The Q310 is almost identical to its predecessor, the Q210, with the only noticeable differences being the bigger display, extra 1GB of RAM and a slight change in port placement. It's also kept the glossy black finish, which unfortunately is smudge-prone -- so is it worth the upgrade to a more expensive machine?
If you like your laptops small and with decent battery life, Samsung's Q310 will definitely appeal. It is, however, just a minor update to the Q210, and the 13-inch display is the only major modification. So is it worth the upgrade to a £650 machine?
Samsung has done little to differentiate this laptop from the Q210. It sports that same glossy-black chassis that looks great but picks up smudges and smears far too easily, and the 'touch of red' strip along the wrist-rest still looks like a manufacturing error as opposed to a genuine design-based decision.
The screen gets a bump from 12.1-inches to 13.3-inches, but since it works at the same 1,200x800-pixel resolution you won't be able to cram in any more windows onto the desktop.
Unlike on the Q210, two of the three USB ports here are located at the rear next to the power and Ethernet sockets. Although this keeps wires out of the way, the fact that the pair of USB ports are stacked means plugging in a chunky device, such as a TV tuner, will almost definitely block off the second port. The third USB port is sat on the right side.
An HDMI port lets you spew video direct to a nearby TV -- alternatively you can use the analogue VGA output. There's no Firewire or eSATA, but you do get a 34mm Expresscard slot on the left and a multi-format card reader at the front. The DVD writer is the same as the one found in the Q210 and supports Lightscribe, which lets you etch uninspiring greyscale images onto compatible discs.
Thanks to well-spaced keys with a good amount of travel, we had no problems typing out long documents. We did notice a worrying amount of flex on the bottom right of the keyboard, though.
As with the exterior, the guts of this notebook are very similar to that of the Q210. You get the same 2.26GHz P8400 Core 2 Duo CPU and Nvidia Geforce 9200M GS graphics with 256MB Ram. One difference is that the Q310 packs 4GB of system memory as opposed to the Q210's 3GB, but since the installed 32-bit Vista Home Premium can't handle more than 3GB, you won't see a performance boost unless you upgrade to 64-bit.
Given that the Q310 uses the same processor and graphics, we were expecting its benchmark scores to be on a par with the Q210. In 3DMark06 this was indeed the case, with an almost identical score of 2,085. However, in PCMark 2005 it initially scored just 4,515 compared to the Q210's 5,184 -- closer inspection of the results showed the graphics to be holding the overall score back. Nvidia doesn't currently provide drivers for the 9200M GS on its Web site, so we downloaded the latest Samsung-specific drivers from the Q310's support site, but it had no effect.
As a last resort, we used Samsung's Recovery Solution III utility to reimage the drive back to its original, and sure enough it leapt back into life with an overall PCMark 2005 score of 5,243. Since we received the laptop as new, the initial poor score is something of a mystery.
Battery life was, again, outstanding. In the processor-intensive BatteryEater test it whirred away for no less than 3 hours and 12 minutes. It also excelled in the reader test, lasting 5 hours and 23 minutes. Make no mistake: the Q310 has no qualms about extended trips away from the mains.
On paper the Q310 is almost identical to the Q210, with the only noticeable differences being the bigger display, extra 1GB of RAM and a slight change in port placement.
However, with exactly the same native resolution as the 12-inch Q210, the effect of the bigger screen is minimal, while the 1GB is wasted on 32-bit Vista. In short, we'd recommend saving some money and opting for the slightly smaller Q210, which is now available for just £599.
Edited by Marian Smith