Samsung's gone and done it guys. It's made a perfectly wonderful laptop that retails for under $US1000, is of exceptional quality, and is neither under-powered nor teeming with crappy finishes. This is the college-bound laptop everyone, including Apple, has failed to make for the last couple of years.
AU Editor's Note: The Notebook 7 Spin isn't sold in Australia, unfortunately. But you can buy it internationally if you like the look of it, and have it shipped from a reseller like Amazon to your doorstep. — Cam
What Is It?
We've been busting Apple's balls a lot lately, and it definitely has everything to do with my four-year-old Macbook Pro being on its last legs and my refusal to spend $2000-plus on the paltry-arse upgrade that is the current Macbook Pro. While other laptop companies furiously pack whiz-bang features and new ideas into a slab of aluminium and plastic, Apple's been moseying along with a product so long in the tooth you might mistake it for an elderly relative who says inappropriate things at family gatherings.
Meanwhile, there is Samsung. Last year it had exactly one laptop in its line up. It was a great laptop, but it was hardly going to help the company take the computer business by storm. This year Samsung has been quietly rolling out a multitude of devices. It started with the brutally efficient Samsung 9, and now it's back with the chunkier, and much more affordable, Samsung Notebook 7 Spin. The Notebook 7 Spin is the rare quality "do everything" laptop for under $US1000.
Yeah, it's bigger than the laptops we usually prefer here at Gizmodo — large enough that it feels clunky opening and closing and making use of the 360-degree hinge. And at 2kg for the 15-inch, it's heavy enough to be used in your daily workout routine. Yet it's also got a 1TB hard drive, space for a zippier M.2 SATA drive, a 15.6-inch 1080p display, USB and USB-C ports, and the 15-inch even has an Nvidia Geforce 940M video card — in case you need to get in some clutch play of the games in Overwatch. More importantly, it's a lot more satisfying and easy to use that similarly priced laptops like the Dell Latitude 5000 series or HP Envy 15.
This may sound shocking to a lot of you cheapskates, but it is actually very hard to find a really good Windows laptop for under a thousand dollars. There's always a drawback. They're all huge, and screens are washed out and ugly, or keyboards feel like your typing on marshmallows. The worst offender, though, is the trackpad. Budget laptops always have trackpads designed in the seventh pit of hell and put on this earth to destroy our will to compute.
The Notebook 7 Spin has a remarkable trackpad. It's every bit as intuitive and responsive as a MacBook trackpad — the gold standard. There are no misclicks. No accidental icon draggings. No "oops" right clicks when you meant to click left. The trackpad doesn't feel buggy and the mouse doesn't hop around the screen as if possessed. For a Windows machine it's exceptional.
There are other little nods of quality that are unexpected in a laptop so cheap. The 45Wh battery in the 15-inch variant gave me a solid 6 hours of Nyan Cat streaming at full brightness, and the 13-inch version, which features the same battery and much less battery-consuming screen, should perform even better.
The Notebook 7 Spin also features "fast charging," so in my testing it went from zero to 20 per cent battery in under twenty minutes, and it would be fully charged in less than two hours. I don't know if I would characterise it as the fastest-charging laptop available, but it's certainly in the upper echelons.
The ability to upgrade keeps it up there. The bottom of the laptop is covered in soft-touch plastic and held together by glaringly shiny screws. Remove the screws and you have instant access to the hard drive, M.2 SATA slot, and RAM slots. You can also peer at the latest generation i7 Skylake processor, if you really want to (the 13-inch comes with an i5). That means in addition to being cheap and powerful, it's also user upgradable. This instantly tags another two years onto the lifespan of the computer.
Samsung's also included an Ethernet port. That's usually the first port to get sacrificed to the thinness gods, especially in a world in which Wi-Fi is more or less a given just about everywhere you go. Its inclusion here is a deliberate move and not just a vestige of the wired times of yore. Thin laptops and super-light laptops are still a luxury in Samsung's book, and Samsung is betting that most people would be happy to forgo that luxury to experience a laptop that can tackle any need that might arise.
In other words, Samsung is trying to build a Swiss Army Laptop for everyone. So there's an ethernet port for lugging this thing to college where the dank library basement or science lab might have spotty wireless. A USB-C port for the nerd who needs to run their 4K monitor, an HDMI port for streaming anime on a TV, and three regular USB ports for thumb drives, hard drives, and the charging of the countless USB-powered devices we're all stuck with.
There's an SD card slot for the photographer too. There's also a touchscreen for the dad who insists he needs one (whether he actually uses it or not), and there's a 360-degree hinge because some people actually like to use their 15-inch laptop like a tablet, or prop it up so they can lie on their beds watching new episodes of Orange is the New Black.
Another feature meant to please the crowd is the "HDR mode" that alters the colour of the 1080p display. I'm using quotations when calling it "HDR mode" because it is an infuriatingly confusing feature. HDR is a term currently used to describe two things.
- HDR in photography, where identical photos with different exposures are layered together to provide a highly detailed image (either static or moving).
- HDR in video, where those highly detailed images are then reproduced perfectly on very expensive TVs.
Samsung has introduced a third HDR mode that has nothing to do with HDR and everything to do with the rising popularity of the term. Samsung's HDR mode is really just "brighter colours and higher contrast at the cost of accuracy." It's not so much HDR as a badly named display preset for people who don't know any better.
Which is a lot of people! I review displays for a living, so I've gotten very good at judging the accuracy of one and I deeply value that accuracy, but I also know that friends and family often find "accurate" to mean "dull and sort of brown." This mode is absolutely for them — too bad it couldn't have a different name.
As it stands, calling the preset "HDR mode" is bound to lead to people proudly showing off their $US800 ($1,048) laptop and saying it's got a display that's better than the one on an $US8000 ($10,481) TV. This would be inaccurate, so if you buy this laptop do not do this.
Should You Buy It?
And you should buy this laptop — at least if you're in the mood for a not-so-lean but very mean Windows machine. Sending a kid to college? Are yourself a kid headed to college? This is the perfect device for you. It's what used to be the bread and butter of Apple and Dell. This big guy can go anywhere and do just about anything, and won't make your bank account cry in the process. Apple take note, this is what people are actually looking for in a laptop under $US1000.
- I really, really hate that HDR mode, but if you don't know any better it makes video look real pretty
- Between this and the 9, Samsung knows what they're doing with regards to trackpads.
- A 360-hinge and touch screen. Because reasons.
- Memory and storage can easily be upgraded by the end user.
- It is not attractive unless you think soft touch plastic and fake silver finishes are hot, but hey, appearance isn't everything you jackass.