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Hands on with the 12.5-inch Samsung Series 3: Thin Series 9 alternative on a budget

Samsung's new Series 3 line of laptops features a thin, impressively sized 12.5-incher that won't break your bank account. We go hands-on.

Samsung Series 3, 12.5-inch.
Samsung Series 3: Cheaper alternative to the Series 9 and MacBook Air? Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET

More than a month after we got our first surprise peek at the Samsung Series 3, a new mainstream line of Samsung laptops that included some very attractive and affordable 12- and 11-inch ultraportables, the 12.5-inch version of the Series 3 has arrived at CNET's offices. We've taken it out of its box and will be running it through benchmarks and testing it, but for now here are our initial impressions.

Ultrabook, schmultrabook: why pay a lot of money for a thin laptop if you can get one for cheaper? While the Series 3 isn't technically an "Ultrabook" by Intel's definitions--it's thicker and uses a regular non-solid-state hard drive--this little laptop reminds us a lot of the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s. It's nearly the same size and weight and has the same-size screen and keyboard, but features an even faster processor.

To explain, demystify, and perhaps befuddle even further: "Series 3" actually refers to a whole line of Samsung laptops, ranging from 11.6 inches up to the full-size 15.6 inches. Yes, that's incredibly confusing. And, even more baffling, the 11.6-inch and 12.5-inch Series 3s coexist (an 11.6-inch Series 3, the NP300U1A, is available at retailer for $599).

Our 12.5-inch version has a model number "NT350-U2A," which is a Korean model, but in the U.S. it'll be known as the NP350U2B-A01US. At $749, it'll include 4GB of RAM, a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor, and a 500GB standard hard drive (our model has a Core i3 processor). It amounts to the specs of a full-fledged laptop, shrunken down into a 3-pound chassis that's a hair under an inch thick.

Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET

Getting down to the basics: this particular model Series 3 is very thin, nearly as much as the Samsung Series 9. It has the plastic feel of a Netbook, though, with shiny plastic smoothly encircling the chassis. It's an attractive look and extremely compact--the 12.5-inch screen has very little bezel around it, and the keyboard's a comfortable chiclet type. The touch pad underneath is wide and large for such a small laptop, with a discrete button beneath.

Ports lining the narrow edges include two USB, a fold-down Ethernet port, SD card slot, HDMI, and a mini-port that looks like it's meant to accept a VGA dongle. It covers the bases for what you'd expect on a thin laptop.

This Samsung Series 3 is light, sits comfortably in our lap, and is one of the thinnest little laptops we've seen outside of a MacBook Air or Samsung Series 9. For its affordable price, that bears interest to us--and maybe to you, too.