As it turns out, Child Passenger Safety is a pretty narrow topic for a blog.  It’s hard to be creative and come up with a new topic every day that isn’t a rehash of an old one.  So, we occasionally mix in parenting issues, other child related products (especially if someone sends us one for review!) and sometimes just whatever is on our mind.  I intended to write a quick overview of the Samsung X460-44G for a notebook forum, but it turned into a longer review so I figured I might as well make it a blog.  Everyone reading has a computer and many probably have laptops, so maybe it will help someone.  It’s a hair more technical than the last one, so apologies in advance to everyone looking for today’s CPS fix.

I know.  I just bought a Samsung NC10 netbook.  It didn’t quite do the trick.  So, I pulled the trigger on a Samsung X460 44G shortly after I discovered a rebate deal earlier this week.  It was a close call vs. the Lenovo U330 that I had been considering for a while.  Both had similar features for nearly the same price.  Both weigh about the same.  I went with the Samsung for a few reasons.  Good overall reviews, included recovery DVDs, Vista Business and respectable battery life reports.

Mine is the X460-44G with the P7350 processor.  I’ve installed my Intel X-25M SSD 80GB hard drive and also a fresh copy of Vista, so no bloat ware to slow things down.  The drive swap was relatively easy.  The drive bay has its own panel secured with two small screws.  It’s a standard 2.5″ SATA drive, but they used a ribbon adapter, rather than straightforward plug-in sockets.  I had to gently untape and remove the adapter and carefully attach it to the new drive, but it wasn’t too difficult.  I note that the hard drive bay was nicely damped with a rubber insulation and bumpers, presumably for both shock and noise reduction.

Some background reviews I compiled from a thread at Notebook Review and elsewhere:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2335387,00.asp

http://www.laptopmag.com/review/laptops/samsung-x460-44p.aspx

http://www.trustedreviews.com/notebooks/review/2008/12/15/Samsung-X460-14-1in-Notebook/p1

http://reviews.cnet.com/laptops/samsung-x460/4505-3121_7-33411171.html

http://www.pcworld.com/reviews/product/43893/review/x460.html

http://www.digitgeek.com/samsung-x460-review/

http://www.pocket-lint.co.uk/reviews/review.phtml/3849/4873/samsung-x460-notebook-pc-review.phtml

My 44G version differs mainly from the 44P in the reviews by virtue of slightly lower power CPU from the same processor family.  It’s also cheaper.  At US $880 delivered, it’s pretty impressive for its 4 pound weight and thin profile.

I’m sorry I can’t compare the X460 to its competition.  All I have is a Samsung NC10 netbook and a 5-year old HP ZD7000 beast of a notebook.  Some pros and cons from just a couple days of use-

Pros: 

  • Comfortable keyboard; size, spacing and feedback are just right for me.  The island Vaio/MacBook style layout was a concern to me, but turned out not to be an issue at all. No flex while typing though you can see a minimal amount of flex if you push real hard on the keys, especially on the left side.  I typed this review on it and no complaints at all.
  • Responsive Synaptics touchpad is great so far, even on default settings.  It has a good feel and is easily distinguished from the surrounding palm rest.  Separate buttons have nice response and are not too loud when they click.
  • It really is light and thin for a 14″ notebook and this is a key selling point.  It’s weighs 4.2 pounds on a generic bathroom scale.  It’s also really thin, especially in front.  At its thickest, it’s actually thinner than my Samsung NC10 netbook (which I will be returning if I like the X460 longer term).  Plus, I’m happy to find the adapter is small and light, too, roughly 4″ x 1.5″ x 1″ thick.
  • Battery life is solid with my typical use.  So far, it’s over 4 hours in power saver mode with continuous light use like surfing, word processing, email, etc.  This is with brightness setting at 4 (50%) or sometimes 5, with Wi-Fi (802.11g for my router) and Bluetooth (cell phone and mouse) both on and being used.  BatteryBar reports 56,610 mWh maximum and it’s full life estimate of 4:24 is consistent with my observation, less a few minutes here and there of auto-dimming during breaks.  Normal discharge rate seems to be around 13,000 mW in power saver plan defaults.  On a plane with no wifi, bluetooth and a brightness setting of 2 or 3, I suspect you could push closer to 5 hours.  I’m sure it would be much less for light gaming or DVD playback.  It’s not quite as good as the 6+ hours I saw on the NC10, but very decent for the added power and features of the X460:
  • Wi-Fi and bluetooth work fine.  No issues around the house with connectivity.  It paired up properly with my Nokia phones (N82 and 6650) and works well with both as a modem, especially the 3G-enabled 6650.  The photos in this blog came over from the N82 via bluetooth without a hassle.  My Microsoft Bluetooth 5000 mouse works nicely, too.
  • Heat levels are acceptable.  It’s only notably warm on the bottom from the memory panel in the center to the fan exhaust on the left.  I measured in the mid 90s using a digital consumer contact thermometer.  Other areas, including the keyboard and touchpad, seem only barely warm.  No problem at all on a lap for extended periods. 
  • Noise is low.  The fan is almost always on, but is only audible in a quiet room on “Normal” speedstep mode.  Any ambient noise downs it out.  It sometimes cycles up a notch or two during light use.    In “Silent” mode it seems to default to the lowest fan setting and is a bit quieter and constant, but the bottom left side then gets a bit warmer, up to about 100 degrees.  The NC10, by comparison, was always relatively cool and nearly silent almost all the time, even in a quiet room.
  • Display is as bright as everyone claims with very good color and sharpness.  The max setting is actually too bright for indoors, but probably handy for outside in the sun (too cold to test that in Chicago).  50% brightness is good for a typical room.  A setting of 2 or 3 out of 8 is fine for night time.  Horizontal viewing angles are quite good as well.
  • Some reviews found the 1200×800 a limitation.  I find it a nice upgrade from my netbook, giving clear text and also the potential for a bit better gaming performance at native than a higher res panel.
  • Decent build quality, sits level with no wobbling, nice rubber bumpers keep screen from being marred by the keyboard.  No flex in the chassis or display.  Feels solid and not cheap at all.  Fit and finish were excellent all around with one minor exception noted below.
  • The palm rest area is wide enough for me and slightly beveled, too.  Combined with the nice keyboard, it made for easy typing.  A short palm area with a sharper edge was one of my major complaints about the NC10.
  • Performance is very responsive for IE 7 and Office 2007.  I’ve never used Vista before, but coming from XP it seems similar in quickness.  Boot time from press of the ON button to the last task bar icon loading and Wifi connected is just over 45 seconds.  It took almost another ten seconds more for it to auto connect with my Bluetooth mouse and phone.  Everything is at the default settings, though again I did do a fresh install on a fast drive.  I’ll learn how to tweak Vista at some point for better performance.  There are none of the brief pauses I found to be a nuisance on the NC10 (running a fresh install of XP SP3 also on the same SSD).

