15 March 2009

Samsung Q310-34P

A thin-and-light that's lean on speed, value

UNTIL NOW, THE ONLY WAY to get a Samsung-branded notebook was to live (or special-order from) outside North America. Now, anyone shopping for a thin-and-light business model can add Samsung's Q310 to the list of options. Nicely equipped and easy on the eyes, the system should please mobile users looking for style, features, and portability. That said, we can't help wishing Samsung's North American debut offered a little more performance and a tittle less been-there-done-that.

Indeed, from a design standpoint, the Q310 just barely stands out from the pack. It has the obligatory glossy black lid and bezels, while the front edge sports a sharp-looking and subtle dark-red gradation. Equipped with a 13.3-inch screen, the system measures 1.5x12.7x9.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.8 pounds—all average numbers for a thin-and-light.The screen looks as bright and colorful as any we've seen, though its viewing angles could be better: If you tilt the screen too far back, images wash out in a hurry. As for the keyboard, we found it comfortable overall, though key travel was a bit on the shallow side. We would have liked to see some dedicated media-playback controls, but the Q310 has none.

The touch pad and mouse buttons are excellent—perfectly sized and responsive. Plus, there's a function-key toggle for temporarily disabling the touch pad, which is great for users who frequently swipe it by accident with their thumbs while typing.

The Q310 shines in terms of specs, starting with its 3GB of RAM, 320GB hard drive, and LightScribe-capable DVD burner. Samsung also squeezed in a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, 802.11a/b/Wn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and an HDMI port. Alas, there's no option for built-in mobile broadband, but countless USB solutions are available. Speaking of USB, the Q310 includes three USB ports, two of them located at the rear. It also has a 34mm ExpressCard slot; VGA, Ethernet, microphone, and headphone ports; and a seven-format media card reader.

The Q310 performed well on our benchmark tests, though we couldn't get Futuremark PCMark Vantage to run. It zipped through our lames and Windows Media Encoder tests in 4 minutes and 23 seconds and 6 minutes and 47 seconds, respectively—faster than most other thin-and-lights we've tested and considerably better than the $949 Lenovo ThinkPad SL300, which took 8 minutes and 43 seconds for WME and 5 minutes and 5O seconds for iTunes. Likewise, the Q310's Cinebench 9.5 and 10 scores of 753 and 4,614 landed well above average (again, compared with 547 and 3,352 for the SL300).

Only in our DVD battery-rundown test did the Q310 fail to excel. Though its time of 2 hours and 42 minutes was acceptable, the SL300 managed nearly an hour and 40 minutes longer. We really liked the push-button power gauge on the Q310's six-cell battery, however—it lets you know at a glance if the notebook needs charging before you head out on the road.

Not surprisingly, the system's integrated Intel GMX4500 graphics processor produced mediocre Futuremark 3DMark06 scores: 827 at its native resolution (1,280x800) and 911 at 1,024x768. Though far shy of systems with discrete graphics, those numbers represent a marked improvement over notebooks with the old GMX3100 chip such as the Dell Inspiron 1525 and Sony VAIO VGN-NR160E. Don't expect to do a lot of heavy-duty video editing (or 3D gaming), but you should have no trouble with everyday business-graphics chores. That said, if you need more graphics power, look to the Toshiba Satellite E105-S1402, which offers a 3DMark06 score of 1,054 at 1,024x768, a slightly bigger screen, only slightly more weight (0.2 pound more), and a significantly lower cost (by about $200).

A DVD of Independence Day and high-definition streaming video from I lulu played without hiccuping. If you intend to use the Q310 to watch movies, plan on packing a pair of headphones: The built-in speakers are decent, but even at maximum volume they're not particularly loud. And when you do crank the volume, the audio turns a bit harsh.

Samsung stocks the business-class Q310 with Vista Business, a 60-day trial version of Office 2007 Professional, McAfee SecurityCenter, and a handful of Samsung-branded utilities: Easy Network Manager, Magic Doctor, Recovery Solution III, and so on. We particularly liked the built-in interactive user guide, which we found easier to use and more comprehensive than most. The Q310 comes with a one-year warranty. Although the Q310 isn't a bad system, Samsung will have to work a little harder to compete in this fierce market. Its solid mix of features is a good start, but with Toshiba undercutting its price and outperforming its scores, it's tough to justify buying the Q310. On the other hand, if you can get it for less than $1,100 (we're already seeing it for as little as $1,204 in some places), you should jump at the chance. -Rick Broida

Computer Shopper March 2009


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