Samsung N120 review

At first glance, the Samsung N120 looks like a cross between the Samsung NC20 and N110 laptops. Like the N110, the Samsung N120 has a 10 inch display and a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU.

But Samsung’s latest netbook has a larger chassis than the N110, which makes it closer to the size of the N120. And that means it has room for a larger keyboard than most of today’s mini-laptops. Samsung also crammed two front-facing speakers into the N120, which, along with a 1.5 subwoofer below the keyboard, helps provide high quality audio.

Samsung managed to pack these features into a laptop that’s barely any wider than the Asus Eee PC 1000HE, and which weighs about half a pound less. But the Samsung N120 isn’t without flaws. The speakers aren’t very loud, and the SD card slot is positioned so that memory cards will stick out right under your palm as you type.

The unit I reviewed has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, 802.11b/g WiFi, and a 10.1 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel display. It has a 6 cell, 5200mAh battery, weighs 2.8 pounds and measures 10.7″ x 7.4″ x 1.17″. The Samsung N120 is available from Amazon for under $399.

Design

The Samsung N120 looks a lot like the popular Samsung NC10 netbook, but it has a slightly larger chassis which makes room for the two things that really set this netbook apart: One of the largest keyboards you’ll find on any netbook and front-facing stereo speakers placed to the right and left of the 10.1 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel display.

n120-side-2

The result is a computer that has the same 10 inch screen as many netbooks, but a larger body than most mini-laptops. The computer is just a tad wider than the Asus Eee PC 1000H, but a little less thick. The Samsung N120 also weighs less than the 3.2 pound Asus Eee PC 1000H, at just 2.8 pounds including a 6 cell battery.

Left; Asus Eee PC 1000H / Right: Samsung N120

Left; Asus Eee PC 1000H / Right: Samsung N120

The computer comes in black or white, and the chassis consists of plastic. The lid and palm area are matte, which helps protect the computer from fingerprints. There are a few chrome areas including the hinges by the lid and two chrome stripes along the side of the netbook.

On the left and right sides of the computer you’ll find the Ethernet and power jacks as well as 3 USB ports, a VGA port, and mic and headphone jacks. Just in case you can’t find them, Samsung has printed little icons to the left and right sides of the keyboard to indicate where each port is. While these labels might be helpful at first, once you already know where the ports are, they just seem to litter the computer case unnecessarily.

n120-bottom

If you flip the computer over on its back you’ll find a RAM access panel. The computer ships with 1GB of RAM, but can be upgraded to 2GB. Replacing the hard drive or other components will take a little more work, as there are a total of 13 screws holding the case together. There’s also a speaker vent for the 1.5 watt subwoofer.

n120-sd-card

One thing that I find to be a minor annoyance is the SDHC card slot, which is placed on the front of the computer, just under the keyboard.

While the netbook ships with a small piece of plastic that fits perfectly into the slot to keep dust from accumulating when you’re not using an SD card, that piece of plastic is a bit shorter than a real SD card. In other words, your flash storage cards will stick out a little bit.

At the base of the keyboard, you’ll find a total of 7 LEDs that let you know the status of the WiFi, hard drive, battery, and other information. Honestly, there are so many LEDs it’s hard to keep them straight and tell what’s going on at a glance. But they don’t use up much power so I won’t complain.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the Samsung N120 features 82 keys, and Samsung describes it as a 97% sized keyboard. In other words, you’re not going to find a netbook with a keyboard much larger than this. Touch typing is quite easy, and there’s a full sized shift key on the right side of the keyboard, something which is becoming more and more common in netbooks but which still isn’t a given.

n120-keyboard

But I did have a few issues with the keyboard. In order to make room for that larger right shift key, Samsung squashed the arrow keys and the page up/down buttons into a tiny corner of the keyboard. That probably wouldn’t be too hard to get used to, but each of those keys serves double duty. Hitting the Fn button and the left or right arrows adjusts the volume. Fn+ up/down adjusts the screen brightness. And the PgUp/PgDn keys serve as the Home and End keys. And because these keys are all so close together, I often find myself brightening the screen when I want to jump to the beginning of a sentence, and vice versa.

n120-keyboard-right

Admittedly, part of this problem is due to the fact that I’ve been switching back and forth between this keyboard and the Asus Eee PC 1000H keyboard for the past week. The Asus keyboard has a different layout, and the Home and End buttons are assigned to the left/right keys, not the PgUp/PgDown keys. It’s possible that full time Samsung N120 users will get used to this key combination faster than I did.

