Roughly a year ago, I reviewed the Samsung QX410-J01, a new and exciting laptop by a relative outsider. This laptop wowed me with a bevy of cutting-edge features and a stellar design, matched with an aggressive price in the $800 range.
This year, the Samsung QX411-W01UB continues that design trend with this year's updated processors and other updated specs, including USB 3.0 connectivity. Even more impressively, this retail-only Best Buy configuration is only $649, which just shows how much cheaper laptops have gotten.
A Core i5 second-gen processor, 6GB of RAM, and a 640GB hard drive are a bargain for this price. The closest equivalent is the Dell Inspiron 14z, but configuring it with similar specs takes its price to $749, a full $100 more than this Samsung. The better news is that the Samsung QX411-W01UB's battery life is among the best of mainstream laptops we've recently tested. I'll make this simple for you: if you're in the market for a Core i5 laptop, don't feel the need to customize it, and don't mind that you're not getting higher-end gaming graphics, then the QX411-W01UB would be an excellent choice. Just bear in mind that this 14-incher is a little heavy and would be more comfortably kept on a desk than in a backpack.
|Price as reviewed||$649|
|Processor||2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M|
|Memory||6GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||640GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.6x9.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.1 pounds / 5.9 pounds|
I feel like I became an admirer of Samsung laptops long before it was trendy. Now that Samsung laptops are more widespread, most people have already seen a fair share at their local store; I'm still generally impressed. The often sleek and aluminum-clad bodies recall Sony Vaios and certain varieties of Asus laptops, mixed with just a dash of MacBook Pro. This particular QX series feels high-end, with a curved metal exterior that's gunmetal in color and very impressive to hold. It's also heavy and wide: at 5.1 pounds and 13.6 inches across, it feels almost like a 15-inch laptop. It's a wide load of a laptop, and feels even heavier than the actual weight.
The clean, slate-gray interior features plenty of palm rest space, in which a giant recessed Synaptics clickpad sits. The curved rectangular space is smaller than what you'll get on a MacBook Pro, but there's still plenty of room. Responsiveness ranges from rapid to jittery. In general, it's a bit of a rough ride. Also, if your thumb is like mine, it'll have a rough time finding a place to rest to click the pad--the layout doesn't seem to be tall enough for comfy thumb-and-finger placement. Sometimes, a discrete button is simply better.
The island-style raised keyboard is nearly as enjoyable to use as the one on the recently reviewed Asus U46E-BAL6. The key travel and feel are closest to what you'd find on a midrange Sony Vaio. Occasionally the keys felt a bit soft, resulting in a few mistypes. Most of those were due to the annoying column of keys on the right side: I kept hitting Home instead of Backspace, and missing the Enter and Shift keys by touch. This isn't the only laptop to do this to a keyboard, but I wish none did.
Above the keyboard--which isn't backlit, by the way, and can't be upgraded, unlike the Dell Inspiron 14z, which you can get with a backlit keyboard for an additional $24--are three discrete, thin buttons on the top left for volume control and Wi-Fi on/off, and a single, blue-LED-rimmed circular power button on the top right. Controlling other features requires pressing the Fn key and the appropriate numbered function or direction-arrow key to get the job done.
Edge-to-edge glass covers this Samsung's 14-inch, 1,366x768-pixel-resolution display, giving it a wide, shiny, piano-black type of bezel. It's attractive, but it adds glare. This is a display best viewed head-on: every time I tilted the screen slightly the image degraded, either from glare or the LCD's viewing angle. Cranked to full brightness, it's fine for movies or games, but not the best I've seen--not by a long shot. Images looked a little too bluish, and at maximum brightness text appeared a bit washed out.
Stereo speakers fire from a grille above the keyboard. At full volume, they're good enough to make a movie trailer feel emotional. They're not rich or deep, though, and never transcend their nature as laptop speakers.
The Webcam is a bottom-rung 640x480-pixel affair. With the included CyberLink YouCam software it's decent enough for basic Web chats, but HD Webcams are far more common in laptops now, and this one's below average.
|Samsung QX411-W01UB||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, WiMax||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Samsung QX411-W01UB is a funny laptop when it comes to features. There are two USB 3.0 ports, a WiMax antenna for connecting to local 4G Internet, and Intel Wireless Display 2.0 (WiDi)--but there's no Bluetooth. Go figure. Also, most ports are annoyingly hidden behind a side panel door on the left--useful perhaps for protecting against sideways spills, but cumbersome for everyday use.
You won't know Intel's WiDi is on this laptop unless you go searching for it. WiDi 2.0 will wirelessly transmit what's playing on your laptop, up to 1080p video and audio, to a nearby HDTV if it's hooked up to a transmitter box (purchased separately; Netgear makes one for $99). WiDi can play Web videos or even DVDs, and can be used to make your HDTV a second monitor while you do other work on your laptop. It's clever, but with every passing month that TVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles, and iPads offer increased streaming-video services, the need for WiDi on a laptop will continue to diminish.
It's hard to argue with the amount of RAM and hard-drive space on the QX411-W01UB, given the price--6GB of RAM and a 640GB, 5,400rpm hard drive are better than average for a mainstream laptop. The $829 Asus U46E-BAL6 manages 8GB of RAM and a 750GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.
This Samsung's 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M processor is a bit faster than the more commonly seen Core i5-2410M I've gotten used to in recent laptops. The biggest impact shown in our tests was on multitasking speed, where the QX411-W01UB performed better than the Gateway ID47H02u, Dell Inspiron 14z, and HP Envy 14, all of them with the 2410M processor.
This laptop only has integrated graphics, which only take you so far. This year's Intel integrated graphics in Core i-series processors are roughly equivalent to entry-level discrete graphics a year ago: it could handle most everyday tasks well, including all forms of video, but games have to played at lower settings to keep frame rates from suffering.