Cons and quibbles:

  • Vertical viewing angles are quite bad.  On the brightest settings, there’s only a narrow sweet spot for viewing without the contrast varying too much at the top and bottom.  At 50% brightness, it is acceptable with decent contrast, though.  Problem is, at the sweet spot, the camera is pointed at the top of your head.  I will rarely use the camera, but this could be a big deal for people that would use it frequently in bright ambient lighting.  I wonder if an adjustable backlight setting would help, but I haven’t been able to find this, it’s only ON or OFF (which is useless).
  • As one review mentioned, the touch pad should be moved a half inch or an inch to the left to be centered better on the space bar.  I haven’t found this to be an issue, but people who type differently might.
  • The optical drive eject button is easy to hit when you lift up the notebook on the side for carrying.  Not a big deal, really, but it’s happened a couple times already.  Someone else noted this at NotebookReview.com, too.
  • I’m not a big fan of the red brushed aluminum back, but it doesn’t look bad. I’d have preferred black or silver.  On the plus side, there’s no flex at all in the display when you open or close it.
  • The speakers are really feeble, perhaps even worse than the ones in the NC10.  Not a factor for me, but be warned if you intend to use this for music or something.
  • The glossy black plastic looks sharp, but it’s a smudge and fingerprint magnet. I’d have liked a matte finish, such as the one on the frame around the display and keyboard.
  • The only very minor flaw in fit and finish is a tiny gap (<0.5mm) around the LEDs in front and the palm rest surface seems to lift up ever so slightly above the hard drive.

For me, the vertical viewing angles are the only real annoyance.  If you have a light background or something like a browser or Word document, you don’t notice it.  If you have a darker background in a dark room, it is distracting, especially at the top brightness settings.  I’m pretty much set on keeping it, but I thought the same about the NC10 when I got it.  The short pauses while browsing on the NC10 were a nuisance and the lack of a suitable palm rest and the sharp edges made typing uncomfortable as I had more time with it.  I also couldn’t get the response of the scrolling feature on the touchpad to be quite right on the NC10.  In addition, the touchpad surface blended in too well with the palm rest area, so it was hard to find the scroll area quickly by touch.  The X460 uses the same brand of touchpad, but it feels right and works as I expect.  Plus, none of the annoying pauses where I cant click or scroll, so far.

Conclusion:

The beauty of the X460 is the light weight and thin profile.  You even get discrete graphics (if only entry level) and HDMI connectivity for under $900 after rebate.  Other models were too heavy, too bulky or too expensive for me.  I would have loved to have a Sony Vaio Z 590, Toshiba R600, Lenovo X301, Asus U6V or similar 12-13” ultraportable.  Any of those I liked were much more expensive, in some cases by more than $1000.  The Dell XPS 1340 at Costco looked great overall and the price was right, but it tipped the scales at 5 pounds.  Many other 13.3” models were also no thinner or lighter than this one, like the Lenovo U330 that was my next choice.  In addition, some others had integrated graphics and slower DDR2 main and video memory, but had no better battery life and were no less expensive.  The X460 isn’t without its annoyances, but so far they seem to be pretty well documented in the various reviews and I don’t think any are show stoppers for me.  I’ll try some light gaming (Warhammer Online) and DVD playback soon.  I will also test portability on a plane trip next week.  If there are no surprises during my 14 day return policy, it is a keeper.  Really!  Unless I find a better deal, of course…