Samsung Galaxy Book S: In-Depth, Australian review
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Book S (2020)?
Like many ACPCs, the Samsung Galaxy Book S is more of a device in search of an audience than one that changes the equation in a way that draws in its own crowd.
If you’re weighing this up against something running on Intel or AMD latest chipsets, any benefits in size, battery life or price are inevitably going to play second fiddle to the invisible cage of software incompatibilities that the Galaxy Book S asks you to work within.
The Samsung Galaxy Book S feels like a slice of the future with strings attached.
Price when reviewed
In Australia, recommended retail pricing for the Samsung Galaxy Book S starts at AU$1699.
Samsung Galaxy Book S (2020) full review
In Australia, you can buy the Samsung Galaxy Book S for an RRP of AU$1699. You can find it through the following:
Design - Look, Feel and Features
If there’s any single area where the Galaxy Book S truly shines, it’s design.
Here, Samsung has tried to emulate - or at least echo - many of the particulars that work for their smartphone products. The Galaxy Book S is lightweight and ultra-slim. The silver embossed Samsung logo twinkles in the light. It’s very nice on the eyes and a delight to handle.
Samsung have brought a flourish and sense of craftsmanship that makes the more traditional clamshell form-factor here feel fresh and new. It feels like Samsung has rebooted and revived the concept of this style of laptop like Disney are going to reboot X-Men in a few years time. It’s classical enough to evoke nostalgia but modern enough to be relevant.
If you’re a person who likes their small numbers, the Galaxy Book S also has plenty of those to offer. The notebook weighs just 961g and touts a thickness of just 11.8mm. While the Galaxy Book S isn't weighted in such a way that can gently flick it open with a single finger (as you can with a Macbook), it does get pretty close.
The low-profile keyboard on the Galaxy Book S feels a little squishy to type on but is otherwise inoffensive. In contrast, the wider precision trackpad on the device is a genuine delight.
The 13.3-inch FHD display isn’t the sharpest or brightest out there but it’s impressive enough for the price-tag. The dual speakers inside the Galaxy Book S are also surprisingly loud and the power key doubles as a capacitive fingerprint sensor. There’s also a SIM slot on the inside, allowing for mobile 4G connectivity.
For the record, the Samsung Galaxy Book S features a total of four ports:
1x combo audio jack
2x USB Type-C (Gen 3.1)
1x MicroSD card slot
The software side of things might be a perfectly-valid reason to give you pause on buying what Samsung are selling here but, all the same, it can’t be said that the Galaxy Book S doesn’t sit on the cutting edge of mobile design.
Performance - Specs, Benchmarks and Battery Life
Processor: Snapdragon 8cx
Operating System: Windows 10
MicroSD slot: Yes
Display: 13.3-inch, FHD
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, 4G,
Front-Facing Camera: 720p HD
Dimensions: 305.2 mm x 203.2 mm x 6.2-11.8 mm
Samsung Galaxy Book S Benchmarks:
Geekbench CPU (Single): 677
Geekbench CPU (Multi): 2284
As you may or may not know, the Samsung Galaxy Book S runs on an ARM-based processor. Historically, ARM-based Windows PCs have been slower than their x86 counterparts. And as seen with Microsoft’s recent Surface Pro X, they’ve also been subject to some considerable compatibility issues when it comes to software.
The Windows apps you’re buying the Galaxy Book S to run might work. However, they just as likely might not. I can’t even give you most of my usual benchmarks for this laptop, because most of them refused to run. If that proposition sounds fraught, that’s because it is.
Sure, if you’re sticking to core Windows applications or doing most of your work within a web browser, you might be okay - but it’s still a dice-roll. The Galaxy Book S asks you to take a chance on the stuff you’d usually take for granted.
To try and find some of the limits here, I ended up trying to run a ton of different stuff on the Galaxy Book S, including some older software in my Steam library, to see what worked. Sometimes, Steam actually stopped me from even trying to install a game because it knew it wouldn’t be compatible. Other times, it let me go right ahead and find out for myself.
Dead Cells was uneven on the frame-rate side of things but still mostly playable. Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock booted up but all the 3D assets failed to load, rendering the real-time strategy game unplayable. In contrast, Legends of Runeterra, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dead Space 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Rogue refused to launch at all. Return of the Obra Dinn was a pleasant exception here. The game’s spooky graphics sometimes glitched a little but, apart from that, it ran perfectly fine.
I don’t want the above to sound too damning, so let me be clear. The Galaxy Book S isn’t a gaming laptop. However, I already have about 900 games in my Steam library, I may as well bounce between them to get a feel for just how much of a crapshoot ARM-compatibility really is.
Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a workflow that’s entirely built out of dynamic web pages and cloud-based services, then maybe these incompatibilities are something you’re willing to live with. You were never going to play video games or edit large video files on this thing anyway, so what does it matter if the Galaxy Book S can’t run those applications?
Well, any discussion of the performance of ACPCs like the Samsung Galaxy Book S ultimately arrives at the same philosophical question: are you buying a PC that does the things you *need* it to do or one that’s capable of doing the things you *might* want it to do?
I lean towards the latter, and even if you suspect you might fall in the other camp, it’s still not a gamble I’d readily recommend.
To Samsung’s credit, the Galaxy Book S does deliver well above-average battery life. I’d often be using it off-and-on throughout the week off a single charge.
When subjected to our battery eater test, which gauges the minimum battery life of a given notebook PC, the Galaxy Book S lasted 11 hours and 54 minutes. This is the best result we are ever gotten from a laptop since we started using this particular benchmark and approximately four times the result offered by the runner up.
The Bottom Line
For as much as the Galaxy Book S showcases Samsung’s affinity for delivering top-notch hardware, it also serves to highlight a lot of things that make modern Windows PCs compelling than tablets like the iPad - and a lot those things are missing in action here.
And where Intel’s Project Athena are getting closer and closer to the form-factor idealised by these kinds of ACPCs with every year, there’s no word on where ARM processors like the one inside the Galaxy Book S will begin to close the gap in performance and software utility on their x86 counterparts.
You might not get this kind of form-factor and battery life from something like Dell’s XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360 but it’s going to be really difficult to know if the Galaxy Book S will suit your workflow until after you’ve bought in. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, you’re going to be making compromises and, should you stray from the path even a little, you’ll run into problems fast.
The Galaxy Book S is sleeker and thinner and lighter in a way that’s adept at distracting you from the areas where the experience falls short. Until ARM-based Windows PCs improve, this may as well just be a walled garden by another name.
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