I’m also a bit perplexed by a few of the other Fn keys. For instance, Fn+F3 inserts a €. That’s it. There’s a whole key dedicated to one special character that most Americans will rarely use. I would rather have moved the brightness or volume keys to this row rather than have a Euro key, but again maybe that’s just me.

The touchpad is wide by netbook standards, and it’s indented a bit from the rest of the chassis, which is a huge improvement over the Samsung NC10 touchpad which sits flush with the palm wrest area, making it hard to detect where the touchpad begins and ends without looking directly at it. There’s a single large button below the touchpad which you can use to enter right or left clicks. I personally prefer two distinct buttons, but I found the single button relatively easy to use.

The touchpad supports scrolling, which means you can place your finger over the right edge and move up and down to scroll up and down in many applications. Scrolling your finger along the bottom of the screen scrolls certain apps to the left or right. There is no support for multi-touch gestures.

Display

The netbook features a 10.1 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel glossy display. It does reflect a bit of glare when placed in bright and sunny places (like outdoors). But it’s not the glossiest/shiniest screen I’ve seen.

easy-resolution-manager

Samsung includes a utility called Easy Resolution Manager that lets you toggle the virtual screen resolution between 1024 x 600 and 1024 x 768. While it’s impossible to actually squeeze any extra pixels onto the screen, the 1024  x 768 mode fakes it by doubling up some pixels and treating the screen as if it had a higher resolution than it does. The results look kind of crappy, but could come in handy for some applications that have a minimum screen resolution requirement.

There’s also an Easy Display Manager tool that lets you set hotkeys for performing actions like adjusting the screen resolution and rotating the display.

Speakers

n120-speakersOne of the things that sets the Samsung N120 apart from most netbooks is that there are two speakers on the front of the laptop, the left and right of the screen. There’s also a 1.5W subwoofer tucked away on the bottom of the computer. It’s not exactly going to turn your netbook into a boom box, but the 2.1 channel speakers do provide decent audio quality. Decent, but not spectacular.

The speakers don’t get very loud, and they’re not going to sound as good as plug-in speakers or headphones. But they do reproduce sound a little better than some netbooks. The only other netbook I happened to have handy this week was my trusty old Asus Eee PC 1000H, so I ran a rather silly audio test.

Here’s what I did. I grabbed my Sony PCM-D50 digital audio recorder and positioned it about 18-24 inches away from the speakers in a position similar to where your head would be if you were typing on the netbooks while listening to music. In order to avoid any copyright issues, I grabbed two songs the band I played with in high school recorded. So umm, yeah. Here’s what the Samsung N120 sounded like:

And here’s the Asus Eee PC 1000H:

To my ear, the Asus Eee PC 1000H is louder, but the audio is a bit more muddy and gets a bit distorted when the volume peaks. On the other hand, my cat decided to scratch at the door while I was recording the Samsung N120 audio sample, so that audio quality could have been cleaner too.

Software

Samsung packs the N120 with a series of system utilities including the screen resolution and display apps I mentioned above. There’s also a battery life extender program that isn’t quite what you think.

battery-extender

Instead of trying to adjust the power settings to give you the maximum possible run time per battery charge, this tool actually tries to increase the life of your battery as measured in months, not hours. It does this by telling the computer to charge your battery to 80% capacity instead of 100% which theoretically helps give you at least a few extra charge cycles in the long run.

There’s also Battery Manager utility which does provide all sorts of details about your battery and power saving settings to help you squeeze more life out of your batter (this time measured in minutes and hours).

samsung-battery-manager

There’s also a utility called SRS Control Panel for adjusting your audio settings, a utility for receiving system and software updates from Samsung, the Samsung Magic Doctor program that helps diagnose system problems as well as a backup utility. You can find some more screenshots at the end of this review.

Performance

The Samsung N120 has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU and integrated GMA 950 graphics. In other words, it performs pretty much exactly like every other Intel Atom powered netbook out there. It can handle light tasks like firing up a web browser, instant messaging client, and a media player simultaneously without complaining. I had no problem opening up half a dozen or more browser tabs in Firefox or Google Chrome. And the computer boots Windows XP in a respectable 45 seconds.

The netbook handles web video from YouTube and Hulu well, whether in windowed or full screen mode.

