Like Coldplay's tunes, netbooks have a reputation for being a little on the samey side. Unlike Coldplay's songs, however, every now and again one comes along that cracks the mould open. The NF210 from Samsung, which is priced at around £330, is one such example.
What sets this model apart from its peers is mainly its interesting design. Samsung has used a manufacturing technology call In Mold Rolling to shape the chassis in a way we simply haven't come across before. It's allowed Samsung to lend the netbook a really sculpted shape, where the edges of the chassis rise up in a sort of curved wing profile. The lid has a corresponding concave edge that hugs the wings when closed. As a result, when you view the netbook from the side it has a slightly wave-shaped silhouette. Samsung has combined this interesting sculpting with a gorgeous, glossy white and brushed-aluminium finish to create one of the best-looking netbooks we've seen -- the photos don't really do it justice.
The keyboards on other Samsung netbooks have generally been of a very high standard, so we were expecting good things from this one and, thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. Using an isolated keyboard design, Samsung has managed to produce a keyboard that doesn't feel too cramped despite the netbook's small dimensions. The keys don't have all that much travel, so they do feel a little toy-like under your fingers to begin with, but you soon get used to this and start to appreciate their snappy responsiveness. While the trackpad isn't the largest we've seen on netbooks this size, your finger does glide effortlessly across it and the two buttons feel quite solid, too.
Samsung has decided against a glossy coating for the NF210's display, which is an unusual move for a consumer-focused laptop. Instead, it's gone for a matte, anti-glare finish. This does mean colours don't look quite as vibrant and in your face as they do on some glossy displays, but it has the benefit of being much easier on the eyes, especially if you're working under bright lights. Also, the LED backlighting means the screen still looks quite bright. Although the resolution of 1,024x600 pixels is nothing we haven't seen on a netbook before, the small size of the 10.1-inch display means videos, images and text still look very crisp and sharp.
As you would expect, the netbook has 1GB of RAM and runs Windows 7 Starter, but the big surprise is that this model is one of the first to hit the market sporting the new dual-core N550 Atom processor, clocked at 1.5GHz. Although the clock speed is lower than the more traditional 1.6GHz Atom N270 chip, the extra core should produce a decent bump in overall performance. In our PCMark05 test, this doesn't show through to a huge degree -- the netbook scored 1,634, compared to the 1,285 scored by Samsung's Atom N270-equipped N130 model. It felt noticeably more responsive in use, although it still hasn't got the grunt to play high-definition videos from the BBC's iPlayer service smoothly. 3D performance is just as poor as it is on other netbooks -- the NF210 only managed to crawl to a score of 145 in 3DMark06, so you're only going to be able to play very, very old 3D titles on this one.
Samsung has kitted the NF210 out with a 250GB hard drive, which is par for the course on netbooks, and the line-up of ports is no surprise, either. There are three USB ports along with a VGA output and Ethernet socket. Sadly, there's no HDMI port. Alongside the 801.11n Wi-Fi, Samsung has included Bluetooth 3.0, which supports faster transfer speeds when used with compatible 3.0 devices.
The NF210's battery performance wasn't great by netbook standards. In our Battery Eater test, it only managed to keep running for four hours and 28 minutes before it ran out of juice. The N130, in comparison, kept running for well over nine hours. That said, the Battery Eater test runs the CPU at 100 per cent to simulate worst-case scenario battery drain, so you're likely to get significantly longer life from the battery with normal use.
We love the Samsung NF210's sculpted design, great keyboard and dual-core processor. At £330, however, it's quite pricey by netbook standards, and the performance boost offered by the Atom processor is perhaps not as significant as we would have expected. Its lack of an HDMI port, as found on similarly priced rivals, is also a little disappointing.
Edited by Emma Bayly