Samsung Go Netbook

As much as I like what Samsung is doing with its new Go netbook (known as the N310 overseas), the company is about this close to surpassing Asus as the king of the shotgun-delivery method, releasing netbooks every two minutes. Never mind my cattiness, though. The Go is a stylish and far-from-subdued portable that’s shaped like a big rubber pebble. In fact, I’d say that this colourful competitor could match Dell‘s run on the classroom with the Latitude 2100.

Consider what I’m about to give you an opinionated hands-on–our Go is currently gone (to the labs, that is), but I stole a few minutes with it kicking the tires so that I could tell you exactly what to expect.

It’s kind of hard not to start with the case. The Go is a little weighty for a netbook, but you don’t notice that when you see the curved corners, which almost make it seem slimmer than what its measurements (10.3 by 7.3 by 1.1 inches) indicate. (It is still a little bigger than the Asus Eee PC 1005HA, though.) Its standout design makes it pop compared with many basic, boxy netbooks on the scene. The only problem: Did Samsung really need to emblazon its corporate logo in a 20,000-point font across the lid? I get that the company wants a little recognition for a good job, but there are more subtle ways to do it. Like neon lights.

That rounded design, with a rubberized shell, fools you into thinking that the Go is more rugged than it really is (kind of like the Latitude 2100). It comes in four hues: Mint Blue, Midnight Blue, Sunset Orange, and Jet Black. A little rubber stopper covers the VGA port and a flap covers the ethernet jack, but everything else sits out there just as you’d expect. But before I bore you with the standard litany of netbook ports, I’d like to talk about something else that pops with color: the 10.1-inch screen.

Like most netbooks, it has a native resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels. If you want something higher (good luck), you could always plug into a VGA port. The LED-backlit, glossy screen is nicely ensconced into the housing. I had to push the screen back to roughly a 45-degree angle; but once it was in that position, I could watch test video locally from the machine and streamed from Hulu with fairly crisp results. Not much in the way of a distracting glare, either, I’m happy to report. Unfortunately, one thing I can’t report on at the moment is the audio. I didn’t have time to reinstall the audio drivers before returning the Go to the PC World Test Center for our full suite of tests.

But I can tell you how the keyboard feels. The cut-out keys leave little islands of buttons floating on the surface. Since they’re reasonably well spaced, typing on them is a breeze–so much so, that you have to go out of your way to hit the wrong key accidentally. And, I must say, the keyboard works very well.

The touchpad, while a good size, could be bigger–I’m still a fan of what the Toshiba NB205-310 was able to cram in. The single-bar mouse button works well enough. In short, it’s there and I don’t hate it. Glowing recommendation, I know.Specs-wise, you’ll find nothing particularly shocking here: Intel’s 1.6GHz Atom N270 CPU, 1GB of RAM (upgradable to 2GB), and a 160GB hard drive lurk under the hood. Samsung spokespeople promise in the neighborhood of 10 hours of battery life from the six-cell battery. (That battery is the big difference between the U.S. model and the lower-octane foreign version.) We’ll see how close the Go comes to those claims when we get results from the PC World Test Center.

Otherwise, examine the rest of the Go, and you’ll get a sense of netbook déjà vu. Lining the rig are three USB ports (two of which are powered), a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, mic and headphone jacks, a flash card reader, Bluetooth, and 802.11b/g, in addition to the aforementioned ethernet and VGA-out jacks.

Good news: Samsung continues its generosity with software, providing a full easy-to-use suite. Samsung Recovery Solution III is a handy backup and system-restore program that even throws in a few suggestions regarding the possible causes of your machine’s problems, giving you a recommended course of backup action to resolve the matter. Easy Network Manager lets you quickly and effortlessly connect to networks; it’s a superfluous bit of software for anyone remotely savvy enough, but it puts a pretty face on the standard Windows XP option. And as its name suggests, the Battery Life Extender and Easy Battery Manager makes it simple to toggle the battery-saving modes.

The other bit of software baked onto the machine that I didn’t get to try out fully is Phoenix FailSafe, a tool meant to keep your data secure if your netbook gets lost or stolen. It can give you the option for IP-tracking your missing gear (and configure the netbook to snap pictures with the Webcam upon boot), as well as remotely encrypt or erase data or disable access.

Of course, all of this beauty comes at a price: The Go skews slightly toward the costly side, selling for $479 (as of 7/30/09; you’ll probably see it for $449 online). Is it worth the cash? On paper–and considering my initial experiences–it would seem so, but we can’t give you the final verdict yet. Once the Go completes our WorldBench 6 tests (and our battery-life marathon), we’ll update this story with some hard numbers and a final score.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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