- Compact and lightweight
- Integrated 3G/HSDPA connectivity
- Superb 12.1in. widescreen
- Supplied with standard and extended-life batteries
- Only two USB ports
- External optical drive
Samsung produces some very stylish and effective ultraportable notebooks, the last of which we examined was the Q35. With the latest member of the Q range, the Q40, Samsung claims to have delivered the world’s thinnest and lightest notebook with a 12.1in. widescreen. With the promise of extra-long battery life and HSDPA support dropped into the mix, on paper this looks like a superb little system.
The Samsung Q40 is definitely a small and lightweight notebook. Its footprint is 28.77cm wide by 19.75cm deep, and it measures 2.57cm thick at the back, tapering to just 1.80cm at the front; it weighs 1.14kg. It's easy to stow away, and very light to carry. Our review sample was silver-coloured with a black keyboard and various sections of black trim. There's also a red model, which for some reason weighs 10g more than the silver one.
The build quality is solid, with a magnesium alloy chassis providing plenty of protection for the internal components. As with many of today's slimline ultraportables, there's a little give in the lid, which could potentially cause problems. Having said that, we've seen similar systems that offer considerably less screen protection.
Unfortunately there's no catch between the lid and the main system unit, which could allow foreign objects to slip in between the screen and keyboard when the Q40 is in a bag. Samsung supplies a neat slipcase and this should give some protection, but it's no substitute for a hard case.
The 12.1in. wide aspect ratio screen is a joy to use. With a native resolution of 1,280 by 768 pixels, it's wide enough to have two working windows open at once. Samsung’s Super-Bright Gloss screen coating helps to make the display sharp and bright, but, as usual with such screens, the increased reflectivity makes it difficult to work outdoors, or with a light source behind you.
The keyboard is free of any fripperies: there are no dedicated shortcut keys, just a row of function combinations on the half-height function key row and more on the inverted-T cursor control area. The space bar is a little short, but necessarily so as this allows the other keys that share its row to be full sized. As far as the keys themselves are concerned, we like a little more return for fast touch typing, but this can be a matter of taste.
Beneath the keyboard is a small touchpad with left and right mouse buttons beneath it. This is a touchpad pure and simple, with no additional scrolling functionality.
If this sounds a somewhat utilitarian design, it's worth pointing out that when you use the function key combinations to, for example, check the battery capacity, adjust system volume or change the screen brightness, large icons pop up on-screen to give a graphical representation of the task at hand. Generally, the required functionality is delivered without undue embellishment.
The Samsung Q40 can be configured with either Windows XP Professional or Windows XP Home, and obviously we specified the former for our review sample. Samsung tells us that later in the year the Q40 will appear with Windows Vista, but this is some months away. The processor is an Intel Core Solo U1400 running at 1.2GHz, supported by Intel’s 945GMS Express chipset and 1.2GB of RAM. Graphics are handled by the GMA 950 module that's integrated in the 945GMS.
Models in this series come with hard drives of between 40GB and 60GB in capacity. Our review sample had a 60GB drive spinning at a relatively sedate 4,200rpm.
As you'd expect of an ultraportable, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth (2.0) are both included — the former via Intel’s PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter and the latter via Broadcom’s 2045 module. Gigabit Ethernet is also provided by Broadcom.
Our review model came with integrated 3G/HSDPA functionality provided by Option’s GlobeTrotter 3G+ Network Card. Samsung also provides Option’s GlobeTrotter Mobility Manager software, which is a control centre for all SIM-based communications. With it you can manage mobile data connections, send and receive SMS messages, manage an SMS contacts list and monitor data transfers. It can also be used to manage your wireless LAN connections.
Setting this up for your network provider should be straightforward — we certainly found it so. We tested the Q40's 3G connectivity with a Vodafone SIM and all we had to do was choose a settings profile from a provided database that covers a range of network operators across Europe. Settings can also be made manually if preferred.
The SIM card slot is on the underside of the casing, protected by a rubber cover. The Q40 needs to be powered down before a SIM is inserted or removed, but this niggle aside the easily accessible slot opens up the possibility for a SIM to be taken from a mobile phone as required, thereby removing the need for companies to provide two SIM cards per employee.
Samsung has not found room within the chassis for optical drive, although other vendors — notably Sony — have managed this feat with notebooks of similar dimensions. You do get an external multiformat DVD rewriter as part of the package, though, which connects to the main unit via a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection.
An external optical drive is a mixed blessing. Clearly, not having it within the chassis helps to keep the overall size and weight of the Samsung Q40 down. But the drive itself is about half the size of the notebook itself — we measured it at 14cm wide by 17cm deep and 1.8cm thick, and weighed it at 400g. When you do need to carry the optical drive, the travel weight rises to well over 1.5kg.
When it comes to ports and connectors, the Samsung Q40 is only moderately well appointed. We have already noted the FireWire (IEEE 1394) port. This sits on the left side of the casing, sandwiched between a USB 2.0 port and a VGA connector. Towards the front on this edge are microphone and headphone sockets, while the mains power connector is at the back.
On the right edge is a second USB 2.0 port, along with RJ-11 modem and RJ-45 Ethernet connectors, the main power switc, and, unusually these days, a CompactFlash card slot. On the front edge is a second flash memory slot — this time for SD, xD, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro media. A PC Card slot is a notable absentee, and the number of USB ports is minimal at just two.
If you need more connectivity, you'll need to consider Samsung's optional X-Dock II docking station, which connects via a proprietary port on the underside of the system. The X-Dock II provides additional PS/2, USB 2.0 (4), TV-out, DVI, VGA, parallel, serial and audio ports.
The back edge is occupied by the removable Li-ion battery. This has a five-light charge indicator that fires up when a small button is pressed. Samsung provides two batteries with the Q40: a standard 3-cell unit and an extended-life 6-cell battery that protrudes from the back of the system when installed.
Performance & battery life
With a 1.2GHz Core Solo processor, 1.2GB of RAM (the maximum available), integrated graphics and a 4,200rpm hard disk, the Q40 is never going to be a speedy computer. Having said that, we found it perfectly adequate for mainstream business tasks such as running office productivity applications, browsing the web and doing email. It's a pity that the RAM can't be expanded further, but 1.2GB should be enough to make a reasonable fist of running Vista should you decide to upgrade.
Although the Q40 is nice and quiet thanks to its fan-less design, we did notice that it ran rather hot.
We noted earlier that Samsung provides both standard and extended-life batteries with the Q40 — a 3-cell and a 6-cell unit respectively. Samsung says you can get up to 9 hours' life by using both batteries, which will theoretically cover a full working day. Obviously, the exact amount of battery life you can expect will depend upon your usage pattern (how much 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth activity you indulge in, for example, as well as the level of hard disk activity) and the power management settings you employ — particularly the screen brightness level.
The Q40 is an impressive ultraportable notebook. It's genuinely lightweight and portable, yet includes a high-quality wide-aspect-ratio screen. The 3G/HSDPA module is easy to configure and use, and we like the fact that the SIM card slot is easily accessible. It's a pity Samsung has only found space for two USB slots on the main system unit, though. This makes it likely that many users will need to shell out for the optional X-Dock II docking station. And if you add the bulky external optical drive to your bag, your travel weight will increase significantly.