The ultra-portable laptops with ultra-low-voltage processors that we've seen so far have all been thin and light, but none could really be described as 'affordable'. That's not the case with the Samsung X120. At around £500, it's the cheapest ULV ultra-portable we've seen so far.
Although the term 'ultra-portable' covers a range of laptop sizes, the 11.6-inch X120 hits the sweet spot -- it's small enough to be extremely portable but big enough to use comfortably. It's not that much larger than a 10.1-inch netbook and, at exactly 25mm thick, certainly no fatter. It's not even any heavier than most 10.1-inch netbooks, weighing just 1.4kg.
Just about every edge of the X120 is curved, but Samsung has displayed some welcome restraint in terms of design. The metallic grey lid has a small silver Samsung logo (sticky labels are used, rather than moulded plastic) and the bottom half of the case has a thin silver trim that tapers to almost nothing along the front edge. It's a low-key design and we like it.
A case this wide provides ample room for a large keyboard. The X120 uses the same type of keyboard as the recently reviewed R720 desktop-replacement laptop. The wide, flat keys are almost full-size and sit flush together, but each has a raised area to create some finger room between them. The keyboard is very comfortable to use, although the condensed cursor-key cluster at the bottom right corner is rather fiddly.
The wide trackpad supports the usual array of multi-touch gestures and generally works well, although it isn't quite tall enough to enable us to pinch our fingers to zoom. With limited space on the wrist rest, Samsung has moved the buttons to the left and right of the trackpad, but this isn't much of a problem, since they're large and have a positive click.
The two hinges wobble slightly, but not enough to detract from the LED-backlit screen's excellent image quality. The 1,366x768-pixel resolution means you may have to squint to read some text, but the trade-off is a very crisp display, and the glossy finish gives plenty of contrast.
Intel ULV processors are more about energy efficiency than all-out performance, but the Pentium SU4100 chip in the X120 is surprisingly speedy. Dual-core with a 1.3GHz clock speed, it scored 3,310 in the PCMark05 benchmark test. This puts the X120 well behind standard Intel Core 2 Duo laptops in the speed stakes, but it's around twice as fast as a laptop with an Intel Atom processor. The processor also provides more than enough power for multi-tasking with productivity applications in Windows 7.
Samsung hasn't done anything special with the X120's graphics capability -- it has the same Intel GMA 4500MHD GPU as most other ULV laptops. This turned in a 3DMark06 score of 863, ruling out 3D gaming. The X120 can handle 720p video with ease, but 1080p video is more of a struggle, so you won't be able to fully exploit the HDMI port.
The X120's only real weak spot is its battery life. Any ultra-portable stands or falls on how long it can be used away from the mains. Lasting for 1 hour and 36 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test and 3 hours and 38 minutes in the less demanding Reader's test, the X120 won't let you stray far from a power point.
The Samsung X120 is by far the best ULV ultra-portable we've seen so far. It's cheap, highly portable and Samsung has made surprisingly few compromises. The only real disappointment is its lacklustre battery life, but, if around 2.5 hours of mains-free use is all you require, you'll be served well by the rest of the specification.
Edited by Charles Kloet