I've been reviewing a lot of Ultrabooks recently, and barring a few differences between looks and the screen resolution, there isn't that much to tell them apart. So, what are the prerequisites for Ultrabooks, as we know it? Impossibly thin frame, glossy screen, Solid State Drive, no optical drive, weighing less than 1.5 kg and a battery life average of 6 hours. Samsung's Series 5 laptop ticks none of those boxes. And yet, it is being branded an Ultrabook. This week, we have the 14-inch Series 5 on our test bench.

First impressions

Ok, so Samsung might be getting ahead of itself by calling the Series 5 an Ultrabook, but the company is targeting a specific consumer. There still exists a category of users who want a fully functional laptop (with all the ports plus an optical drive) but in a thinner frame. Weighing 1.8 kg and measuring about 2.1 cm in thickness, the Series 5 resembles the Dell XPS 14z more than the Asus Zenbook or Macbook Air. That said, it's still sleeker than the average notebook.

The Series 5 sports a 14-inch screen, which also makes it a tad larger than the regular Ultrabooks which have 13-inch screens. The screen has a matte-finish that is reminiscent of old-school laptops but at least reduces smudges and reflections.

The laptop sports a plain aluminium frame with none of the fancy speaker grilles that were present on the Dell XPS 14z. Open it up and you'll find a well laid out keyboard. The chiclet-style keys are large and spaced out but are not backlit. Typing for long periods is quite comfortable, although if you're not used to shallow keys it might take a bit of getting used to. I did find that the spacebar tended to malfunction on a number of occasions.

The trackpad is also spacious with separate left and right buttons. It supports the basic multifunction gestures and palm-sensitivity is minimal, but I did find that scrolling tended to be a bit sluggish even after I tweaked the settings.

The biggest bonus with the Series 5 is of course the plethora of ports on offer. On the right side there's a USB 2.0 port, Kensington lock slot and 4-in-1 card reader. This side also hosts the DVD read/write drive, which might appeal to old-school users but isn't at all essential in my opinion. The left side has two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, Ethernet jack, 3.5mm headphone jack and even a VGA port (don't remember the last time I used one of those on my laptop).

Software and media

The 14-inch screen does a pretty good job of playing back media. I watched a few HD videos and sharpness, colour and contrast were spot on. I did find that I had to adjust the angle a lot to get the perfect view, so this is not a great screen for side-viewing. The display also uses Samsung's SuperBright technology which translates into 300 nits of brightness, and combined with the HD resolution, I think it beats most of the Ultrabooks (except the Macbook Air) hollow with its display. The speakers are loud and clear enough to not require external inputs.

Preinstalled software includes Norton Internet Security, YouCam's webcam software and Intel's WiDi technology (which allows you to wirelessly mirror your screen to a desktop PC or HD television). My review unit also came with Wild Tangent Games preinstalled which includes popular PC games like Bejewelled 2 Deluxe and Plants vs. Zombies. The Windows Live suite and Sticky Notes are also included.

Performance

The Series 5 comes in only a single configuration option: Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), Intel HD 3000 graphics and an Intel Core i5-2467M processor with 4GB DDR3 RAM. It features a hybrid 500GB hard drive and a 16GB Express Cache. The larger flash memory allows for faster program launches and start up times – evident in the 20 seconds it took for the Series 5 to boot. Resuming from sleep is also instantaneous – taking only about 3 seconds.

The hybrid hard drive means that you get way more storage than an SSD but you do have to compromise on the thickness. Also, the difference is also noticeable in the reduced read/write speeds Heat dissipation is not at all an issue: I was able to watch two episodes of ‘Bones' (about 86 minutes of playback) quite comfortably with the laptop slightly warming my lap. Battery life is slightly better than Ultrabooks like the Dell XPS 13, giving me close to 5 hours of usage before it ran out completely.

Novabench gave me a score of 309, exceptionally low considering that all the other Ultrabooks we reviewed gave us a score above 400. If you try pitting it against heavyweight laptops like the Dell XPS 14z (2.8GHz i7-2640M processor with 8GB DDR3 memory and 750GB HDD) it comes nowhere close to the score of 721.

Our verdict

The Series 5 is also available in a 13.3-inch configuration without the optical drive, and the attractive pricing (Rs 48,990) offered on that could make it the more popular choice. However, if you are looking for a thinner, more portable laptop without the Dell XPS 14z's processing power, the Series 5 14-inch is the way to go.

Love: Generous ports, good screen

Hate: Bulky frame, sluggish trackpad

Rs 54,390

ketaki@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 17, 2012)
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