The Samsung N230 has a 10.1-inch display, which is the netbook norm. It's one of relatively few netbook screens to come with a matte finish. As a result, pictures and videos don't look quite as sexy, but you'll be able to use the netbook in just about any lighting conditions. Because the matte screen isn't highly reflective, it's even possible to use the N230 in direct sunlight.When it comes to the N130, Samsung isn't trying to dazzle you with fancy extras. Instead, it's looking to get the basic netbook ingredients right, while keeping the price down to an affordable level. Our model was supplied by Laptops Direct, where you can buy it for a shade under £230.The N130's design is quite reminiscent of Samsung's older N310 thanks to its very rounded corners and tapered edges. However, it lacks the N310's funky rubberised finish, making do with a pretty standard matte black paint job. Unfortunately, this makes it looks a tad plasticky and means the design falls flat. Nevertheless, the netbook feels quite solid, especially as there's very little flex in either the lid or the keyboard. Its petite dimensions and lightweight body make it ideal for computing on the move.
Its matte black paint job and rounded corners don't look as funky as the rubberised finish of the N310.The 10.1-inch screen is obviously quite small, but its resolution of 1,024x600 pixels is fairly good for a display of this size. Samsung has decided against using a glossy finish, so instead you get a matte display that's much better at reducing glare. As a result, the screen is a great deal easier to read when you're using it outdoors under direct sunlight, or indoors with bright lights overhead. The LED backlighting helps the screen look bright and, although colours aren't quite as in-your-face as some glossy displays, they do look very natural. The viewing angles are rather wide, which comes in handy if you want to share a movie with a friend while travelling. As with most netbooks, the N130 has a webcam perched above the screen and a built-in microphone, so you can use it to make video calls with software such as Skype.
Samsung was one of the first companies to create a decent netbook-sized keyboard, and it's obviously put its experience to good use here. Despite the small size of the chassis, the keyboard has reasonably large keys and the layout doesn't feel too cramped. The tapered keys have a fast and responsive action, so with some practice you can quickly reach a normal typing speed. The trackpad is a little on the small side, but it does support multi-touch. This means you can use multi-touch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom and swivel, for zooming or rotating pictures in Windows Photo Gallery and other applications.There are drawbacks, however: at $860, this laptop isn't cheap. And, most unfortunately, the Core i3 CPU that's included is misleading: it's actually a lower-speed Core i3-330UM ultralow-voltage processor that performs more slowly than a normal Core i3. And the Nvidia Optimus graphics technology, which switches on the fly between a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU and integrated Intel graphics, is supposed to greatly enhance battery life--and yet, the UL80JT-A1 didn't do significantly better than other standard-voltage Core i3 laptops in our testing.
Sure, for its size this might be an appealing laptop for some. However, the price-to-performance ratio factored in with so-so battery life make this a disappointing package from Asus. (Note: in our back-to-school retail laptop roundup we reviewed the Asus UL80J-BBK5, a nearly identical retail version of this laptop which was slightly less expensive.)The Asus UL80JT-A1 is part of a family of slim Asus laptops that we've generally liked quite a bit since their inception, going back to the UL30A. Crisp angles and a combination of black plastic and aluminum give this laptop a sharp but smudge-collecting profile.The thin brushed-aluminum lid has glossy plastic on its interior surrounding the inset screen. The keyboard area is decked with brushed-metal-like smooth black plastic. Two separate chromed plastic buttons on the top left and right of the keyboard create a bit of confusion as to which is the actual power button: the left one boots up Asus' Quick Start OS, the right boots Windows 7.While the raised keyboard is efficiently laid out and has good key spacing, there's some major flex during typing. It doesn't severely affect typing quality, but the flexy feel is jarring enough to put us off the UL80JT-A1 as a serious typist's machine. It's particularly surprising since we haven't encountered this level of flex on other Asus UL-series laptops before.
The medium-sized multitouch touch pad is a bit small for the available space, but the textured grid makes for better finger traction than on its very similar retail cousin, the UL80J-BBK5. On the other hand, the chrome rocker button bar is a bit narrow, and we prefer discrete buttons.The 14-inch wide-screen LED-backlit display offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, standard for 14-inch laptops. Brightness and sharpness on the display were above average in quality, but we found the viewing angles to suffer when tilting the screen to share a video with others. It's suitable for movies and games, but we didn't find it exceptional.
Stereo Altec Lansing speakers situated below the keyboard on a front angled edge projected sound well and had fair range, although they couldn't hold a candle to the speaker system on the Alienware M11x. They didn't live up to the branding hype. A 0.3-megapixel Webcam does the job for basic chat, but it wasn't exceptional, either.
Although thin, the UL80JT-A1 manages to fit a good standard collection of ports, including HDMI-out and 3 USB 2.0 ports, along with making room for a DVD drive door. There isn't an ExpressCard slot, however, and the system lacks Bluetooth.
