Samsung R40 review
Good performance, but build quality and screen are poor - only the excellent keyboard prevents a lower score.
The constant evolution of the PC might mean new headline breakthroughs such as eight-core processors and 750GB hard disks, but it also means that you can pick up powerful PCs based on recent technology for a small outlay. In the case of this Samsung, that means an Intel dual-core processor with 1GB RAM and a 15.4in TFT for only £569. Surely there must be a catch?
Rather than a bang up-to-date Core 2 Duo, you get the slightly older and less powerful Core Duo. Clocked at 1.66GHz and backed up with 1GB 533MHz RAM, it still powered through our strenuous applications benchmarks with a score of 0.88 - more than respectable for a value notebook. This is an improvement to the 1.66GHz Intel Core Solo of the Lenovo 3000 N100. The 80GB hard disk is sufficient for most people's storage requirements too, although the downside is no Bluetooth and only 802.11b/g WLAN - the Lenovo has both, as well as adding 802.11a support.
The N100 also trumps the R40 for battery life, adding an extra 15 minutes of intensive use to the 1hr 17mins of the Samsung. The light-use test revealed even more superiority for the single-core Lenovo: 3hrs 10mins to 2hrs 25mins from the Samsung. And while the ATi badge on the Samsung might look as if you could squeeze some gaming out of it, results were poor. The X300 GPU in the Radeon Xpress 200 chipset managed only 4fps in Call of Duty 2 at 1,024 x 768 resolution, and can't run the HDR effects of our Far Cry test.
The screen proved disappointing in use too. Colour reproduction isn't the problem; all our test photos and videos looked acceptably good, if lacking in richness and vibrancy. However, a huge corona of light-leak from the bottom edge was a constant annoyance whether watching video or when working. The narrow vertical viewing angles also caused some frustration. Colour distortion occurs the instant your eyes move from square-on to the screen, so we had to constantly tilt the screen back and forth as we moved up toward the R40 in a working position and back into a relaxed one.
This screen tilting revealed another serious fault - a very loose and flimsy screen hinge. Even when brand new, slight shakes made the screen fall backwards from an upright position to completely flat, and that's likely to get worse over time. The screen also lacks much protection from the lid; moderate finger pressure is enough to have the whole screen rippling, making us very uneasy about packing this notebook in anything but a dedicated and well-protected bag - there isn't one supplied, so you'll have to purchase one separately.
The lack of screen protection is mirrored in the main chassis. We were disturbed at the amount of give in the chassis as it bent and distorted greatly under moderate pressure. That will do the motherboard inside no good at all if the R40 is dropped, put under strain in transit or otherwise used without care. The plastic of the main chassis also has a fair bit of give around the wristrest area, and we found that moderate force was enough to push the chassis into contact with what we presume is the motherboard. Again, that isn't good news for the delicate internals. And, while you do get a collect-and-return warranty, it only lasts for a year.
The one area that does have a feeling of quality is the superb keyboard, which is impressively tactile for such a low-cost notebook. The keys have just the right firmness for speed typing, and aren't too noisy either. You get full-sized keys too, including a double-height Enter key, and there's a logical arrangement to even the miscellaneous keys such as End and Page Down. And while the trackpad looks small, we found it adequate, even if the mouse buttons were a touch stiff and inaccessible.