When it comes to phones and tablets, Samsung and Apple’s battle is no secret. Take a look at this commercial or peruse the back-and-forth litigation and you’ll get a fine look at how fierce the fight has become. However, in the fight for laptop supremacy, Samsung’s played it relatively safe, avoiding engagement by keeping to its own designs and direction. Until the Series 7 Chronos, that is. Just one glance at the 15.6-inch laptop reveals that Samsung’s more than jotted down a few notes on Apple’s MacBook Pro design and taken an even harder look at its spec sheet. The Series 7 has the same exact specs as the 15-inch MacBook Pro, including a quad-core Core i7-2675QM processor, 6GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics. It all looks fairly evenly matched until you take a look at the price tag. While Apple charges $1,800 for its 15-inch MacBook Pro package, the Series 7 Chronos comes in at $1,300 for the same configuration. It’s a big chunk of savings, but just what exactly does the Series 7 Chronos require you give up for the saved cash? And is it ultimately what it was designed to be — a strong competitor to the MacBook Pro? Keep reading to find out.
Hardware / design
It's crystal clear where Samsung was enamored with Apple's design
While I wouldn’t say the Series 7 is a blatant rip-off of the MacBook Pro, it’s not hard to see where Samsung’s been enamored with Apple’s laptop design. The bare aluminum lid, chiseled edges, system layout (the slot-loading DVD drive on the right, all ports on the left), and even the latch-free lid opening heavily draw on the MacBook Pro’s aesthetic. That said, there are some clear distinctions between the two. The darker grey aluminum lid, as opposed to Dell which used the same light aluminum on its XPS 15z, gives the system a bolder look than the MacBook Pro. I actually prefer the darker coloring since it doesn't pick up dirt as easily and it looks quite nice when contrasted with the backlit keyboard.
However, where I don’t prefer the Series 7 is on build quality. While the Pro set a new bar for build with its unibody design, Samsung cut corners (I expect for cost) with a mix of plastic and metal parts. The aluminum lid and palm rest are the most solid part of the machine, while the edges and bottom are crafted of a grayish-painted plastic. The biggest problem is where those pieces meet — there’s some mild creaking in the corners of the keyboard deck and a hollowness to the bottom of the laptop. Overall, it’s not a poorly-made laptop — it just isn’t as well crafted as Samsung’s Series 9 or other all-metal systems like the MacBook Pro or XPS 14z.
|Dimensions (in.)||Thickness||Weight (lb.)|
|Samsung Series 7||14.3 x 9.4||0.94||5.05|
|Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch)||14.4 x 9.8||0.95||5.6|
|HP Envy 15 (2011)||14.9 x 9.6||1.1||6.3|
On a better note, Samsung was able to keep both the Series 7’s weight and dimensions down. While the 15-inch Pro weighs 5.6 pounds and measures 0.95 inches thick, the Series 7 knocks it down ever so slightly to 5.05 pounds and .94 inches while maintaining a more plentiful port selection.The left edge is stocked with two USB 3.0 ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as HDMI, Ethernet, and mini DisplayPort sockets. Like the MacBook Pro, those two USB ports are located right next to each other, making it hard to plug in multiple peripherals, though there is an extra USB 2.0 port on the right edge. That same side houses a slot-loading optical drive (no Blu-ray available) while a 4-in-1 card reader is nestled on the front lip of the machine.
Keyboard and trackpad
My feelings on the backlit keyboard are very similar to my aforementioned thoughts on the Series 7’s design: it looks good — almost great when you consider it’s just a keyboard — but it could be better constructed. While the chiclet panel is well-spaced with a number pad to the right, and the black keys have a glowing halo around them when the backlight is on, the space bar on my unit continued to get stuck. On top of that, the keys have a distracting, plasticy feedback to them. (By the way, that space bar issue doesn’t seem to be isolated to this unit; others have complained about it in user reviews I have read.) That isn’t to say I didn’t type the brunt of this review at a decent clip and quite comfortably; I just wish Samsung had focused on attention to detail a bit more on one of the most heavily used parts of the machine. I do like the fact that you can adjust the keyboard backlight level, but I don’t like that you have to hold down the Function key to use any of the Fn shortcuts, including the volume and brightness controls. The shortcuts should be the default setting.
