Released this week the Samsung QX412 has immediately shot to the top of our most recommended notebook charts. Why? When we analyse the most frequent questions that we get about notebooks from would-be purchasers this new Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 -powered ultraportable notebook satisfies more needs than any other machine. The questions below are the ones received most frequently by our Notebook Hunter service and in each we explain how the QX412-S01AU (version sold in Australia) is a good solution. We should also stress that we don’t have a commercial relationship with Samsung. They have just produced a great notebook and we’re happy to highlight this.
Q 1. I want something with good performance and battery life
This is the most common question we get asked. And why not? Would-be buyers want the works. Most don’t realise that until recently they were asking for the impossible at least at affordable pricepoints. Before notebooks like the QX412 and Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processors came along power and decent battery life were almost exclusive you either got one or the other or both in a few very expensive notebooks. Sandy Bridge changes the rules because the 2nd Generation Intel Core processors also include powerful graphics processing that previously needed a discrete graphics card. In turn this means the batteries no longer have to permanently feed a discrete graphics card and all the circuitry that supports it. Without the graphics card power drain the notebook uses less battery power and lasts a lot longer. But the cleverness of a notebook like the QX412 is that like Apple MacBooks it has switchable graphics. That is it still carries a discrete graphics card but only switches it on when absolutely necessary when it’s handling really heavy graphics that make even the Sandy Bridge CPU’s onboard Intel HD graphics struggle. The QX412 comes with NVIDIA’s Optimus technology which does the switching between the Intel Core i5’s onboard graphics and the NVIDIA GeForce GT520 graphics card. Optimus technology has been likened to having a hybrid car that switches between an electric and petrol motor depending on the power requirements so in effect the QX412 gives you both performance and battery economy. The engine itself the Intel Core i5 2410M processor is a new generation mainstream Intel CPU that will easily run all everyday computing tasks with power to spare. The battery life is exceptional at a claimed 8 hours (6 hours in our own tests see next question).
Q 2. I want a notebook with a long battery life
A variation of the most popular question above but those asking don’t care so much about power they just want something that can last all day running basic productivity software or a few hours on an international flight. With its 6-cell lithium polymer (5900mAh) battery the QX412 delivered battery life of around six hours of intensive use in our APC Labs tests (Samsung claims 8 hours of standard use and 5 hours just doing video playback). That means you can comfortably have the notebook perform general productivity duties for most of the day on a single charge. Around six hours is actually exceptional battery life from an Intel Core i5 machine since the processor is a reasonably heavy lifter with robust power requirements. Battery life above 6-8 hours is typically achieved only with lower voltage lower power processors. The Samsung QX412’s claimed battery life of 8 hours exceeds the 7 hour life which Apple claims for the virtually identically specced MacBook Pro 13in (which also has a 2.3GHz Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 processor) but we always take these manufacturer claims with a grain of salt. We didn’t get eight hours in our Labs tests and we are yet to test the latest MacBook Pro 13in notebook. Our feeling is that in real life the two will have similar battery life. Since Apple goes to great lengths to achieve – and to some extent has built the reputation of its MacBooks on – great battery life for Samsung to get close would be a significant achievement. The caveat here is that we’ll confirm this once we do a proper battery life comparison between the two notebooks.
Samsung also claims that the QX412’s lythium polymer batteries will last over more recharge cycles though again we have not tested this.
Q 3. I want a notebook that’s light enough for me to carry around all day
The whole idea of a notebook is that it’s portable but in fact most notebooks aren’t that portable. The most widely sold kind of notebook is a 15.6in machine that generally weighs more than 2.6kgs. That’s a big load to carry around in your bag all day. In fact we would argue that 15.6in notebooks are really best suited to the desktop. True light alternatives are netbooks and ultraportables or expensive thin and lights. The first two don’t have the performance to become your primary computer and the 10in 11in and 13in screens are just too small to do work that requires a few open windows on screen. Thin and lights like a Toshiba Portege are spectacular machines but expensive and aimed at professionals and executives.
What makes the Samsung QX412 unique in the market is that it has the dimensions typical of a notebook with a 13in screen (331 x 236.4 x 27mm) but manages to squeeze in a 14in screen. That extra inch of screen size makes all the difference when it to having enough on-screen real estate to do real work giving the QX412 a display that’s almost as large as that on a full-sized 15.6in notebook but with the case and weight (2.09kgs) of a 13in notebook. Samsung has managed to squeeze in the bigger screen because it’s been able to narrow the thin black bezel on either side of the LCD screen down to .5cms on the QX412. This is not a trivial problem because the LCD’s sidelighting needs to be squeezed into the bezel something Samsung has managed to do because it makes its own laptop screens.
