At first sight, the white Samsung NC20, available for around £390, looks more like an ultra-portable than a netbook, an impression reinforced by its elegant exterior, size and weight. With a 12.1-inch screen and weighing in at 1.5kg without a power supply, the NC20 is significantly larger and heavier than standard netbooks with 9- or 10-inch displays.
The NC20 also excels in areas where most netbooks fall down -- notably, performance and screen resolution. Most netbook makers base their systems on Intel's Atom processor, but Samsung has used Via's Nano U2250, which runs at '1.3+GHz' -- the '+' signifies that the CPU has more to offer than its nominal clock speed suggests.
The Nano uses what Via calls 'adaptive overclocking' technology, whereby the clock speed of the processor is automatically increased within certain temperature limits. This technology allows for a maximum clock speed of 1.6GHz in the U2250, but the NC20's cooling system caps the maximum frequency at 1.5GHz.
Because the Nano processor is new, and because Samsung is the first manufacturer to use it in a mobile device, this review partly focuses on performance differences between the Intel Atom and the Via Nano. For comparison purposes, we have used an LG Netbook X110, equipped with a 1.6GHz Atom N270.
SunSpider isn't the only benchmark where Intel's Atom comes off badly. Google's V8 test also makes the Atom look sluggish.
Obviously, other applications are also important to netbook users. Desktop systems are clearly better for running 3D games and professional rendering software. But image-handling is still important to netbook users. In this area, the Atom's performance is 11 to 15 per cent better than the Nano's. That advantage is reversed with the popular freeware tool Irfanview, with which the Nano resized 41 images in batch mode in 66 seconds, while the Atom took 87 seconds.
Compared with a typical netbook resolution of 1,024x600 pixels, the NC20's 1,280x800-pixel screen offers two-thirds more display area. That extra resolution is a significant advantage, especially when browsing and handling images, because it means you don't have to scroll up and down as much as you would otherwise have to.
Unfortunately, Samsung has gone for a reflective screen, so the impact of the higher-resolution display is greatly diminished. If a light source falls on the screen, its brightness has to be significantly adjusted to improve readability. This is a real drawback.
On a more positive note, the NC20's long battery life is a real plus. The 57Wh Li-ion battery runs for up to 6 hours. Even with Wi-Fi on, you can still expect to get a good 4 hours' of Web surfing.
Apart from the Nano processor, the NC20's specs are unremarkable. The installed 1GB of RAM is adequate for the preinstalled Windows XP Home Edition. The NC20 even ran a successful test installation of Windows 7 Beta 1, but it quickly became apparent that 1GB for Windows 7 is not enough.
Unlike many other netbooks, it's easy to expand the memory, up to 2GB. All you need do is remove four screws on the back of the machine and replace the SO-DIMM with a 2GB module. It would be good if Samsung offered this amount of RAM as an option. Graphics are handled by the Chrome9 HC3 module that's integrated in the Via VX800 chipset.
The Marvell Yukon 88E8040 Ethernet connection runs up to 100Mbps while the Atheros AR5007EG Wi-Fi module offers 54Mbps over 802.11b/g. The 160GB, 5,400rpm Samsung HM160HI hard drive is quick enough not to cause a significant bottleneck.
The NC20's 84-key keyboard, which is coated in a fine antibacterial powder using Samsung's Silver Nano Technology, is ergonomic and has a positive feel. A 1.3-megapixel webcam is located at the top of the screen. You can display photos at up to 1,280x1,024 pixels and video at 320x240 pixels. The NC20 comes with CyberLink YouCam installed, which can upload video directly to YouTube.
The NC20 has a standard set of ports and connections for a netbook, although an ExpressCard slot might be expected on a 12.1-inch system such as this.
The NC20's display resolution of 1,280x800 pixels saves a vast amount of scrolling up and down. On the downside, the NC20's highly reflective screen affects its readability. Battery life is excellent. Despite the reflective screen and relatively heavy 1.5kg weight, you'll be hard pushed to find a better netbook on the market.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet