The low-cost Samsung R510 laptop is definitely worth considering. Its large 15.4-inch screen and stylish design may appeal as much as its affordability: it starts as low as around £390, rising to around £550 -- the price of our review sample.
The R510's outer shell has a shiny piano-black finish. Inside, the black is repeated on the keyboard surround, slowly transitioning to a blood-red colour at the front. The shiny finish attracts fingerprints, and may prove scratch-prone in the long term. Samsung provides a cloth to deal with the former.
The front of the chassis curves downwards slightly, which adds to the R510's stylish look but means there's no clasp to hold the laptop closed in transit. The R510 is no lightweight, at 2.7kg. It's also pretty bulky, measuring 358 by 39 by 265mm. This is no surprise considering the R510's 15.4-inch screen, and it's not out of line with other 15.4-inch laptops.
At least there's plenty of space for a good-sized keyboard, which has a positive action and is comfortable to type on. There's a row of full-sized number keys topped by a row of slightly smaller function keys. The inverted-T cursor control keys double up to offer some additional controls with the Fn key, allowing you to adjust screen brightness and volume. There's also a shortcut to Internet Explorer here, plus a second Fn key to complement the main one on the bottom left of the keyboard.
The keyboard has an anti-bacterial coating that uses silver-ion particles. We've seen this on other Samsung laptops, but it's still a worthwhile selling point. The slightly recessed touchpad has a smooth finish and integrates both vertical and horizontal scrolling, although only the former is indicated by markings on the touchpad area. The mouse buttons are large and comfortable to press, delivering a slightly hollow-sounding click.
The screen is sharp and bright. Horizontal viewing angles are good, while vertical angles are slightly less so. The native 1,280x800-pixel resolution isn't as high as we'd like, but it'd be churlish to complain given the R510's price tag. The LCD has Samsung's SuperBright gloss finish, which helps to boost clarity and sharpness but causes the usual reflection problems when there's a light source behind you.
Fitted into the top of the screen frame is a 1.3-megapixel webcam. Samsung provides an application to help record video and take snapshots. It was unable to render our face clearly with a light source (a window) to the rear, but coped well in more uniform lighting conditions.
Because the Samsung R510 runs Windows Vista Home Premium it lacks some features that business users might like. Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore is missing, for example, although there's a simple file backup facility.
There are several versions of this laptop. Our review sample was based around a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor with 4GB of RAM. Graphics are handled by the Intel GMA X4500HD module integrated in the Intel GM45 Express chipset.
Our review sample came with a 250GB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm. Other options are available at 120GB, 160GB, 200GB and 320GB. The optical drive supports LightScribe, so you can produce professional-looking media with logos and suchlike etched onto the disc's surface (so long as you purchase LightScribe-compatible media).
The R510's integrated wireless connectivity runs to 802.11a/b/g and draft-n Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth (2.0+EDR), but not mobile broadband (for which you'd need a USB dongle). For wired connections, there's Gigabit Ethernet and a V.92 modem.
Despite the R510's size, Samsung has only found room for three USB ports. Two sit on the back of the casing, where they are stacked vertically. They ports are quite close together, and it's possible that a connector for one USB device will obscure access to the other port.
The back of the chassis also houses the Ethernet and modem connectors. The third USB port is on the back of the left edge. Further forward, there's a VGA connector for an external monitor, an HDMI port, microphone and headphone jacks and an ExpressCard/54 slot. The right edge is free of connectors, housing only the optical drive. At the front, there's a flash card reader for SD-compatible media.
The R510's overall Windows Experience Index rating of 3.8 (out of 5.9) is quite impressive, although only one subsystem scored more than 5.0. This score (5.3) was given to the primary hard disk (disk data-transfer rate) subsystem. Processor (calculations per second) and RAM (memory operations per second) both scored 4.9, while graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) got 4.1, and gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) brought up the rear with 3.8.
Samsung doesn't make a claim for the life of the six-cell li-ion battery. To test it, we fully charged the battery and chose the 'power saver' plan. Then we played DVDs continuously until the laptop expired, which turned out to be after 2 hours and 34 minutes. The stereo speakers deliver good volume and reasonable quality.
The Samsung R510 is a stylish yet affordable laptop that's suitable for both work and leisure use. With a 15.4-inch screen and decent performance, it's worth a gander.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet