So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Samsung Series 7 Chronos (NP700Z5A-S04AU) notebook
The Chronos is an attractive laptop with some great features, but it's let down by a very poor touchpad
- Build quality and design
- Battery life
- Screen viewing angles
The 15.6in, relatively slimline Chronos features excellent battery life and a very comfortable keyboard. It's well built and looks good, but it's marred by a terrible touchpad.
Price$ 1,499.00 (AUD)
The Samsung Series 7 Chronos has the look and feel of a premium laptop. Its thin and well-built base houses plenty of features, its keyboard is backlit and comfortable to hit and it has a lovely, slot-loading DVD burner that just makes you want to get your discs out of storage and start using them again. However, it's not a perfect notebook by any stretch of the imagination and its touchpad, in particular, was a source of frustration for us.
Specifications and performance
The Series 7 Chronos has a strong configuration that includes a 2.4GHz, quad-core Intel Core i5-2430M CPU, 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 7200rpm, 750GB hard drive and an AMD Radeon 6750M graphics adapter. It proved to be a little bit sluggish, however, recording 49sec in our Blender 3D rendering test, 1min 5sec in our iTunes MP3 encoding test and 1hr 2min in our DVD-to-Xvid video conversion test. All of these times are slower than what we expected of its CPU (see the Medion Akoya P7812, for example, which has the same CPU but more RAM). It felt pretty zippy during everyday use though and we have no problems with its swiftness when it comes to launching programs and undertaking office, Web and multimedia tasks.
It comes with a built-in, 8GB flash drive that's designed to be a cache. It can make the notebook boot quicker and it can make applications launch quicker. In our tests, it shaved about 7sec off the cold boot time of the unit, allowing it to be usable 24sec after we hit the power button, compared to 31sec when the cache wasn't used. Application execution was not as easy to measure. Our most commonly used application, Firefox felt like it launched in the same amount of time (less than 2sec) whether the cache was on or off. However, Internet Explorer definitely gained a couple of seconds. The laptop came out of sleep mode in under five seconds in most cases.
Main storage is handled by the 750GB drive, which is partitioned into a 270GB system drive and a 405GB data drive. In CrystalDiskMark, it recorded read and write rates of 110 megabytes per second (MBps). In our own file copy test, it recorded a more modest 40MBps.
In the graphics department there are two adapters: the CPU-integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics and a discrete AMD Radeon 6750M adapter. The laptop can switch between these adapters automatically, or you can choose which adapter your applications need to use. There is not a great deal of difference in the real-world performance of these adapters, however, with the Radeon adapter being only slightly faster at processing 3D graphics. It recorded 5483 in 3DMark06, whereas the Intel graphics recorded 3373. Games such as Battlefield 3 and Need For Speed: The Run will not run smoothly enough to be enjoyable, even if you lower the resolution and graphics detail level, as we did for our tests. That said, the Series 7 Chronos is not designed to be a gaming laptop.
Design and build quality
We found the overall build quality of the Chronos to be very good. It's relatively thin and light considering it's a fully-kitted 15.6in notebook, weighing 2.4kg and boasting a thickness of around 24mm with the lid closed. The bottom part of the base and the sides are a single piece and the top part of the chassis is seated in it and screwed in place from the bottom. Holding the unit with one hand from either side won't cause the chassis to bend much and we think it's very solidly constructed despite being a little creaky at times. Even the side with the DVD burner feels sturdy, although the keyboard tends to bounce a little on that side due to the void created by the slot-loading drive — the keyboard doesn't bounce on the side without the DVD burner.
Curves are a big part of the Chronos' design and we love the smooth looks that they provide. It feels comfortable to handle the notebook and we didn't find it to be a burden when carrying it to and from the office with its power supply. The lid is latch-less and the balance of the notebook is great as you can lift the lid with one hand without the base coming up off the table.
The 15.6in screen sits in a lid that has a thin frame and its design looks great. It's a matte screen that's quite bright (there is also an ambient light sensor, which is quite sensitive) and it has a resolution of 1600x900, rather than 1366x768, which can be found on most mainstream 15.6in laptops. However, its viewing angles are not great. We spent most of our time adjusting the tilt angle, especially when looking at photos and watching videos. This is a complaint we have of most laptops on the market.
When the CPU or graphics are working hard, the notebook's fan will also start to work hard, and it got noticeably loud during our tests — even when we were just watching YouTube videos. The extraction vents are on the spine of the chassis and very close to the screen's hinge. This means that there isn't much space for the air to move and that it's funnelled upwards. It's this action that makes the airflow so audible and it could get quite annoying if you're in a quiet room. There is a silent setting in the 'Easy Settings' software that comes pre-installed on the notebook. Its purpose is to spin the fan at a constant low rate, rather than changing its speed dynamically, but we didn't notice any difference when we enabled this setting.
The speaker vents are located near the air vents, too, and we found their quality to be flat, but not too bad for a laptop. They produced enough volume and clarity for us to enjoy listening to music and watching videos, but, as always, if you want great sound with good bass, you'll have to plug in some big speakers.
The sealed design of the base means that the battery is inside the unit and can not be removed. This isn't a bad thing. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the battery lasted a whopping 4hr 42min — an absolutely great result for a 15.6in notebook.
Furthermore, when we used the laptop for word processing, viewing photos and Web browsing, and with lower screen brightness, we got almost a full day's worth of use out of it. It's this aspect of the notebook that impressed us greatly.
Samsung ships the notebook with a utility that allows you to charge the battery within 80 per cent of its capacity, which can prolong the life of the battery in terms of the number of charging cycles it can withstand (it's rated at 1500).
Touchpad and keyboard
The Chronos has an ELAN multi-touch touchpad that's 107x77mm. It's a big pad with the left- and right-click buttons located under it, and it's not the best touchpad we've ever used — far from it actually. The pointer often sticks and inadvertent clicks and selections occur too frequently — it was almost impossible to make multiple file selections without copying those files prematurely. Sometimes clicks didn't register until we hit the pad two or three times. We found it to be a very frustrating touchpad to use and reinstalling the drivers and adjusting its settings didn't help. You could always plug in a mouse, but this notebook is designed with portability in mind. As such, it's always disappointing when vendors put so much effort into producing sought after notebooks with good battery life but then skimp on something as important as the touchpad.
The keyboard, on the other hand, is excellent. It has a chiclet style with backlit keys that are a pleasure to hit. They are soft and produce good bounce. The backlight can be adjusted in eight levels and it's a cool, white colour that looks beautiful when typing at night. The layout of the keys is standard, it includes a number pad and the arrow keys have a little space around them that makes them easy to distinguish. The delete key doubles as the eject button for the slot-loading DVD burner.
Around the edges, the Series 7 Chronos includes three USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0), HDMI, a combination headphone and microphone port, a VGA port (this requires an adapter) and an SD card slot. You also get a Gigabit Ethernet port, which has a little hinged part that moves down to allow Ethernet cables to be plugged in. It's designed this way so that it could fit in the slim, curved design of the base. Bluetooth, 802.11n (a 2.4GHz Broadcom module) and a webcam are also part of the features list.
There's no doubt in our minds that the Samsung Series 7 Chronos is a good laptop. The problem is, it could have been great. If only it had a touchpad with better accuracy and responsiveness, and perhaps a screen with wider viewing angles. Apart from those issues, we like the design of this notebook; its keyboard and battery life are excellent and its feature-set (including the slot-loading DVD drive) is useful.
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