The NC10 is the smaller of the two netbooks Samsung has produced, with netbook standard specifications in most areas, but a few surprises in others. Overall, it’s a well designed and attractively priced netbook. Full review after the jump.
For the most part, the NC10 is a standard netbook, running the by now de facto 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, with a gigabyte of RAM, a 10.2” 1024×600 screen, and weighing in just under three pounds. The NC10 becomes more interesting when you have a look at the 160 gigabyte hard drive, and the purported seven and half hours of battery life.
Though 160 gigabytes may not sound like a lot compared to typical laptop or desktop computers, it’s the largest hard drive netbooks have ever come standard with, with most opting to use small four to eight gigabyte solid state drives, or smaller forty or eighty gigabyte SATA drives. This allows you to use the NC10 as you would any other laptop, with room for multiple operating systems and tons of space for music and films. A colleague of mine even uses his NC10 as a portable file server. The hard drive really allows for peace of mind when using your netbook; instead of carefully regimenting your downloads or toting around a USB hard drive, you can largely forget about how much you’ve got, until it’s time to brag about it to your friends.
The battery life will also give you something to brag about – it’s around the best for netbooks and considerably better than other laptops. Battery life seems slightly better under Windows XP than under Ubuntu, but the difference is minimal. Both will run for six hours under moderate to heavy use, while careful power management will get you to seven hours and beyond.
Delivered just a few months after Samsung announced it wasn’t entering the netbook field, the NC10 is surprisingly well designed. The entire construction feels quite solid despite it’s nearly all plastic, with reinforced hinges and no pesky lid latch to break. It’s a predominantly clean design, with a few curves and touches of chrome wrapped in a matte black or pearly white shell. Of particular note is the keyboard, which is almost full sized, allowing you to take advantage of the netbook’s long battery life in comfort. The display is also very good, with vibrant colours and good viewing angles. The only disappointment is the touchpad, which is very short. Replacing the preinstalled scrolling options (predefined scroll zones along the bottom and right of the touchpad) with mac-like multitouch software goes a long way in making it more bearable, and it’s the only weak point in a very solid design.
The only useful upgrade you can give the NC10 is replacing the 1GB stick of RAM with a 2GB stick. Beyond the obvious benefits, this can also help increase battery life, as the operating system won’t access the more exhausting virtual memory on the hard drive until it’s filled the physical memory. Considering you can get the new stick for just over £20, it’s a wise purchase. It’d be nice if you could order the NC10 with 2 GB of memory, but due to a Microsoft licensing agreement, it’d mean it’d come with Vista instead of XP.
The NC10 is easy to upgrade, with a single screw on the back of the unit to remove, and a plastic cover to tug out. Once the cover is off, it’s a simple case of pulling apart the RAM restraints, and pulling out the old RAM. Then you can just push the new RAM into the slot, replace the cover, and rescrew the screw. Overall, a pretty painless operation.
I’ve been dual-booting Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP.
The Windows installation has the usual bundleware to be dealt with, but of course all of the promised functionality (wireless, etc.) works out of the box. Performance is good, as to be expected, for netbookish tasks: web browsing, music playing, word processing, and the like. Video game performance is slightly better than I expected, with UT2004 running at full resolution on low settings with decent FPS. One advantage of the Windows installation is that it’s quick to boot up, taking just thirty seconds to get from POST to desktop.
Ubuntu is the opposite story – there’s no bundleware, but there are quite a few problems with functionality: wireless, the special keyboard buttons and the sound don’t work. Spending several hours on the excellent Ubuntu NC10 community documentation will resolve these problems with a little luck and Linux knowhow.
Once Ubuntu is installed, however, it runs speedily, starting in an easy forty seconds and handling multiple applications with ease. The NC10 even has enough graphical poke to run some of Compiz’s more advanced effects, like the cube and wobbly windows, without denting performance.
Incidentally, the cube and other multiple desktop options are great for netbooks, as you can put one application on each desktop and see all of it, instead of trying to cram in multiple windows or continually alt+tab’ing.
In my mind, Ubuntu is the perfect fit for the NC10. Because the netbook isn’t likely to be running any of the applications Linux lacks (games, photo and film editing software), it really boils down to the user experience, and this Ubuntu wins hands down. After a somewhat tricky install phase, you can enjoy the huge open source software catalog available, the advanced and varied graphical options and the sheer geek factor.
If you’re not familiar with Linux, the NC10 provides a great opportunity to learn the ropes – it pretty much works out of the box, but there is enough fooling around the terminal getting everything perfect that’ll make someone who enjoys it a Linux convert for life.
The NC10 is an incredible laptop — fitting the netbook mold while providing a full size keyboard, amazing battery life, and a clever design for £300. Until its successor the NC110 is released, this is the best netbook you can buy.