- Superb keyboard
- Solid build quality
- Integrated camera
- Competitive price
- No fingerprint sensor
- No built-in 3G/HSDPA connectivity
- 10/100Mbps rather than Gigabit Ethernet
- Only two USB 2.0 connectors
The Samsung NP-Q45 is an updated version of the Q35 which we reviewed a year ago. We liked that notebook, but a year is a long time in mobile computing, and notebook specifications have changed dramatically since then. Does the Q45 shape up as well as its predecessor?
This new model has abandoned the Q35's silver tones in favour of black throughout. The lid has the trendy shiny and reflective 'piano' black finish, which looks stunning when you take the Q45 out of its box, but quickly gets greasy from fingermarks. Fortunately Samsung provides a cleaning cloth, presumably for wiping the grease away.
Notebook manufactures often struggle to differentiate themselves on features and Samsung has duly claimed a USP: all of its new notebooks are, apparently, 'bacteria free'. This is down to a coating of silver ion powder on the keyboard and wrist rest, which is designed to prevent these components from harbouring bacteria. We were, unfortunately, unable to test this claim, but the Q45 certainly has clean lines and a pleasing look-and-feel, and didn't pass on any nasty infections during the evaluation period.
The Q45 weighs 1.86kg, which places it at the upper end of the 'ultraportable' spectrum. It has a claimed desktop footprint of 29.9cm by 21.7cm and a thickness of 2.69-3.63cm — we say 'claimed' footprint because the battery protrudes from the back of the casing making that 21.7cm closer to 23.7cm.
Build quality is generally robust and solid. The Q45 should not be too vulnerable when carried, although there's no clasp to keep the upper and lower sections of the notebook firmly together when closed. As a result, they could be prized apart by other objects in your bag if the system is not in a slip case or protected in some other way.
The screen measures 12.1in. from corner to corner and has a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. The display has Samsung's Super Bright Gloss layer, which makes it very clear and sharp — but, as ever with such systems, it's quite reflective.
The keyboard is one of the best we've used, rivalling the legendary ThinkPad. Admittedly this somewhat subjective, but we found the keyboard's action and solid base conducive to fast touch-typing. A full-height number row is topped by a row of half-height function keys. All of the keys are black apart from the F7 and F8 keys, which are blue. When used with the Fn key, these fire up the Magic Doctor and SpeedUp Manager utilities respectively. The latter lets you control processor speed and switch to silent mode, while the former diagnoses the system and tries to fix any problems found.
The two-button touchpad includes a scroll bar on its right vertical edge, which is handy for moving through web pages or longer documents. There are two additional buttons on the right side of the keyboard area. One is the on/off switch, while the other launches the AV Station software, which allows you to access movies, music and photos stored on the computer. It may seem odd to see this on a business notebook, but mobile professionals need to relax occasionally too. Pressing its button when the notebook is powered down causes it to boot into Windows and then launch the AV Station software.
The Samsung Q45 comes in several configurations with a range of Intel Core 2 Duo processors. Our review sample had a Core 2 Duo T7100 running at 1.8GHz with 2MB of Level 2 cache. The other available configurations are T7300 (2.0GHz), T7500 (2.2GHz) and T7700 (2.4GHz). Windows Vista Business is the operating system currently available on this notebook. Our review sample had 2GB of RAM, expandable to a maximum of 4GB.
Graphics in our review sample were provided by Intel's X3100 module, which is integrated in the 965GM Express chipset and can dynamically access up to 384MB of system memory. If you need more graphics horsepower, you can specify the discrete Nvidia GeForce 8400M G processor with 128MB of dedicated video memory.
Intel's PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter provides the on-board (802.11a,b,g) Wi-Fi, while a Marvell Yukon adapter delivers 10/100Mbps wired Ethernet connectivity. Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) is also present.
Our review sample's hard drive was a 160GB, 5,400rpm Hitachi unit. This was divided into C and D partitions, with 10GB set aside for Samsung's built-in system recovery solution. When we switched the system on we were reminded to back up the C drive and the backup was sent to the D partition. Alternative hard drive capacities include 80GB, 100GB, 120GB and 200GB, the latter being a slower 4,200rpm drive.
On the left side of the casing is a multi-format dual-layer DVD rewriter. This side also houses a Type II PC Card slot and a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port. The Ethernet (RJ-45) connector is at the back of this side.
On the front edge are microphone and headphone connectors, along with a flash card reader for Memory Stick , SD, MMC and xD media.
The right side houses a single USB 2.0 connector, a VGA-out port and the modem (RJ-11) connector. Much of the back edge is occupied by the Li-ion battery, but the mains power connector is here alongside a second USB 2.0 port.
A 1.3 megapixel camera, which sits above the screen, can be used to capture stills or video, or for videoconferencing over Wi-Fi. The camera is fixed rather than on a swivel mount, so in order to achieve the optimum view the whole notebook has to be manoeuvred, and some angles are awkward to achieve. We prefer swivel-mounted cameras.
There's no built-in 3G/HSDPA module on the Q45, but you can always use the PC Card slot for a datacard if you need wide-area wireless connectivity on your travels.
Windows Vista's Windows Experience Index (WEI) rating is 3.4 (out of 5.9). This is determined by the lowest component score — in this case, the Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) score.
Elsewhere, the Q45 performs remarkably well. The Primary hard disk (disk data transfer rate) scores 4.9, the RAM Memory (memory operations per second) scores 4.8 and the Processor (calculations per second) scores 4.8. The Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) score of 3.5 is not wonderful, but this should not bother many business users. Overall we found performance to be solid for mainstream business tasks, although users of graphically demanding applications may want to consider specifying the discrete Nvidia GPU.
Samsung claims 6.5 hours' life from the 6-cell battery. We consistently managed several three-hour computing sessions using W-Fi as part of the mix. We especially like Samsung's battery charge indicator, which is a standard feature on its notebooks. A button on the battery pack, when pressed, causes up to five lights to illuminate, showing how much battery charge remains. This provides a handy check when the notebook is powered down.
The Q45 is neither a top-of-the-range notebook nor the most ultrportable of sub-2kg systems. With only two USB ports, many users may need to invest in a USB hub. The Q45 also lacks a fingerprint sensor and built-in 3G/HSDPA connectivity, both of which are becoming 'must have' features for mobile professionals.
On the plus side, Smasung's excellent build quality makes this a robust notebook for frequent travellers, the keyboard is superb, and the screen is good as long as there's no light source behind you. Finally, the price is very attractive.