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Samsung Series 3 review: Samsung Series 3

Samsung Series 3

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 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
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
6 min read

Few laptops garnered as much virtual ink at CES 2011 as the Samsung Series 9, a slim, slick 13-inch laptop positioned as a Windows alternative to the MacBook Air. Later came an 11-inch version, but both were priced well over $1,000, putting them out of reach for most laptop shoppers. Samsung subsequently developed a more mainstream line, called the Series 3, and the first Series 3 product to hit store shelves is the 11.6-inch model, currently available in the U.S. exclusively at Staples.


Samsung Series 3

The Good

Samsung's <b>Series 3</b> is a more economical take on the company's cool Series 9 laptops, and one of the few 11-inch laptops with an Intel Core i3 CPU.

The Bad

At $699, it's priced out of the league of other 11-inch ultraportables.

The Bottom Line

Samsung's sharp designs translate well to this more affordable new line, although the Series 3 is still at the high end of the ultraportable price range.

As a less-expensive version of the snazzy Series 9 (or Samsung's just-announced Series 7 laptops), the Series 3 fills a need for an 11-inch ultraportable that has a sharp design, and also breaks the typical 11-inch AMD E-350 mold. Instead the Series 3 uses an Intel Core i3 processor, but can otherwise be seen as competing with systems such as the Lenovo IdeaPad S205 and HP Pavilion dm1z.

Related links
HP Pavilion dm1z review
Samsung Series 9 (11-inch) review
Samsung's new Series 7 laptops
Lenovo IdeaPad S205 review

The 11-inch Series 3 is currently $699 (we've seen some $100 discounts come and go already), which is dangerously close to full-featured laptop pricing territory, and more expensive than AMD-powered ultraportables. That said, the performance of the Series 3 beats those other systems (but the battery life does not). For $100 less, we'd be sold; for now, it comes down to a careful calculation of your price/performance/battery needs.

Price as reviewed $599
Processor 1.3GHz Intel Core i3-2357M
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 320GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel HM65
Graphics Intel HD 3000
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 10.9x7.9 inches
Height 0.9 - 1.0 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.7 pounds / 3.3 pounds
Category Ultraportable

Compared with the Series 9 or even Series 7 laptops from Samsung, the Series 3 is clearly a less-expensive system. It still manages to look respectable, especially from the outside, but the gray plastic is no match for the jet-black streamlined metal look of the $1,000-plus Series 9. The brushed-metal lid (likely a thin aluminum veneer over plastic) curves downward at the hinge, mimicking the curved design of Samsung's more expensive laptops.

Inside, things are a bit more pedestrian, with light gray plastic on the keyboard tray and wrist rest, and no additional buttons or controls beyond the keyboard, touch pad, and power button. The keyboard is an island-style one, with flat-topped, widely spaced keys that, in this case, are significantly higher than we're used to seeing on ultraportables (some of which have keys that are annoyingly shallow). The Shift, Tab, and Enter keys are all full-size, so there are no real impediments to fast touch typing.

The touch pad is a decent size, in the elongated (one might say letterboxlike) style we've seen on several ultraportables and Netbooks in the past couple of years. The longer length makes two-finger scrolling easier, as you can actually fit two fingers on at once, but the left and right mouse buttons are represented by a single rocker-style bar, which is not our favorite input method.

The 11.6-inch display has a standard resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is easily the most common in laptops all the way from 11 inches up to 15 inches. The display was clear and bright, but off-axis viewing dropped off quickly. The internal speakers were tinny, as one might expect; hardly worse than what we've heard on other small laptops (or even many larger ones), but anything beyond casual viral video viewing is best done with headphones or external speakers.

Samsung Series 3 (11.6-inch) Average for category [ultraportable]
Video VGA plus HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None None

The selection of ports and connections available on the Samsug Series 3 is standard fare. It does, however, incorporate one clever workaround we've seen on a handful of very slim laptops before. The Ethernet port has a small flap that folds open so the Cat 5 cable can be properly inserted, allowing the port to take up less space.

This Series 3 is a single fixed-configuration model, but Samsung has other versions, including ones with 12.5-inch, 13-inch, 14-inch, and 15-inch screens, although none of those is actually in stores yet, as far as we can tell.

The main point of differentiation between the Samsung Series 3 and other 11.6-inch ultraportables such as the HP dm1z or Lenovo IdeaPad S205 is the choice of CPU. Samsung uses a low-voltage version of Intel's Core i3 processor, whereas most other current ultraportables use AMD's E-350 CPU. The performance difference is notable, with the Samsung beating those other systems in every benchmark test. In real-world terms, for Web surfing and watching online video, either CPU will be fine, but the Series 3 will be an overall zippier system if you keep a lot of windows open at once and engage in moderate multitasking.

Juice box
Samsung Series 3 Avg watts/hour
Off (60%) 0.5
Sleep (10%) 0.65
Idle (25%) 7.18
Load (05%) 23.24
Raw kWh number 29.10
Annual energy cost $3.30

Annual power consumption cost
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A

Unfortunately, battery life is where the Samsung Series 3 falls down for us. The system ran for only 2 hours and 41 minutes in our video playback battery drain test, which is surprisingly short for an ultraportable. Keep in mind, however, that our test is a grueling one for most laptops, and we saw longer battery life from casual use, such as Web surfing and e-mail. HP's excellent Pavilion dm1z still takes the prize in this category, with 5 hours and 19 minutes.

Samsung includes a one-year warranty with the Series 3 (the 13-inch Series 9, in contrast, comes with a three-year warranty). Samsung's site is easy to navigate, and plugging in our exact model number, NP300U1A, produced a custom page of links and downloads (although popping that model number into the general site search box turns up zero results). Support is also available via online chat or at a toll-free number, which is 800-726-7864.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
HP Pavilion dm1-3005

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
HP Pavilion dm1-3005

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.3GHz Intel Core i3-2357M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Lenovo IdeaPad S205
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 644MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

HP Pavilion dm1-3005
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 3,072MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Samsung Series 9 NP900X1A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.33GHz Intel Core i3-380UM; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB(Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 64GB Samsung SSD


Samsung Series 3

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Battery 5Support 7