The X50's 2GHz Centrino processor guzzles less power than a Pentium 4 laptop and has Wi-Fi functionality built in. It'll skip happily through PowerPoint presentations and Max Payne, but throw a hissy fit over Battlefield 2. The power efficiency of Pentium M processors exceeds anything AMD or Pentium 4 processors are capable of at the moment so Samsung's choice of Centrino for the X50 is a wise move.
Spreadsheet junkies will appreciate the X50's 15-inch screen which is heavily anti-glared, making it ideal for work in a brightly lit office. We found it easy to hook the laptop up to projectors and televisions because of its VGA and S-video outputs, but the lack of DVI make this an implausible machine for graphics professionals.
The chassis on the X50 is faux titanium. Although it does a very good impression of the real thing, it's distinctly plastic to the touch -- you'll fool anyone on the other side of the boardroom, but not your own fingers. Styling on the screen and top of the keyboard is excellent. There's been some careful attention to detail here, including an ergonomically rounded lip to the keyboard section. This rounded design makes the front of the X50 very comfortable to rest your hands against while typing, and leaves no tell-tale laptop marks across your wrists.
The rest of the case is smoothly-finished plastic, there has definitely been some effort to take this a step beyond the usual utilitarian style of many PC laptops. The X50 is thin, at 26.1mm, and weighs a respectable 2.4kg. There's not much you can do to strip it down any further - the DVD drive is not removable. You'll also need to factor in the weight of the AC power supply -- unless you plan to use it for a maximum of 4 hours between recharges. At 373 by 264mm the top of the Samsung is not much smaller than a sheet of A3 paper but will fit snugly in a briefcase or bag.
The keyboard on the X50 is snappy and responsive. There's a fairly short travel on the keys when depressed and they all have graduated edges which make it almost impossible to catch your fingers on the edge of them. Keyboards are a very subjective experience, but to our tastes the X50 was painless to use even during long periods of typing. The X50's trackpad can't live up to the games orientated reaction speed of trackpads like the one on the Alienware Area 51's, but basic pointer motion is fine for general office tasks.
One minor irritation here is the X50s scroll pad -- to the right of the trackpad. This pad is extremely fiddly to operate. Often you'll be scrolling at what seems like a steady speed, then release your finger to discover that the keyboard has buffered another page or two of mouse motion, leaving you to stare helplessly as the document continues to pan down across the screen. If you need to work in Photoshop or play a game of Hitman Contracts, you can always plug in an external USB mouse and avoid using the trackpad at all.
Underneath the laptop there's two screw-fastened flaps that make it easy to replace the system RAM and hard disk. Any other component changes require you to unscrew the entire chassis. The Centrino system is not modular though, so there are few user serviceable parts you'd actually want to get to.
The left-hand of the X50 houses a VGA port for connection to a projector or external screen, Firewire port, an Ethernet port, a modem port and a PC Card slot. Rather than employ a simple hinged flap to keep dust out of the slot, Samsung have left a dummy PC Card sled in the slot. Considering the solid styling elsewhere, it's disappointing that that this easily mislaid sliver of plastic is all that keeps the PC Card dust-free.
On the right-hand side there is a DVD-RW drive and two USB ports. Unfortunately the drive is not slot loading, leaving the tray vulnerable to damage when it's in an ejected position. The rear of the X50 includes a connector for S-video, USB and power, while the front sports curiously placed microphone and headphone sockets. This isn't an ideal location for either. Although they're obvious and accessible in this location, the leads can easily get in the way of paper documents you're working from. A traditional side-panel location would have been a better choice.
The battery attaches below the screen-hinge, at the back of the laptop. It's slightly fiddly to unclip if you need to change batteries on the move because it uses two independent catches. There's a useful charge level meter on the bundled battery which illuminates a strip of LED indicating the percentage of battery life remaining in the li-ion cell.
The X50 runs a Pentium M processor with an L2 cache of 2MB and a base configuration of 1GB RAM, expandable to 2GB. This offers more than enough chutzpah for Microsoft Office work and even mid-level Photoshop retouching and basic video editing work.
The 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon x600 card drives the X50's built in widescreen LCD at a resolution of 1680x1050 pixels. The screen is thankfully finished in an anti-glare coating, which makes it a pleasure to use, especially in comparison to the screens on laptops like the Toshiba Qosmio range. Shunning the recent trend for irritatingly reflective laptop screens, the X50 copes well in brightly lit environments. Even when the screen is completely black there is very little reflectivity, even under office strip-lights.
Basic video editing in Premiere is possible even with the X50s relatively discreet media credentials. Digital video can be captured over FireWire and the standard install of 1GB RAM is sufficient to throw around several tracks of video and audio. If you need to play back edited video on a projector or television, the X50's s-video and VGA ports output a video signal to most displays you're likely to come across. S-video output from the X50 was good, but obviously falls short of VGA and can't hope to match the pure digital source of DVI. While S-video won't cause problems on a projector -- they're extremely forgiving of lower quality sources -- you'll want to use VGA for any prolonged work on an external display.
The DVD±R drive built into the X50 will record movies or data onto writable, or re-writable discs. These played back on our regular consumer DVD player. When playing DVDs, sound is unremarkable. There's sufficient volume to fill a bedroom, but running a jack-to-jack lead from the Samsung's headphone socket into a stereo is the best way to get adequate volume and sound clarity from this laptop.
Battery life on the X50 is rated by Samsung at 4 hours and this accorded with our tests. As with all laptops, watching a movie on DVD or performing intensive graphics, like running a game, can reduce this to as little as 2 hours. Performance in applications like Outlook, PowerPoint and Word matched the performance of a fast desktop machine. Office suite is not very demanding of any modern processor, so this was of little surprise.
Eager to push the Samsung, we installed Battlefield 2. Really, this was too much for the poor thing to cope with -- although we could get playable frame rates out of low-resolution modes. It's unfair to expect a general use laptop like this to run a cutting-edge title, but it's interesting to note that it wasn't as overwhelmed as you'd expect.
The only major problem we encountered with this laptop is the level of screen brightness. To our eyes, the screen seemed dim when set to anything but maximum brightness. Your taste may be radically different, so we suggest you try this laptop out before you make a final decision.
Edited by Michael Parsons
Additional editing by Tom Espiner