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.
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.
• 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|
|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|
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|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
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.
|Samsung Series 3||Avg watts/hour|
|Raw kWh number||29.10|
|Annual energy cost||$3.30|
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.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
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