The 1.3MP webcam and microphone worked reasonably well for making video calls over Skype. The picture quality was clear, but the frame rate was a bit on the low side. You can check out the video quality yourself by watching a recent episode of TechVi where I was a guest. I recorded the interview using the Samsung N120. And yes, I know. I accidentally said the national section of the New York Times is free when you use the new Times Reader 2.0 application. I meant to say the front page section.

Battery

This computer gets excellent battery life from its 6 cell, 5200mAh battery. While the battery doesn’t pack as much juice as the 8700mAh battery that comes with the Asus Eee PC 1000HE, I was regularly able to use the computer for about 6 hours without plugging it in.

n120-battery

I ran the same Battery Eater test I’ve been using to review other netbooks and the Samsung N120 lasted for 4 hours and 20 minutes. Keep in mind, the test is designed to put constant strain on the battery, so it’s not unusual to see a score around 4 hours in the test and still get around 6 hours in real world conditions. For comparison’s sake, the Eee PC 1000HE scored 4 hours and 51 minutes in the Battery Eater test and ran for over 7 hours under normal conditions.

The battery fits into the bottom of the computer and sticks out a little, but not as much as some other 6 cell netbook batteries I’ve seen. It gives the Samsung N120 keyboard a slight tilt which helps make typing comfortable.

Verdict

The Samsung N120 isn’t the smallest or lightest netbook on the market. And it doesn’t have the loudest speakers. But it is thin, light, and has some of the best sounding speakers I’ve heard on a netbook to date. And they totally justify the bezel around the 10.1 inch display. In fact, the bezel isn’t really that much larger than th ones found on many other 10 inch netbooks, and it’s much less noticeable than the huge bezel around the original netbook, the 7 inch Asus Eee PC 701.

The computer also comes with a nice array of software, provides excellent battery life, and a touchpad that’s a step up from the tiny touchpad on the Samsung NC10.

But these features do come at a cost. The Samsung N120 is available right now from Amazon for $433, which is is $45 higher than the similarly specced Asus Eee PC 1000HE which is going for $388. The Eee PC 1000HE also provides better battery life, has a 1.66GHz Intel Atom n280 CPU, and supports 802.11n WiFi, which the Samsung N120 does not. But the Eee PC 1000HE is also nearly half a pound heavier than the Samsung N120. Update: Since this review was published the price has dropped, and you can often find the Samsung N120 for as little as $350.

You can find more info about the Samsung N120 in the Liliputing Product Database.

Extras:

Here are all the photos featured in this review plus a few extras:

  • TrackSmart

    Nice review.

    Now if this model had an 11″ high-resolution screen in the same chassis, that would be an even nicer use of the larger form-factor.

    Extra screen real estate would be much more useful than the slightly better (but still not great) speakers.

  • DougC3

    Very nice netbook (and review too for that matter :) If this had been around with its large right shift and matte black lid and wrist rest two months ago, I would have snapped it up.

    Maybe they will even squeeze a larger screen into it next time around.

  • Anil Mohan

    A comparison between the N120 Samsung and the MSI Wind U115 would be ideal as in my mind, this is what everyone is waiting for.

  • BoloMKXXVIII

    Keep in mind that the EeePCs tend to be easier if you want to install Linux. While it can be done with the Samsung units, it is not as easy and there are some issues that still have not been resolved (last time I checked).

  • jds

    I'm typing this on an N120. There are a couple of things that bear saying in comparing it to a 1000HE, which I also own (well, now my wife does). In my opinion the N120 keyboard is better, more like a standard keyboard, than the one on the Asus, and the buttons are not nearly as STIFF as those awful clackers on the Asus. For me that's huge: I get wrist pain with the latter.

    Second, there's simply no fan noise on the N120. The fan on the 1000HE irritates me, it's far too loud and it turns on almost as soon as the system comes up.

    Finally, as you said, the N120 is thinner and lighter, and the difference is quite obvious when you compare the two directly. And, it's case doesn't smudge at all, the rough matte covering keeps it neat looking.

    As for Linux: I run Debian Lenny on it, and everything works. It's true however that the latest Ubuntu release has problems with audio and sleep, whereas Ubuntu runs great on Asus machines. So users who want Ubuntu to work out-of-box are advised to look at Acer or Asus hardware.

