The Samsung N350's main claim to fame is that it's one of the first netbooks to sport Intel's new dual-core Atom N550 processor. But does it boost performance enough to make the £320 N350 worth the premium over single-core machines?
Externally, there's little to distinguish the N350 from other netbooks on the market. The lid is finished in glossy grey, while the keyboard and screen surround are matte black. The brushed-aluminium effect on the plastic wrist rest spruces matter up somewhat, but, overall, the design is rather dull. That said, at a few grams over 1kg, the N350 is very light, and its slim, 22mm-thick chassis makes it very portable.
The netbook doesn't break the mould when it comes to connectivity either. Along with three USB ports, you get an Ethernet socket, VGA port and SD card reader. Sadly there's no HDMI port, but the N350 does have Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity, as well as the usual 802.11n Wi-Fi. The 250GB hard drive means you'll be able to store a decent amount of media files and work documents on the computer.
Like many of Samsung's netbooks, one of the N350's strengths is its 10.1-inch screen. Although its resolution of 1,024x600 pixels is par for the course on today's netbooks, the screen uses an anti-glare coating that cuts down massively on reflections. It does this without adversely affecting the vibrancy of the colours that it produces. As a result, movies and photos still look ace. The viewing angles are relatively good too, so you won't find yourself fiddling about with the display in an attempt to find a sweet spot where colours are consistent, as you must with some lesser netbooks.
Keyboards on 10-inch netbooks are all about compromise, due to the limited space available, but the N350's keyboard is still eminently usable. It feels reassuringly solid and its isolated keys are relatively large, with a fair amount of space between them. As a result, accidentally hitting adjacent keys when typing at speed just isn't an issue. The trackpad is rather good too. Its pleasingly wide and the rocker-style buttons respond well even to lighter presses.
What really separates this netbook from its peers is its dual-core N550 processor, which ticks over at 1.5GHz. Unfortunately, it's rather underwhelming in practice. As with previous dual-core netbooks we've tested, the second core doesn't actually produce all that much of a boost in performance.
In the PCMark05 benchmark test, the N350 posted a score of 1,634, which isn't all that much better than the single-core NF110's score of 1,328. We suspect this is partly due to the fact that the netbook only has the usual 1GB of RAM, which prevents the second core from really being able to stretch its legs. Don't get us wrong -- Windows 7 Starter feels slightly more responsive than usual, but the difference is only really noticeable now and again, and the netbook still feels sluggish compared to even a modest laptop when it comes to multitasking.
As with pretty much all netbooks, the N350 relies on integrated Intel graphics, so it's not exactly a powerhouse when it comes to gaming. In 3DMark06, it crawled to a score of 148, so you can forget about using it to play the latest first-person shooters. Much older 3D games, like the original Half-Life, will probably run decently, though.
The slim chassis means there isn't very much room left over for the battery, so the N350 isn't the longest-lasting performer away from the mains. In the intensive Battery Eater Classic test, it lasted a relatively poor 2 hours and 44 minutes, compared to the 5 hours managed by the cheaper NF110. You'll get longer battery life with more moderate use but, given the price of the N350, it's still pretty disappointing.
Although the Samsung N350 looks pretty impressive on paper, its dual-core processor doesn't deliver enough of a performance boost to justify its relatively high price tag. It's still a decent netbook with a good screen and keyboard, but we wouldn't pay over £300 for it.
Edited by Charles Kloet