Well, it was fun while it lasted. The ultrabook -- a concept built around mimicking the best parts of Apple's MacBook Air -- has now become so broad that nearly anything qualifies, at least if this latest example from Samsung is any indicator.
The 14-inch Series 5 is a perfectly fine laptop. It may even be the right laptop for you. But at 3.9 pounds and 0.8 inch thick, one thing it is not is a superslim, superportable laptop, along the lines of other ultrabooks we've seen, such as the Dell XPS 13 or Toshiba Portege Z835.
As a reasonably compact $949 14-inch laptop (most retailers are selling it for $879), the Series 5 does a good job of offering the same mainstream-level performance we've been getting from the current crop of ultrabooks, but with an optical drive, more ports and connections, and a big 500GB hard drive.
But that's exactly the problem. Ultrabooks are supposed to rely on solid-state drive (SSD) storage; this model skirts the issue by adding a 16GB SSD for quick bootup to a standard 500GB hard disk. And the tray-loading optical drive does nothing for thickness and weight. HP's 14-inch Envy Spectre is guilty of some of the same transgressions, but at least has a full-size SSD and a smaller footprint.
I'm sure we'll see many more average-size laptops being pitched as ultrabooks in the coming months. If they're anything like the Samsung Series 5, they'll be well-made, functional products, but ones that will quickly dilute the ultrabook concept -- the first exciting new idea in laptops in several years -- into nothingness.
|Price as reviewed||$949|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.1x9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.9 pounds / 4.5 pounds|
Despite its tapered edge, the Samsung Series 5 doesn't look especially thin at first glance. The matte aluminum finish is pleasant, and does a great job of resisting fingerprints, although the plastic bottom panel kills the mood a bit. Overall, this is a smart-looking sub-$1,000 laptop, which is important, as we've seen a lot of high-design 13-inch models in this price range, but 14- and 15-inch laptops around that $800-$900 mark tend to be plastic and clunky.
One design complaint: There's a tray-loading optical drive on the right side, and I found it far too easy to accidentally hit the eject button, popping open the drive almost anytime I tried to move the system.
Don't be fooled by Samsung's attempt to pitch this system as an ultrabook. Our review unit thankfully did not have the "ultrabook" sticker spotted on some other recent laptops, but Samsung's Web site and the Web sites of retailers selling it all use that very loaded term. Pick it up; at a hair under 4 pounds, it's not especially light, and it doesn't feel much different from other mainstream 14-inch laptops, such as the Dell XPS 14z (which is a little thicker and heavier, but not by much).
The keyboard has the same island-style layout found on other recent Samsung laptops (and most every laptop released in the past couple of years). The keys have a pleasing matte finish to them, and are reasonably quiet while typing. Shift, Enter, Tab, and other important keys are large and easy to hit, but the spacebar is a little narrow for my taste.
Multimedia functions are also shortchanged, mapped to the alternate function of the F-keys. Some laptops, such as recent HP models, swap the F-key and the alternate F-key commands, giving you easier access to volume and brightness settings, for example. The large touch pad is responsive and has plenty of room for multitouch gestures. The all-important two-finger scroll was acceptable, but not the best I've seen on a Windows laptop.
The 14-inch display has a standard 1,366x768-pixel native resolution. For the price, that's fine, although 14- and 15-inch laptops with that native resolution are starting to feel a bit old -- it feels more at home on 11- or 13-inch laptops. Higher-end midsize laptops, ultrabook or not, come off much better with 1,600x900-pixel screens. Still, the screen's matte, antiglare finish was welcome, as were the excellent horizontal off-axis viewing angles (vertical off-axis viewing was terrible, as it is on most laptops).
|Samsung Series 5||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
While we've knocked the Series 5 for being too thick to be a true ultrabook, it's still fairly slim in the overall scheme of things, at least when it comes to fitting in ports and connections. The VGA and HDMI ports poke out from a recessed side panel, and the Ethernet port has a tiny door that flips open to fit in a Cat5 cable, similar to designs we saw on tiny Netbooks years ago. It obviously took a little juggling, but all the ports fit -- including both USB 3.0 ports, which at this point is still a rarity.
The 14-inch Samsung Series 5 has the same Intel Core i5-2467M low-voltage CPU as many of the 13-inch ultrabooks we've tested. Its performance was on par with those systems, but in this bigger 14-inch body, one might expect a non-ULV CPU. Still, for everyday multitasking and productivity, it's more than powerful enough, and certainly doesn't feel like a low-power laptop. The Asus UX31 Zenbook and Lenovo U300s both have slightly faster ultrabook processors and did slightly better in our tests, but not by a large margin.
One of the big selling points of the ultrabook is its speed at booting and resuming from sleep. The Series 5's bootup time was fine, about 20 seconds, but the resume from sleep was a mixed bag. Sometimes it started up again right away, other times it got stuck or resumed very slowly, at least compared with the MacBook Air. But this isn't a problem exclusive to this model; we've run into similar slowness on most of the other current ultrabooks as well.
|Samsung Series 5||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||0.49|
|Sleep (10 percent)||0.67|
|Idle (25 percent)||8.25|
|Load (5 percent)||32.48|
|Annual energy cost||$4.02|
The Samsung Series 5 ran for 4 hours and 44 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's decent for a midsize laptop, but a bit below average for an ultrabook. Dell's XPS 13, the Lenovo U300s, and even the 14-inch HP Spectre did a bit better. That's fine for everyday use, but we'd want it to hit at least 5 hours before we'd feel confident in carrying this system around all day for mission-critical work without a power cord.
Samsung includes a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. The company's support Web site offers an easy-to-use menu for finding your laptop model, and frequently asked questions and driver/manual downloads are easily accessible. Samsung's 1-800 service number is also prominently displayed, which isn't always the case on support pages.
The Samsung Series 5 is a perfectly fine 14-inch laptop, and is even pleasingly slim and long-lived compared with other 14- and 15-inch models. But its use of the ultrabook term is unfortunate: it may meet Intel's definition, but it definitely skirts the spirit, if not the letter, of the concept.
|Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)|
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Samsung Series 5 NP530U4B-A01
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 500GB Seagate 5,400rpm
HP Envy 14 Spectre
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 128GB Samsung solid-state drive
Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 128GB Samsung solid-state drive; Intel HD 3000 Toshiba 128GB solid-state drive
Asus Zenbook UX31E-DH52
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-2557M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB(Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 128GB solid-state drive
Lenovo IdeaPad U300s
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 256GB JMicron 616 solid-state drive