We didn’t want to admit it, but it’s true: The Atom netbook market is a snooze. Netbooks based on Intel’s Atom platform (currently in its Pine Trail incarnation) ship with a 10.1-inch screen, 1GB of RAM, a 1.6GHz single-core Atom processor, Windows 7 Starter, blah blah blah. Netbooks with Nvidia’s Ion graphics architecture are more interesting, but they’re few and far between. At night, faint echoes from the ventilation shafts whisper of AMD’s forthcoming Atom smasher, code-named Ontario, which could signal a new dawn for the genre. But for now, the best we can hope for in this thoroughly commoditized market is a netbook that performs as well as its peers but looks good doing so. Samsung’s N210, which we reviewed in July, rocked a gorgeous Space Age aesthetic and a great keyboard but was packed to the exhaust ports with bloatware. The N230 has the same hardware, but in the slimmest, sleekest frame we’ve ever seen on a netbook. Where the N210 was Space Age, the N230 is pure modern.
By eschewing the multilayer clear-on-white plastic shell of the N210 for a single-layer, slim black carapace, Samsung made the N230’s profile sleeker—at its thickest it’s still less than an inch thick, and most parts of it are three-quarters of that. It’s also the lightest netbook we’ve ever tested, at just two pounds, five ounces (tied with the very first Acer Aspire One we tested in December 2008 for lap weight, and even lighter than that netbook when the power brick is included). Skipping the 6-cell battery did wonders for the N230’s weight and lines, but with a 3-cell battery, the N230 doesn’t last as long as its peers: It tapped out of our video rundown test 10 minutes short of the four-hour mark—70 minutes sooner than the N210 and nearly four-and-a-half hours short of the HP Mini 5102 (September 2010). All other benchmark scores were indistinguishable from those of any other Pine Trail netbook.
What it lacks in power, the N230 makes up with its lightweight chassis and low price.
The N230’s lid is glossy-black plastic, while the interior is matte black and the wrist rest is brushed metal. We wish Samsung would have taken at least a little style from the N210 and gone without the exterior’s sheen, which only looks good if you handle the netbook with kid gloves, or leave it at home. Given that the whole point of a netbook is to have a fully functional real computer (as opposed to a tablet) that you can chuck into a bag and take with you, we prefer ones that don’t look dirty as soon as you take them out of the box.
The island-style keyboard is just as roomy and comfortable as its predecessor’s, and the multitouch trackpad, though a bit small for our tastes, is accurate and easy to use. The N230’s port and connector array is standard—three USB 2.0 ports (one of which can charge electronics while the computer is sleeping), audio jacks, VGA out, 10/100 Ethernet, and a multicard reader, and it has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, though no Bluetooth. With the N230, Samsung dropped its Hyperspace instant-on OS, which we can’t help but applaud, along with the decision to include less bloatware. We still had to drag a bunch of desktop icons to the Recycle Bin, but they were mostly for Samsung’s onboard maintenance tools, not third-party software (aside from the inevitable Norton trial).
The Samsung N230 takes the standard netbook loadout and crams it into the lightest 10-inch chassis we’ve ever held. Though it’s a magnet for fingerprints, it has great lines, and at around $350, it’s a pretty good deal. The N230 manages to impress us despite our netbook ennui. That’s not a lot, but we’ll take it.
SAMSUNG N230 NETBOOK
Slimmest, lightest netbook we've tested; good keyboard.
Sub four-hour battery; boring internals; fingerprint prone.
Samsung N230 Netbook
1.66GHz Intel Atom N450
Intel NM10 Express
Intel GMA 3150
10.1-inch LED-backlit LCD@1024x600
250GB HDD (5,400rpm)
Three USB 2.0, audio in/out, multicard reader, VGA, 10/100
2 lbs, 5 oz / 2 lbs, 14.5 oz
Samsung N230 Netbook
Premiere Pro CS3 (sec)
Main Concept (min)
Quake 3 (fps)
Quake 4 (fps)
Battery Life (min)
Our zero point netbook is a Lenovo IdeaPad S12 with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, 1GB of DDR2/667 RAM, a 160GB hard drive, Intel GMA950 integrated graphics chipset, and Windows XP Home SP3.