In August 2019 Samsung announced the Galaxy Book S - a brand new light-weight laptop that promised a huge battery life as well as impressive performance and power. And as a rare treat, Australia was actually going to get it. While the device certainly delivers on battery, its ARM-based processor causes more problems than it solves, which may be a sticking point for people once they see the price tag.
Samsung Galaxy Book S Specs
- Display: 13.3-inch FHD TFT
- Processor: Snapdragon 8cx
- RAM: 8GB
- Storage: 256GB on board with expandable storage option up to 1TB
- Battery: 42Wh battery with fast charge and 25 hours of video playback
- Ports: 2 x USB-C, micro-SD, headphone jack
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi and LTE
- Sensors: Fingerprint Sensor, Hall Sensor, Light Sensor (Keyboard Backlit on/off)
- Dimensions: 305.2 x 203.2 x 6.2-11.8mm
- Weight: 0.96 kg
- Colour options: Mercury Grey and Earth Gold
What's Good About It
While there are issues with the Galaxy Book S, there's also a lot to like about it. It has a beautiful chassis and I particularly enjoyed the keyboard and touchscreen - the latter of which utilised in my workflow daily.
Beyond that, there are some features that deserve particular call outs.
Samsung Galaxy Book S Battery Life
The battery life on the Samsung Book S is truly exceptional.
There were days when I couldn't remember when I last charged the Galaxy Book S. I opened it, expecting it to be dead, and yet it would still be sitting on 30 per cent battery.
As someone who is paranoid enough to charge all of my devices before bed, I appreciate a device that allows me to be a little more lax.
While using it intermittently throughout the day for work, web browsing, social media and some Netflix time, I could go 2-3 days without bothering to charge.
In a battery rundown test (with some stopping and starting) it lasted around 15 hours while streaming at 50 per cent brightness.
This isn't close to the 26 hours of battery life cited by Samsung, but streaming straight Netflix probably isn't how most people primarily use a laptop. It's also the highest battery rundown number I've ever hit, so I'm still impressed.
The Galaxy Book S is a laptop that gives you plenty of juice and alleviates battery anxiety, and I love that about it.
My opinion here hasn't changed since my first impressions piece.
Coming in at 0.96kg, the Galaxy Book S is ultra light in a meaningful way. I was genuinely surprised over the difference it made while comparing it to my Dell XPS 13, which is only 204g heavier.
Being so light (as well as a mere 13.3-inches) made it perfect for commuting and work - it fit comfortably into my handbag and didn't give me shoulder pain. Whenever I used my backpack I could barely tell it was in there.
I'm a big fan of this aspect of the device.
Samsung Galaxy Book S 4G LTE Connectivity
I work on the go a lot, so I appreciate seeing laptops with dedicated SIM slots. Hotspotting can be a pain and I'd rather just open the lid and crack on with work without destroying my phone battery.
4G LTE worked really well on the Galaxy Book S, making working on the train and out of office convenient and hassle free. More of this, please.
What's Not So Good?
Samsung Galaxy Book S Software Compatibility
My biggest issue with the Samsung S Book came down to software compatibility.
This is because the the device runs on a Snapdragon 8cx ARM processor. They're not known for being particularly fast, though Samsung has claimed that ARM has come a long way since the Galaxy Book 2. The new CPU is said to be 40 per cent faster and deliver 80 per cent better graphics than it predecessor.
The problem lies in the ARM CPU. ARM uses a different set of instructions and architecture from the x86 platform that powers every desktop, laptop and console in the market today, and that makes sense because ARM wasn't built for those platforms: it was built for mobile devices. So unless there's an ARM-compatible version of your favourite programs, you can't always be sure they'll work on the Galaxy Book.
This is further complicated due to the relative infancy of ARM-based laptops. The ecosystem isn't robust enough for ARM and x86 versions of programs to always be differentiated or identified. In some cases the machine knew that a program or game wouldn't work due to incompatibility and blocked the download. In other cases the intuition didn't kick in and the program would download but refuse to install. It was a messy and frustrating guessing game.
If you find a program doesn't intuitively download the ARM version, you'll want to look for a 32-bit manual download from the company's website. But even then you might have issues - some programs may try and download the x86 version which ultimately won't install.
While I expect device intelligence to grow in this space as ARM-based laptops become more popular, they're not there yet.
Samsung Galaxy Book S Performance
With such an inconsistency in the available programs (including ones generally used for testing) this was more difficult than usual.
What I can say is that you're not going to have any problems if all you're looking for is something to use for web and Microsoft-suite based work, browsing and streaming. I used it for these purposes consistently for a couple of weeks and enjoyed it.
But being limited to a handful of programs and software that will definitely work and having to guess about the rest doesn't make for a good experience. When you're dropping $1,699 on a laptop you should have a solid idea of what will be available to you. But this problem isn't unique to the Galaxy Book S.
The lack of convenient user experience can't be guaranteed with any ARM-based laptops right now. So you're left to experiment and dig, which isn't ideal.
Glare is something I picked up in my first look and it became a consistent issue during my review period.
Like any screen that suffers from glare, it was particularly bad from the sides. But I still found it annoying while working or streaming from it front-on in both natural and artificial light conditions.
Direct sunlight was the worst, which made it difficult to work during my morning commute or outside. Considering how lovey the screen is otherwise (including the touch functionality, which is excellent) this was a bit of a let down.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Book S?
Due to the ARM processor and inability to run some key programs, the Galaxy Book S is by no means a work horse.
And this should actually be fine. Laptops are not a one size fits all. The Galaxy Book S isn't designed to be a PC replacement or a gaming laptop. You could even argue that someone with a web-based job could get away with using it. Since I utilise Faststone for quick image resizing, use a web-based inbox and write straight into my CMS like a monster, I could do the majority of my job with it.
And for the most part, it was good. It's a gorgeous looking machine with a great touch screen, satisfying keyboard and it's supremely light. Plus, the superior battery life makes it compelling as hell. But it's still quite basic when it comes to performance and functionality, which wouldn't be a problem if the price tag wasn't $1,699.
I liked the Galaxy Book S, but at that price point you can find a range of light laptops with a decent battery life that won't make you guess which programs might work. I'd be more inspired to gamble on it if it was around $500 cheaper.
While I enjoyed the majority of my time with the Samsung Galaxy Book S, the ARM ecosystem just isn't consistent or convenient enough to recommend dropping that much cash right now.