First came the Series 9, then the Series 3; Samsung, an increasingly impressive manufacturer of laptops, has chosen to make 2011 the year to debut a variety of notebooks delineated by series numbers. The Series 7 line falls between the high-end Ultrabook-style Series 9 and budget-targeted Series 3, and includes both a 15-inch laptop and a Windows slate. The $1,299, 15-inch Series 7 Chronos NP700Z5A-S03 resembles, in terms of price and specs, a Windows version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
To some it may seem like a lazy comparison, but it's far more apt than you may realize: this Series 7 has a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, a 1GB AMD Radeon graphics card, a backlit keyboard, a sharp aluminum design, a slot-loading DVD drive, and a gigantic multitouch click pad, all similar to the 15-inch MacBook Pro. While $1,299 is at the top end of the mainstream Windows laptop spectrum, it's $500 less than the entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro, with equivalent performance and then some. Particularly impressive? A battery life of more than 6 hours and a higher-resolution 1,600x900-pixel display.
This isn't a slam-dunk killer laptop--not having Blu-ray is odd, and the touch pad isn't as silky-smooth as a MacBook's--but the Series 7 is, overall, a pretty excellent product at a price that's not terrible when you consider the components.
|Price as reviewed||$1,299|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Core i7-2675QM|
|Memory||8GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||750GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon 6750M / Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.3x9.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.3 pounds / 6.3 pounds|
A sleek, clean aluminum design. Magnetic hasp. Center hinge. Tremendous click pad. Where have we seen this before? The easy comparison--and the one most people will make--when they see the Series 7 will be the Apple MacBook Pro, a design that's been around since 2008. The deeper similarities are to Samsung's own product lines, including the QX series, and the clean metal looks of some Asus laptops and Sony Vaios. The industrial-style design is very appealing--even more so when you get up close to appreciate the details.
It's not all roses; despite seeming like a unibody design, the edges reveal the seams. There's a slight amount of flex to those edge connections, and to the palm rest and back lid. The Series 7 Chronos doesn't feel honed from a single slab of metal, or anywhere near that, but its dimensions are very similar to those of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, while having a slightly shallower footprint between the back of the laptop and the front of the palm rest. At 5.3 pounds, it's a little lighter than both the Pro and the slim Sony Vaio SE.
This Samsung makes efficient use of its edge-to-edge real estate, both with its keyboard and screen. A very thin bezel surrounds the 15.6-inch display, with practically no wasted space. The raised island-style keyboard and number pad also span the crisp edges, recessed below the palm rest so the keys come up flush. It's not often that keyboard keys are striking, but these are: the squared edge-lit keys have glowing letters and glowing blue-white sides. They're also among the cleanest-feeling Samsung keys I've ever used.
A large click pad below has the right idea, but the wrong execution. The click pad is off-center because of the number pad, creating a narrow palm-rest area on the left. Also, the pad itself simply isn't as responsive as the equivalent Apple version. My fingers sometimes grazed the surface with little response, and two-finger gestures like scrolling got a little jumpy. It's closer than the Asus Zenbook's pad, but it's still subpar.
Controls such as volume and screen brightness are function-key-activated, meaning you'll have to fumble for the Fn button. I was expecting function-reversed keys on a high-end laptop like this. A large circular power button on the top right is all the Series 7 offers outside of the keyboard.
The big, bright 15.6-inch display offers two surprises: it's matte, a virtual rarity in laptops nowadays, and it has a larger-than-average 1,600x900 resolution. The former helps to reduce glare, obviously. For photos, videos, or games, I'd argue that matte seems to dull the picture down ever so slightly, but overall the end result here is that the Series 7 is better off for the matte finish. Viewing angles for movies, games, and documents deteriorated once the screen was tilted even a little bit: view this display head-on only.
Stereo speakers with grilles tucked away inside the center lid hinge provide ample volume and clarity for Web videos and even casual music. They're equivalent to the quality of those found on other slim laptops like the Vaio SE and MacBook Pro.
An HD 1,280x1,024 Webcam comes bundled with CyberLink YouCam software. The camera quality is good, better than the average, but not quite as excellent as recent HD Webcams I've seen on $1,000-plus laptops such as Dell's XPS series.
|Samsung Series 7 Chronos 700Z5A-S03||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA (with dongle), HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||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, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||slot-loading DVD burner||DVD burner|
I wasn't surprised by the ports and features on the Samsung Series 7 Chronos; they're in keeping with most midsize laptops. USB 3.0, Bluetooth, HDMI. The Ethernet port on the left side is unusually compressed--a small pull-down tab opens the port up to full size. Also, the normally standard VGA port has been replaced with a mini video port that connects to an included dongle. Saving valuable space makes sense, but this laptop isn't svelte enough to necessitate such maneuvers.
There are several similar versions of the Samsung Series 7 Chronos laptop 700Z5A; some have only 6GB of RAM, others in retail configurations appear to drop Bluetooth and the extra VGA dongle. Comparing it with equivalent Sony Vaio SE and Dell XPS 15z configurations, the Series 7 offers a very similar set of specs. The 15z almost completely matches on price and specs, although the 15z has a 1080p display; the Vaio SE is more expensive in a $1,499 version, but also has a Blu-ray drive. It's a full $500 less than the closest entry-level MacBook Pro, but everyone expects Windows laptops to undercut Apple on price.
A 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-2675QM processor is similar to what's available on the Sony Vaio F236FM, fall 2011 MacBook Pro 15-inch, and Toshiba Satellite P775-S7320. Performance is, as to be expected, speedy; the Series 7 slightly outperformed the Toshiba Satellite while being a bit slower than the Sony Vaio, though on single-task benchmarks they were quite similar. The real advantage to a quad-core processor comes from advanced tasks that use the cores at once; most mainstream computing would do fine with a dual-core Core i5 processor without sacrificing too much speed, but the extra power here comes in handy for gaming, among other things.
AMD Radeon 6750M graphics offer a satisfying level of gaming power: Street Fighter IV ran at 53 frames per second at native resolution, while Metro 2033, a far more demanding game, ran at 11.3 frames per second at native resolution and high graphics settings. Dialing down graphics settings or playing at 1,366x768 pixels should help most games be very playable. I'd call this laptop gaming-friendly, but wouldn't call it a gamer's laptop.