The UL80JT-A1 comes with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive, both of which are at the upper end of basic mainstream offerings. However, while that used to seem special a few months ago, it's fast becoming standard.We've seen previous iterations of a very similar Asus laptop design, using last-gen processors and graphics. The Asus UL50VT-RBBBK05 had a Core 2 Duo ULV processor and physically switchable Nvidia graphics, and at the time we lamented that the machine didn't have better performance for its size. Sadly, even though Asus has upgraded to a new Intel Core i3 ULV processor, the UL80JT-A1 isn't significantly different in terms of performance from its Core 2 ULV predecessor--in fact, by our benchmarks, it's slower.That's because, as we mentioned, the included i3 processor is actually an ultralow-voltage variant that runs at half the speed of standard-voltage Core i3s. But, it's actually a bit worse than that. A "Turbo 33" mode can be toggled via an Asus widget to overclock the performance of the CPU up to 1.86GHz and increase the RAM speed up to 1,066MHz. We did see gains in this mode: 1,406 seconds improved to 1,106 seconds in our multimedia multitasking test (lower time scores indicate better performance). Unfortunately, that only brought the UL80JT-A1 up to speed with the standard performance we saw on the identically specced UL80J-BBK5 (it performed the same multitasking test in 1,122 seconds), which lacked a "Turbo" mode but was equally fast. Even though Turbo feels like a feature, it's really just a way of hobbling the system speed further when unused.
The speed gap shows up clearly on our benchmarks, where the UL80JT-A1 simply doesn't offer as much as any other equivalent Core i3 laptop, as well as lagging behind its Core 2 ULV predecessor. Admittedly, the UL80JT-A1 is still functionally fine for video streaming and handling nearly all everyday tasks we could think of: it just feels more sluggish and can't handle multitasking as adeptly. We particularly feel it's misleading because the sticker on the front of the laptop boasts "Core i3" without specifying that it's in fact a slower-functioning variant.On the other hand, the included graphics perform well. The included Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU amounts to entry-level graphics, but it at least allowed for some playable gaming. Unreal Tournament 3 ran at 63.9 frames per second at native 1,366x768-pixel resolution with graphics settings set to medium, bumped up to 77.2 frames per second in Turbo mode. The Asus UL80JT-A1 also has Nvidia's Optimus graphics-switching technology, which seamlessly switches between the GeForce 310M GPU and integrated Intel graphics to conserve battery life. That's a great idea in theory, but we still didn't find the Asus UL80JT-A1 to have great battery life
Acer has used Intel's low-cost i3 processor to good effect in the Aspire 5741 to create a well specified, mid-sized laptop with a very attractive price tag. Our review model was supplied by Save on Laptops, where you can buy the 5741 for just £447.48.The laptop is surprisingly portable for a 15-inch model -- it weighs in at a relatively lightweight 2.5kg. It's thin, too, at just 34mm. Despite the budget price tag, Acer has managed to bring a touch of style to the design. For example, although the lid is made of plastic, it's finished with an industrial-style cross-hatch pattern and aluminium paint job. The good looks continue when you flip open the laptop, with a pleasing brushed metal effect on the wrist rest. This is complemented nicely by the glossy finish of the screen surround.
The screen itself is 15.6 inches in size and has a resolution of 1356x768 pixels, which is pretty standard for budget laptops of this size. The display uses LED backlighting and has a shiny finish, so colours look bright and in your face. The laptop's black levels are impressively deep, which is somewhat surprising for a budget display. This deepness makes movies look extremely rich and cinematic. Acer has also integrated a webcam above the screen, which comes in handy for making video calls with applications such as the preloaded Skype software.
The Aspire 5741's keys seem to float above the surface of the keyboard.
The keyboard has flat keys, similar to those of an isolated key design. Rather than looking as if they've been punched out of the chassis, the keys seem to float above it as if they are suspended in air. The keyboard layout is excellent and Acer has even found room to include a numerical keypad on the right-hand side. The only real compromise is the half-sized cursor keys, but this isn't too much of an issue. In saying that, the keys don't feel as solid as you might expect, although they are quite springy and respond well to even light taps.When we looked at the Samsung N210 model back in May, we were so impressed that we gave it an Editors' Choice Award, so this Plus model has a great deal to live up to. Priced at around £280, the Samsung N210 Plus is a little cheaper than the N210 was at launch.Like its predecessor, the N210 Plus has a more grown-up feel than many of the other 10-inch netbooks on the market at the moment. The glossy grey finish on the lid, combined with the chrome trim that runs around the edge of the screen and keyboard, make it look much more like a business-focused ultra-portable than a consumer netbook. Like most netbooks, the N210 Plus is very light at 1.28kg (in fact it's lighter than the previous model) and, as it measures just 265 by 189 by 36mm, it's certainly small enough to chuck in a backpack without weighing you down.