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Samsung Notebook 7 Spin review: A big-screen hybrid with some gaming chops

It may not turn many heads, but this 15-inch Samsung laptop folds back on itself to become a full HD touchscreen tablet with high dynamic range.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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Many Windows hybrids are essentially full-time tablets that get a keyboard added on to become a part-time laptop. Potentially more useful is something like the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin, which looks and feels like a standard 15-inch laptop, but has a 360-degree hinge, allowing it to fold back into a touchscreen tablet without compromising its laptop ergonomics.

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Samsung Notebook 7 Spin

The Good

The Samsung Notebook 7 Spin offers very good Core i7 performance, some basic game-ready graphics, and impressive battery life.

The Bad

The design is bland, especially for a laptop that costs more than $1,000. You're not going to love the touchpad, and the hyped HDR video mode offers only very subtle improvement.

The Bottom Line

It doesn't have a lot of wow factor, but the 15-inch Samsung Notebook 7 Spin packs in decent premium features, including some you won't find in other hybrids.

Like other 360-degree hinge hybrids, including the popular Lenovo Yoga series, you can stop at a few points along the way, such as a kiosk mode or table tent mode, which puts the display front and center.

But there are a lot of hybrid laptops with 360-degree hinges out there. At this point, making waves in this crowded pool requires adding new features, better designs or other extras. In the case of this 15-inch version of the Notebook 7 Spin, you get a full-HD touchscreen with an interesting special feature. Samsung has included what it calls an HDR mode -- which mean high dynamic range.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Now, some new televisions support a new video format also called HDR, which means special HDR content viewed on an HDR TV will have better contrast and clarity -- essentially a better balance between the light and dark parts of the picture.

In this case, Samsung has created a software HDR filter. When flipped on, it applies an HDR-like effect to any video you're watching. Honestly, in action the effect is pretty subtle, but it's an interesting idea, and if you don't like the effect on your favorite Netflix show, you can just turn it off.

Watching a variety of content on the Notebook 7 Spin with our in-house TV expert David Katzmaier, he described the effect of the HDR filter as a simple gamma change. In most of the examples we watched, flipping it on kept the bright parts of scenes correctly lit while deepening the black levels of other parts of the scene.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Overall, Katzmaier said he preferred the effect to not having it switched on, but it also was a very subtle change. Trying some actual Netflix content specially encoded for HDR televisions (you'll need the highest-end UHD Netflix account for that), there was no evidence that the laptop was making use of the native HDR-encoded content.

There's one other interesting extra in this model, an Nvidia 940MX graphics chip. That's not going to make you a top-flight gamer, but I could play some mainstream games at medium settings and full HD resolution, so that makes the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin one of the only game-friendly hybrids I've seen.

The 15-inch version of the Notebook 7 Spin comes in two configurations, currently discounted by $100 each in the US to $899 and $1,099. Both include Intel Core i7 processors and the Nvidia graphics chip, but the higher end model goes from 12GB to 16GB of RAM, and adds a 128GB SSD to the 1TB of platter hard drive space both machines share. We're testing the high-end of those two models. Samsung doesn't currently offer Windows laptops in the UK or Australia, but that works out to £845 or AU$1,420. There's also a $799 (£615, AU$1,040) 13-inch version that skips the Nvidia graphics and knocks the CPU down to a Core i5.

Samsung Notebook 7 Spin

Price as reviewed $1,199
Display size/resolution 15.6-inch 1,920x1,080 touch display
PC CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U
PC Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce 940MX
Storage 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Samsung is known for some really eye-catching computer designs, such as its TabPro S tablet or the ultrathin Book 9 laptops. This is not one of those examples. Instead, you get a very workmanlike gray-silver, largely featureless design across the interior and exterior. It's not slim or light enough to stand out, and only the big, bright 15-inch display keeps it from looking especially bland. This isn't a laptop that will have people coming up to you at the coffee shop to find out what it is.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard, with its widely spaced island-style keys, makes for comfortable typing, and includes a full separate number pad. But, the large touchpad has the same loose, floaty feel as almost all Windows laptop touchpads, at least when compared to the tightly integrated multi-touch gestures found in Apple laptops.

Inside is a low-voltage U-series Core i7 from Intel's current generation of CPUs. That's great for power users who tend to push their 15-inch laptops harder than more casual users push 13-inch models. In our application tests, the Notebook 7 Spin performed on par with other similarly configured laptops and faster than some recent Core i5 hybrids from Dell.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Nvidia 940MX GPU isn't going to run high-end games with high detail settings at the system's native 1080p resolution, but I was able to run my go-to casual PC game, BioShock Infinite, at the native resolution and medium settings, and TellTale's brand new Batman game at lower graphics settings. Your milage may vary, but it's nice to be able to at least do a little gaming on here.

Running for 7 hours 50 minutes on our standard streaming video-playback test (with the HDR mode turned off), I'm pretty happy with the battery life in this case. That's longer than Dell's current Inspiron hybrids, and only a little less than the HP Spectre x360, which is one of our favorite systems in this category.

Conclusion

The HDR feature is more of a gimmick than a must-have feature (and there's a much deeper explanation about why HDR doesn't always matter much on laptops, tablets and phones here), but I like that this is a full-featured 15-inch hybrid with both a Core i7 CPU and discrete Nvidia graphics, at a price that's reasonable (although frankly, some new well-equipped Dell Inspiron hybrids have just rewritten the value calculation for this type of computer).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The floaty touchpad and overall bland design keep me from being too excited about the Notebook 7 Spin, but dispassionately, I can appreciate its charms, and sometimes you want basic workmanlike efficiency over flash.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Razer Blade 14 205Samsung Notebook 7 Spin 442Microsoft Surface Book 480HP Spectre x360 496Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 517Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series 518
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Razer Blade 14 13130Microsoft Surface Book 7269Samsung Notebook 7 Spin 7078Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 6470HP Spectre x360 6439Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series 5413
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

HP Spectre x360 483Samsung Notebook 7 Spin 470Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 375Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series 356Razer Blade 14 341
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System Configurations

Samsung Notebook 7 Spin Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce 940MX; 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Razer Blade 14 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book Microsoft Windosws 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR4 1866MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GPU; 512GB SSD
HP Spectre x360 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
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Samsung Notebook 7 Spin

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Battery 9