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  • DougC3

    My 1000HE fan is so quiet I almost never notice it. If there's any noise at all in the room, I have hold my ear next to the unit to hear the fan. Maybe it varies from one unit to another. I don't mind the resistance of the keys, since I was “raised” on mechanical Royal, Remington, and Underwood typewriters, but I was a bit disappointed by the strange little springy sound that the keys make.

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  • 9a6or

    The screen has non-square pixels and so anything you see is squashed. A circle looks like an oval and a square looks like a rectangle.

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  • Dan

    i am typing this on my n120 as well..

    compare to my previous netbooks (Acer one, Asus 1000H, Lenovo s10)
    Samsung did a good job on silent fan. my previous notbooks were so noisy i had to return or sell them.

    Now Samsung last pretty good on battery life aver between 5-7 hours.
    Best thing about this netbook is its great keyboard. I am touch typist and really like this keyboard.

    I was going to get n110 but decided to go with n120 because, i could no stand that burgundy strip around n110.

  • Dan

    iI don't know if Asus improved fan noise from 1000H but my 1000H's fan was always *on* making noise but also draining battery faster..
    well since new 10000HE lasts longer than n120, they might have fixed this issue..

  • Anil Mohan

    My N120 that I bought in Hong Kong came with an Intel Atom N280 processor, 802.11 b/g/n WLAN, Bluetooth v2.1 w/ Enhance Data Rate and a 5900mAh battery! So with this new battery it will probably beat the 1000HA in your battery eater test.

  • http://www.technotalks.com/reviews/samsung-n120-reviews/ Sam Michel

    It is a nice laptop, it's bettery life is much impressive with six cell, one can work on it continuously, without plug in it. The Samsung N120 isn’t the smallest or lightest netbook on the market. And it doesn’t have the loudest speakers. But it is thin, light, and has some of the best sounding speakers I’ve heard on a netbook to date. And they totally justify the bezel around the 10.1 inch display.

  • http://techtemper.blogspot.com/ Haider

    how come a 5200mah 6cell battery comes close to 8700mah battery (toshiba's 12cell battery @ 9000mah)…the config is just the same

  • liperan

    Nice article About the Samsung Notebook..I am very Happy to read the Article Becaz..I am also a Samsung User..I want to unlock My Omnia I900 Mobile i got the Unlocking Instructions In the site mobileunlockguide i want the Unlocking code Help me Please.

  • stringg

    Samsung Nowadays Introducing many Models in Mobile category & Notebook Computer(Laptop)Category also Here the article says about the Beautiful Samsung Notebook It's Rocking..I am using the Unlocked Samsung Omnia I900 Model mobile..

  • cameron88

    i've had this product for not even a day and already noticed to immediate let-downs. 1) my keyboard isn't the standard 97% keyboard that the n120 is famous for. did i get a rip-off version? (just paid full price at futureshop for it). 2) the webcam works when i initialize the pre-loaded program for it, but i am unable to use it on any actual chat programs: msn messenger or msn live. any suggestions?

  • Steven Rosson

    I haven't had any problems with sound or hibernation, wireless, etc. I don't know if being on Ubuntu Netbook Remix makes that much of a difference but I have had zero problems with it.

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  • brianchhua

    i just got N120 yesterday and LOVE IT! no noise, great keyboard, awsome sound. it's a great , chic looking machine..a must have!

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  • megatron1

    The larger keyboard of Samsung N120 will make typing easier, video-conferencing or live messaging is faster and more accurate, it's nearly a laptop. 1.3 megapixel webcam, 3x USB 2.0, a 3-in-1 card reader and optional internal Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR features are very nice. Check this review for more information : http://www.techarena.in/review/16744-samsung-n1

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  • teya3

    I heard the Samsung N120 has some toxic matierals in the keyboard/ palm pads. Does anyone know about this, or how do find out more about this? Thanks, Teya

  • Davidblade15

    the touch pad does have multiple touch features. If you drag together, it zooms out, or if you drag apart, is zooms in

  • Davidblade15

    the touch pad does have multiple touch features. If you drag together, it zooms out, or if you drag apart, is zooms in

  • Pauly_wauly

    Just installed the Ubuntu 10 (not the netbook remix) It went straight on with no problems – the updates even sorted out all the Fn-hotkeys. I have docky task bars and cude multi screens and the nc10 goes like lightning v’s XP. I dont think I will ever need to change back to the XP enviro (just keep it on dual boot for now…).

    Thanks Ubuntu – at last I find the linux distro is worth installing and nice and easy.

    Paul