by Charles P. Jefferies
The Samsung N120 is the company's latest entry into the 10-inch netbook market. The N120 has typical netbook specifications but sets itself apart with an eye-catching design, light weight, and long battery life. Read on for our take.
Our Samsung N120 review unit has the following specifications:
Build and Design
All netbooks generally have the same specifications so the design is everything when it comes to selling a netbook. Samsung's designers did an excellent job with the N120 – it is one of the most visually attractive netbooks I have seen to date. The N120 manages to look great from every angle.
Our N120 is white all over and is constructed of strong plastic that has a high-quality feel. All of the N120's surfaces with the exception of the screen,lid hinges, and side trim have a matte surface with a slight texture. The N120 feels nice to hold; I always found myself taking it from room to room.
The N120's lid is thin yet strong. There is little side-to-side flex and no ripples appear on the screen when pressure is put on the back. The top of the lid has a slight curve to it and rounded edges which feel smooth; there are no rough edges where the seams come together. On either side of the display are the N120s stereo speakers, and a webcam is embedded in the top. The lid is attached to the base of the netbook via two chrome-finished hinges. The bottom of the display actually swivels under the battery when opened, which not only adds style but helps the N120 keep a low profile.
The base of the N120 is also sturdy and has a quality feel. It hardly flexes under pressure and seems to be quite durable (time will tell). The 97% full-size keyboard takes up most of the real estate as it should, and a touchpad spans most of the vertical space below the keyboard. There are no physical buttons on the N120 save for the power button, which is actually located on the side of the machine next to the right hinge.
The sides of the N120 look particularly attractive with a strip of chrome trim. The sides are chiseled inward leaving the ports exposed, which makes the netbook look smaller than it actually is. The front of the netbook has a slight curve to it which matches the lid; the lid and the base fit together nicely. Although the N120 uses a larger six-cell battery, Samsung managed to design the netbook so there is only a small bulge out the back; the larger battery does not jut out like it does on some netbooks such as the HP Minis.
Overall, the Samsung N120 has the most pleasing design of any netbook I have used to date; it achieves visual attractiveness without the use of any outlandish lid designs or colors.
Screen and Speakers
The N120 has a 10.1-inch widescreen display (16:9 aspect ratio) with a 1024x600 resolution and LED backlighting. Contrast and brightness are excellent; this is without doubt a pretty picture. I have seen better color depth, but the N120s display is not something I would complain about. The LEDs lighting the display provide an even brightness distribution. The N120 has eight levels of brightness; I found all of them to be usable, with 5 or 6 being the most comfortable and 3 being a good battery setting.
Viewing angles are average; side-to-side are generally good with some minor color shift, but from above it washes out and below it darkens very quickly. The N120s display has a glossy screen coating, so reflections will be a problem outdoors and under fluorescent lighting.
The 1024x600 resolution of this netbook makes it challenging to multitask and use programs where space matters. I found myself doing a lot of vertical scrolling, and even scrolling horizontally on many websites. Having only 600 pixels of vertical space limits what can be accomplished using this netbooks (and to be fair, most other netbooks as well).
There are actually three speakers on the N120 – one 1.5 watt speaker on either side of the display and a tiny subwoofer below the left palmrest. The machine has SRS TruSurround XT technology which is supposed to help produce a virtual surround sound experience. All of this may have you thinking this netbook sounds decent – that is not the case. The N120 succeeds only in sounding tinnier than a typical notebook and with no bass; if you expect nothing from these speakers you will be satisfied. The headphone jack is another story – it is free of any interference and the best way to enjoy audio on the N120.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The N120 has a nearly full-size keyboard; I needed to only make minor adjustments coming from a standard notebook keyboard and can type just as quickly. The keyboard has decent tactile feedback. The keys have good support and will not depress while letting your fingers rest on them. Key travel is shorter than normal which is part of the reason the N120s keyboard lacks the tactile feel of a larger keyboard, and the keys are also thinner. The keyboard exhibits no flex, which is always a good thing. It is also quiet and will not disturb neighbors.
The keyboard has some layout shortcomings – for example, the Windows key is on the right side of the machine whereas most keyboards have it on the left. Another weird aspect of this keyboard is the volume control. The right and left arrow keys can control the volume, but the mute button is all the way in the top row mapped to [F6]. It would be simpler if they were all in one place. Overall, the keyboard is very good and is extremely usable. As someone who is very picky about keyboards, I did not have any qualms using the N120s keyboard on a daily basis.
The touchpad is appropriately sized to match the N120s 10-inch display. It has a matte surface that is easy to track on with dry or damp fingers. The touchpad buttons are a single piece of plastic below the touchpad; it is quiet and has a good feel.
Ports and Features
There are a limited selection of ports on the N120, but the important ones are there. This calls for a picture tour; all descriptions are left to right.
Right side: Headphone and microphone jacks, USB, VGA out, Kensington Lock slot, power button
Again, there are not a whole lot of ports but on a machine like this, the selection should suffice. Note the lack of an ExpressCard slot; adding a mobile broadband card will need to be done via USB. One of the N120s other connection options that deserves a mention is the built-in Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. This is not a standard feature on many netbooks and is nice to have for connecting to Bluetooth-enabled mice, headsets, and phones.
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