Q 4. I want an allrounder notebook that I can use for work and entertainment
Running business applications generally isn’t very taxing (massive spreadsheets or databases excepted) but in this case the machine also needs to ramp up the power to let you play and edit HD videos or games after hours. The QX412 is not strictly a business notebook but with an Intel Core i5 2410M processor and 4GBs of RAM it will effortlessly handle any business productivity software and applications like Photoshop while its Gbit Lan and B/G/N wireless connectivity will connect it into any workplace. After hours the Sandy Bridge graphics processing and the Optimus technology mean you have enough CPU and graphics power to play and edit HD videos and run PC games at low to medium details. The QX412 also has a Super Multi CD/DVD drive which is often missing in ultraportable notebooks.
Q 5. I want a notebook that’s good for students
Retailers often promote basic notebooks as ideal for students. These machines are anything but. Basic affordable notebooks generally come with low-end processors a minimal amount of RAM (ie 2GBs) and most often a 15.6 in screen (the cheapest screen available to manufacturers). But a 15.6in screen leads to a largish laptop which also needs a heavier battery to give it any kind of half-decent battery life. Not only will these basic notebooks struggle when asked to play or create the kind of multimedia projects a university course may require but won’t last too long away from a power point – not good for students needing to use them in classes throughout the day. In other words rather than simple basic offerings students need notebooks with a combo of power portability and battery life. We’re talking premium machines instead of cheap basic notebooks. With an RRP of AUD $1399 the Samsung QX412 meets these requirements better than most notebooks in its price range. To fully understand the price also see question 8 below about MacBook Pros.
Q 6. I want a notebook which is really comfortable to type on and with a screen that’s easy on the eye
This is asked by people who know they’ll be surgically attached to their notebooks. Typically they will be inputting large amounts of data via the keyboard or staring at the screen for hours on end. We love the island keyboard on the QX412. For a compact notebook the keys are surprisingly widely spaced making touch typing easy and comfortable. The screen is a 14in LED HD LCD with a resolution of 1366×768 which is the standard screen resolution for most 15.6in notebooks but here in a smaller screen size.
Q 7. I want a stylish notebook that looks good
This is a surprisingly common question. Not everyone wants an functional notebook made of black plastic. The Samsung QX412 comes in brushed aluminium with a silver metal island keyboard area and a black cover. It’s stylish and sexy without looking like a fashionista’s accessory.
Q 8. I want the Windows equivalent of a MacBook Pro
Many people love the look of MacBooks but are not interested in Mac OS X or migrating from their Windows apps. The value equation also puts many off. Generally for the AUD $1399 price of an entry level 13in MacBook Pro you’ll get a big-ass 15.6 notebook with a Core i7 chip and 500GB hard drive. But what Apple gives you is a notebook that’s very light powerful enough to get the job done tough and with exceptional battery life. In short while traditional Windows notebooks are great in the individual parts MacBooks excel in the sum of their parts. The Samsung QX412 is the Windows world equivalent of a MacBook Pro 13in. It’s as light the battery life is similar it’s definitely as powerful and the graphics work in a similar way. The specs are virtually identical but the Samsung gives you a bigger 14in screen. In looks the two machines are cousins and the price is exactly the same. By clearly positioning the QX412 against the MacBook Pros Samsung is answering a strong need among consumers.
Q 9. I want a notebook that’s great for connecting to the cloud and the web
A popular question although slightly strange as any notebook (even netbooks and tablets) can do this well. One user even asked specifically for a notebook that’s ideal for connecting to the NBN (Australia’s future government-built Fibre network). With its Sandy Bridge onboard graphics and Optimus graphics technology the QX412 can definitely handle and display anything that comes down the pipe – YouTube 1080p videos heavy Flash-based sites HTML5 graphics and more -plus its webcam lets you do Skype and video-conferencing
Q 10. I want a notebook that will be current for the next 2-3 years
People don’t want to buy something that will become obsolete within six months. The Samsung QX412’s 2nd Gen Intel Core i5 engine and its family of processors will definitely be competitive for 2-3 years at least. One area in notebooks which tends to date quickest is the size of the hard drive. The Samsung’s 320GB disk is average for compact or ultraportable PCs and on the small size compared to the average 500Gb hard disk in 15.6in notebooks. However the QX412 (like several new notebooks) has one advantage over current generation notebooks: it comes with USB 3.0 connectivity which is the next generation USB standard. In APC’s own tests a USB 3.0 port connected to a USB 3.0 external drive transferred files between 3 and 10 times faster than previous generation USB ports. It means that in 2-3 years a relatively small hard drive won’t matter because much of a user’s non-essential data can easily be stored on an external drive and you won’t have to twiddle your thumb for hours to get it on and off the notebook.
Note: If you want to check out other great notebooks check our Notebook Hunter service for good deals and Top 10 notebooks in several categories. If you want to ask questions about notebooks go to our newly-launched Notebook Hunter Facebook page and submit one in the discussions area.