performance feel. It’s also a shame that the keys cannot be backlit, but we suppose that this feature is reserved for pricier models.

Aside from a couple of freeze-ups, our main complaint about the RF511 is the LED screen itself. A few years ago, a full HD resolution LED panel would be considered a high-end luxury, but we’re somewhat disappointed that the RF511 comes fitted with a panel that measures just 1366×768 pixels. That makes it only WXGA, and the pixel grid is noticeable when watching video too. A lack of contrast is also a problem, which is not massively improved upon by the use of LED backlighting. Not only does the lack of true black lend pictures and video a slightly unconvincing colour palette, but the contrast noticeably drains, when viewed off-axis. That might be a positive feature if you’re going to be working on a train, but it’s indicative of a very average panel. In normal use, the panel is bright enough, and we managed to use it near coffee shop windows and in other situations, where reflections can sometimes be a problem. We won’t overstate how well it copes with changeable light; trying to make out the screen’s contents in bright sunlight is difficult.

The 3W speakers’ maximum volume is somewhat low. The main problem is the usual one – a complete lack of bass. The details are reasonably good considering the lack of power in those small speakers, but we’ve heard just as good from mobile phones. Movie watchers should stick to headphones. What we did like, is that a disc is ejected in under two seconds.

Not particularly comfortable to use on a lap, the RF511 is best seen as a mobile desktop for work, rather than for video or gaming – though it managed just over three hours of battery life, in our tests.

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Company: Samsung

Website: http://www.samsung.com/uk

Contact: 0845 67267864

Positives
  • Cost effective; Bluetooth 3.0; USB 3.0; functional design.
Negative
  • Dull design; average build quality; WXGA panel; no keyboard backlighting.

Verdict

Physically, the RF511 is distinctly middle of the road. It's got the look of an office laptop, only with a conservative mesh of platinum coloured keys and borders. Put simply, it looks very old-fashioned, and could soon look even more so, once the first ultrabooks start trickle onto the market in 2012. That said, its functional – if occasionally flimsy – design and inclusion of Bluetooth 3.0 and USB 3.0 will attract buyers. The three-hour battery life is nothing special, where the use of a WXGA panel puts it further behind the curve for advanced users.