The size limit for a large-screen laptop that you can still slip into a bag and carry around comfortably is 16 inches, and this slice of the market is hotly contested. Priced at around just £500, the 15.6-inch Samsung R520 is about £100 cheaper than the 17.3-inch R720 that we liked so much. Does it offer the same good deal but in a smaller package?
Two of a kind
Externally, the R520 bears a very close resemblance to its bigger brother. It's finished in silver on the inside, rather than the R720's matte black, but it has the same glossy black lid and overall design -- it's just smaller. The 16:9 aspect ratio of its 15.6-inch screen means the R520 is a wide laptop (it measures 376mm across) and, weighing 2.6kg, not one that we'd want to carry on a daily commute.
The extra-wide case means there's room inside the R520 for a separate numeric keypad, but Samsung hasn't fitted one and so there's a good inch and a half of empty space at either side of the full-size keyboard. The wide, flat and excellent keys are the same as on the R720. The R520 also has the same comfortable trackpad with glowing blue perimeter.
For laptops measuring between 13 and 16 inches, 1,366x768 pixels seems to be the resolution of choice these days, but we think it offers the best balance between legibility and on-screen space with 15-inch screens. The R520's display is clear and bright, but colours aren't as well-saturated as we'd like. Movies look rather washed-out as a result, but this is really only noticeable when the R520 is directly compared with another laptop.
Since it lacks the shrunken subwoofer found on the R720's underside, the R520's small stereo speakers don't do quite the same excellent job with music and movie soundtracks, but they're still loud and clear -- they just lack bottom-end oomph.
Although it costs around £100 less than the R720, the R520 has a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor, rather than its sibling's 2.1GHz Pentium T4300. Both are 64-bit, dual-core chips and have similar clock speeds, but the Core 2 Duo is slightly slower, scoring 4,336 in the PCMark05 benchmark test, compared to the Pentium's 5,190.
The lower PCMark05 score is largely attributable to the R520's less impressive 3D-graphics capability -- it has an integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD chipset, while the R720 has a discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330. This means that, while the R520 is adequately equipped for handling most applications and even high-definition movies, it's of little use for 3D games.
The R520 has longer battery life than the R720 when it's really being pushed. Its smaller, lower-resolution screen and more frugal graphics capability are the main reasons for its better time in Battery Eater's demanding Classic test. The R520's battery lasted for 2 hours and 15 minutes in this test, compared to the 1 hour and 30 minutes racked up by the R720. On the other hand, both machines lasted for pretty much the same length of time in the less intensive Reader's test -- 4 hours and 27 minutes for the R520, and 4 hours and 19 minutes in the case of the R720.
Although it's £100 cheaper than the R720, the Samsung R520 isn't as desirable. It's not much more portable than its larger sibling and doesn't perform as well overall. That's not to say that this isn't a good-value laptop, but better graphics capability and a cheaper processor would make for a much more rounded package at this price.
Edited by Charles Kloet