Looking at the Samsung N230, you could be forgiven for thinking it's yet another cookie-cutter netbook. And you'd be right -- there's not an awful lot that separates this machine from its numerous rivals. Still, at least it's not one of the rubbish netbooks. The N230 has an easy-to-use keyboard, a great, non-glossy screen and tremendous battery life, so it's worth its £330 price tag.
The N230 isn't ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks much the same as any of the Samsung netbooks currently on the market. It sports a familiar glossy black lid, the main function of which seems to be to attract fingerprint smudges. Samsung's used a slightly more attractive, matte black finish on the keyboard section, though, and a black, brushed-metal effect on the wrist pad, so it's not all bad news.
Keyboards are a real source of disappointment on many netbooks. Luckily, Samsung's fitted the N230 with a top-quality keyboard. It uses isolated keys, with each button surrounded by a small sea of plastic. There's plenty of room between every key and its neighbours, so it's easy to hit each button without striking adjacent ones.
The N230 doesn't pack many surprises as far as connectivity is concerned. It has one VGA video-output port, an Ethernet port, and headphone and mic jacks. Samsung's also thrown in an SD memory-card reader on the front edge, which works brilliantly for copying pictures over from a digital camera or mobile phone.
The machine's USB ports are arguably the most interesting aspect of its connectivity. It has three of these but one can be used to charge your USB devices -- mobile phones, iPods and so on -- without the laptop being switched on. As you can imagine, this comes in handy when travelling, or when you don't want to have your laptop switched on simply to charge a gadget.
The Samsung N230 has a 10.1-inch display, which is the netbook norm. It's one of relatively few netbook screens to come with a matte finish. As a result, pictures and videos don't look quite as sexy, but you'll be able to use the netbook in just about any lighting conditions. Because the matte screen isn't highly reflective, it's even possible to use the N230 in direct sunlight.
Just above the screen, you'll find a small webcam. That means the N230 can be used for video calling via applications like Skype or Truphone, or simply for taking emo-style MySpace self-portraits.
Samsung's also bundled the CyberLink YouCam software, which can be used to record YouTube clips. The software features augmented-reality effects that allow the user to overlay cartoon graphics on a video. We're not sure why, but you can have lightning bolts coming out of your face, water droplets falling down the video frame, or random birds flying across your path. Each to their own, we suppose.
The N230 uses an Intel Atom N450 CPU and 1GB of RAM, which is today's netbook norm. As a result, it offers performance in line with just about all of its rivals. It's quick enough to handle day-to-day tasks such as Web browsing, playback of YouTube and BBC iPlayer videos, and document editing, but more demanding tasks (video editing or serious multitasking, for example) may cause it to struggle. It scored 1,458 in the PCMark05 benchmark test.
The netbook offers excellent battery life. Its six-cell battery lasted a very respectable 6 hours and 57 minutes in the Battery Eater Classic test, which runs the netbook's CPU at 100 per cent to simulate a worst-case battery-life scenario. With less intensive use, it should be possible to get somewhere close to Samsung's claimed 13-hour battery life.
The Samsung N230 is a decent all-round netbook. It doesn't hold many surprises, but its excellent keyboard, screen and battery life make it a real winner.
Edited by Charles Kloet