There's one born every minute. No, not suckers -- netbooks. the Samsung N120 is the latest mini laptop to find its way to the mothership, aka the CNET UK offices. Alongside the slightly smaller N110, this model is one of two successors to the highly rated NC10. It promises better usability, better battery life, enhanced sound capabilities and a user experience that belies its netbook heritage. It's available to buy now for around £370.
The N120 is large by netbook standards. It isn't as big as the 12-inch NC20, but its 272 by 189 by 30mm chassis is wider and deeper than the NC10's 261 by 185 by 30mm casing. They share the same 1.3kg weight, but the N120 looks lardy next to the uber-sleek Eee PC 1008HA Seashell.
The extra 9mm girth has allowed Samsung to fit an even better keyboard than the one on the NC10. Whereas most 10-inch netbook keyboards are approximately 92 per cent the size of a full laptop keyboard, Samsung's tweaked the chassis sufficiently to wedge in a 97 per cent keyboard.
Unfortunately, while the keyboard's bigger, there isn't enough travel in the keys. They simply don't go down far enough when you press them, meaning it can sometimes be unclear whether your keystrokes have actually registered when touch-typing. Still, the keyboard does have silver nano technology -- an antibacterial coating that helps prevent germs from breeding.
The deeper chassis should theoretically have allowed Samsung to fit a larger mouse trackpad, but that's not the case. It uses the same trackpad as the NC10 -- which is fine for the most part -- but a slightly larger model would have been welcome.
Connectivity is as we expected on the N120. It packs three USB ports, mic and headphone ports, Ethernet, an SD card reader that lives at the front edge and a 1.3-megapixel webcam above the screen.
What isn't so standard is the speaker arrangement. The N120 is the first netbook to feature an on-board 2.1-channel SRS TrueSurround XT sound system. Stereo speakers occupy each side of the screen, while a third speaker -- a 'subwoofer' -- lives on the underside of the chassis. More on this later.
An Atom N270 CPU runs the N120's show. We'd have preferred the slightly quicker N280 chip that powers the Eee PC 1008HE Seashell, but the performance delta between the two isn't so great that we're throwing a tantrum. One gigabyte of 800MHz RAM comes as standard. This can be user-upgraded to 2GB of RAM quite easily, though you'll have to buy a 2GB module yourself and ditch the existing 1GB module in the process.
Storage is typical netbook fare. The N120 ships with a 160GB hard drive, which is capacious enough to stash around 230 standard-definition movies -- more than enough for a transatlantic flight or, better still, a week-long holiday away with your girlfriend's parents. If you're greedy for more storage, it's theoretically possible to swap the 160GB drive for a 250GB one, though a screwdriver and a modicum of skill is required.
802.11b/g Wi-Fi makes an appearance, but that's hardly news in a netbook. Unfortunately, the faster 802.11n protocol isn't supported, so if you ever install a high-speed wireless network in your home, the N120 will create something of a bottleneck. Bluetooth 2.0 is also present, but again, we'd have preferred Bluetooth 2.1, which -- among other things -- theoretically improves the battery life of Bluetooth mice and keyboards. Another small gripe is the lack of connectivity beyond range of Wi-Fi -- there's no 3G.
The 10-inch display on the N120 isn't as good as the one on the NC10. They have the same 1,024x600-pixel resolution, and they both have good image quality, but the problem lies in the glossy coating. Samsung's obviously included it to improve the perceived contrast and image quality, but it slightly reduces image clarity when used outdoors, due to the increased reflectivity. To be fair though, it's not as reflective as some models and it's perfectly possible to see what's going on, even in direct sunlight.
Windows XP Home is the operating system of choice for the N120. It also comes with CyberLink YouCam -- a webcam utility that applies all sorts of childish, pointless effects to your webcam video and pictures, plus a pack of Samsung's own battery-mananagement and networking software.
The N270 is just as fast (or slow, depending on how you look at it) as most of its rivals. Its N270 CPU helped it return a PCMark 2005 score of 1,447. That's not quite as impressive as the 1,530 achieved by the Eee PC 1008HA Seashell, or other netbooks that use an N280 Atom CPU, but the Samsung N120 is powerful enough to do the casual tasks most of us undertake on a daily basis.
Battery life is the N120's forte. According to Samsung, its 5,700mAh battery is good for up to 10.5 hours of use. It fell a little short of that in our tests, but it's respectable nonetheless. In our hardcore Battery Eater classic test, which runs the CPU at full tilt until the battery expires, the machine lasted a very respectable 5 hours 21 minutes. That's second only to the Eee PC 1000HE, which lasted 5 hours 48 minutes.
in this review, we mentioned the N120 was the first netbook with a
subwoofer. We weren't expecting much performance, which is just as
well, because the audio system is utter bobbins. Its two main stereo
speakers sound okay by netbook standards, and the third speaker (sorry,
subwoofer) underneath contributes to the overall volume -- so it's
slightly louder than most netbooks -- but there's no real bass to speak
The N120 is a very good netbook. You might not care for its relatively large chassis, but it has a comfortable (if slightly flawed) keyboard and fabulous battery life. It's almost -- but not quite -- as good as the Eee PC 1000HE.
Edited by Nick Hide