Samsung's latest netbook - the Samsung N120 - adds a few nice touches to the established Samsung N110 low-cost laptop.
Samsung is continuing its run at the netbook market with incremental tweaks to design and function, and that's where the Samsung N120, blood brother of the Samsung N110, comes in.
You won't find anything revolutionary in the Samsung N120, just some nice extras that give you a little more choice.
The first thing you'll notice upon opening the Samsung N120 is the mirrorlike reflection from the glossy 10.1in panel. While the N120's screen looks great under ideal lighting conditions indoors, you'll have to deal with annoying glare pretty much everywhere else. Cranking up the screen's brightness will mostly compensate for the problem, and once you get accustomed to the glossy finish, you'll find a crisp, good-looking screen.
On our test Samsung N120 the default colour settings were slightly red-shifted, but we easily remedied that with the bundled colour-correction software. Once properly balanced, the colours were quite good; videos and still images looked well balanced and natural. Text was sharp too, and the 1024-by-600-pixel resolution is good enough for most computing tasks.
The Samsung N120's touchpad is also well made, sporting a virtual scrollbar along the right side to make screen navigation easier. You get only a single rocker button for both left- and right-clicking, however, so if you're used to feeling for a separate button instinctively, the Samsung N120 will take some getting used to.
If you've been put off by puny netbook keyboards and you want some extra room, note that the Samsung N120's keys are a little larger than those of the N110. To accommodate the bigger keys, the N120 is nearly a half inch wider than its predecessor, a fair trade-off for a bit more typing room. As nice as that is, though, the key layout is still almost as cramped as that of any other netbook.
You get some handy shortcut keys. One launches Samsung Magic Doctor, which can perform a full system diagnosis and restore. The Samsung N120's Speed Manager button toggles between silent, normal, and speed mode so that you can adjust performance and battery power conservation. For globetrotters, the N120 even has a euro key.
Overall the Samsung N120 has nice fit and finish, sporting trim lines and a logical layout that's very similar to the N110's. Even with a slightly larger chassis, it doesn't have much room for a lot of extras. Still, the external ports - VGA-out, three USB ports, and microphone and headphone jacks - give you pretty much everything you'd want. The RAM slot is also readily accessible after you make a few turns of a Phillips screwdriver, and you can easily remove the battery by using two sliding latches. It's a handsome, functional netbook.
Although the Samsung N120 managed to earn generally higher benchmark scores than the N110, it still isn't a barn burner - and in the end, the N120 locked in a total WorldBench 6 score of 35, versus the N110's 36. The boost in performance comes mainly from the upgrade to DDR2 800 RAM. Everything else under the hood is in essence the same: It has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, a 160GB hard drive, and an Intel 945 video chipset.
On the down side, the Samsung N120 uses a less powerful battery than the N110 does, and in testing its battery life was about 40 minutes shorter than that of the N110 - even so, the N120's excellent 7 hours, 43 minutes of battery life is nothing short of awesome.
The Samsung N120 carries a subwoofer for upgraded sound over the N110. While the dedicated low-end speaker does offer a bit of bass, audio distortion and clipping are still problematic, as it is with all but the most advanced portable computers. The built-in speakers are good for basic sound, but the subwoofer doesn't add much to the mix. Just use a good set of headphones, and you'll enjoy quality sound from the N120's sound chip.
Like the N110, the Samsung N120 comes with an excellent suite of software that features backup, restore, and network software that's easier to use than XP's interface. A clearly written, organised, and detailed user guide, also loaded on to the hard drive, describes everything from hardware functions to tips for using the included software. Samsung did really well here, and made the user experience much friendlier than most.
The Samsung N120 is a nice alternative to the N110 if you're willing to give up some battery power for a slightly roomier keyboard and small bumps in performance. The good news is that they both cost around £350, so you won't pay a price for your choice. Whether you'll notice the snappier performance or miss the extra battery life more is up to you. If you want a solid netbook that looks good, works well, and does pretty much anything you ask it to without complaining, the N120 is a worthy choice for anyone seeking an ultracompact travel companion.