|Name||Ultraportable laptop: Samsung NP350 (U2B-A02)|
|At a glance:||Stylish aluminium-look design,Great CPU performance,Average battery life|
|Summary:||A great balance between portability and screen-size.|
Samsung’s 12.5-inch NP350 has a shiny, ‘brushed aluminium’ plastic lid and real aluminium keyboard surround, with a silver plastic wrist rest and matte black keys. At a glance it looks stylish and modern, though close inspection reveals the budget plastic shell. Still, the laptop feels solid and doesn’t torque or deform easily.
At 1.4kg the NP350 isn’t going to weigh you down too much, and its 26mm width gives it a fairly small volume compared to many of its smaller-screened 11.6-inch competitors. The keyboard is comfortable over long stretches of high-speed touch typing, with reasonable travel and a quiet but clear ‘click’.
The touchpad is quite responsive but while ample horizontally, doesn’t offer enough vertical space. Making the buttons part of the usable pad surface would have addressed that issue.
Fans of glossy screens will be disappointed by the NP350’s matte display – personally I much prefer the low reflectivity of the matte finish. Though not as crisp and bright when viewing images or videos, it makes the NP350 much more practical outdoors or near windows than its glossier alternatives.
Processor-wise you’ve got an Intel Core i3 2310M – higher spec than the Core i3 in the Lenovo X121e (also reviewed in our 2011 ultraportable laptops roundup), but with the same Intel HD Graphics 3000 engine on-chip. That means no DirectX 11 support, and mediocre graphical performance. The NP350 fares much better in CPU-intensive benchmarks, scoring in the top-three for each test. In fact, in some cases it actually outperforms the Core i5 found in the Apple MacBook Air and Acer TravelMate 8481g.
Storage is on the smaller and slower end with a 320GB, 5400RPM hard drive. Like the Lenovo X121e that shares the same storage limitation, it’s still significantly larger than the SSDs you’ll find in the MacBook Air and Acer TravelMate. Those have the advantage of speed, but the Samsung still provides a better dumping ground for your photos and videos.
Battery life came in at 3 hours, 39 minutes – reasonable given the high performance of the CPU, but insufficient for a full day’s work. A real-world workload, such as writing this feature while streaming music over Wi-Fi, gave similar results of around 3.5-4 hours per charge. The battery is internal (not easily user-replaceable, and definitely not on the fly), meaning you can’t just carry a spare around. Still, it’s far from the shortest-lived battery in this roundup, and not the only one with an internal battery.
Samsung’s NP350 is not our top ultraportable performer for 2011. It’s right on the average battery life, weight and volume of the models we’ve tested. Still, it combines a set of reliable, well-implemented features into a solid build, at a not-unreasonable price. If the 11.6-inch form factor is just a tad too small for your liking, the NP350’s 12.5-inch screen may be the answer. If you want a good mix of portability and screen size, the NP350 should be at the top of your list.