The first thing I noticed when I lifted up the laptop’s lid was the off-center touchpad. Because of the number pad, Samsung aligned the pad with the space bar, and while it isn’t actually bothersome when it comes to workflow, I've always found it odd that my hands end up being on just the left side of the deck. It just feels off-balance, though I realize that’s likely my own OCD coming out and that this is the case on many laptops out there.
But yes, you really want to know what the actual 4.2 x 3.0-inch, glass pad is like for navigating. It turns out that it’s actually one of the better touchpads I’ve seen on a Windows PC in awhile, although "on a Windows PC" are the key words. While I didn’t have to change my normal mousing set up to comfortably navigate, mutitouch gestures still cannot compare to those on the MacBook Pro. Scrolling is smoother than most PC touchpads, but it still requires some added movement. Also, my palms kept mistakenly swiping the pad when typing, causing the cursor to jump unexpectedly. This is something I have noticed with a number of PC touchpads — clearly, the palm rejection software continues to be a pain point with Windows 7 and these touchpad drivers. Also, that build quality issue is apparent in this region; the lower left corner of the pad on my review unit was more recessed than the other corners.
A comfortable backlit keyboard is held back by poor construction
Screen and speakers
Whatever you do, do not push the display backwards
Samsung tends to brag about its displays, and that’s no different with the Series 7. The 15.6-inch, 1600 x 900, 300-nit panel isn’t only very bright, it's got a matte, anti-glare coating, and a very thin bezel. Those factors make for a really nice viewing experience, at least when looking at the screen dead on. Colors look extremely bright, text looks crisp, it’s easy to position windows next to each other, and the matte coating really is less distracting than overly glossy panels. However, as soon as you tilt this screen vertically off axis, the problems emerge. Not only do colors start to fade, but whites quickly become a urine-colored yellow. Yes, it’s disgusting any way you look at it or describe it. Those issues aside, the display and the resolution are more than adequate for an entry-level unit, though unfortunately Samsung doesn’t offer a higher-resolution option; this is the perfect sort of system for a full-HD 1920 x 1080 display.
The speakers, one of which is located on the bottom of the system and the other between the screen and the keyboard hinge, provide a loud and surprisingly full listening experience. (By the way, what is it with these speakers looking like Band-Aids? Just like the one on the Transformer Prime, the speaker on the bottom of the system is rectangular in shape. See, a Band-Aid!) It could just be that I’ve spent the last month testing speakers on much thinner ultrabooks, but I really was quite impressed with the sound. It’s not as immersive as the sound on Dell’s XPS 15z, but Rihanna’s "We Found Love" was bass-ier and more full than what I’m used to on my 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Performance and graphics
As you’d expect from such an impressive spec list, the Series 7’s quad-core 2.2GHz Core i7-2675QM processor, 6GB of RAM, AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics (with 1GB of DDR5 VRAM) all translate to a very fast computing experience. However, on top of that, Samsung’s added some secret sauce: a dual SSD and hard drive combo that enables programs to open faster and the system to boot and resume speedier. Using ExpressCache technology, Samsung put an 8GB SanDisk SSD on the motherboard (in addition to the 750GB hard drive), and the results are pretty solid: the laptop boots in a quick 38.7 seconds, resumes from sleep in four seconds, and opens programs noticeably faster than hard drive-only laptops. Beyond that, performance was zippy. Throwing my everyday programs at the rig — Chrome with 15 tabs open, Trillian, TweetDeck, iTunes — as well as a 1080p video and a trial version of Photoshop in the background didn’t throw off performance.
Graphics performance is similarly impressive. The benchmarks below can speak for themselves, but gaming performance was quite commendable. Running Just Cause 2 at the native resolution with anti-aliasing off looked great on the bright-and-crisp display, and I had no problem landing Rico in the mountains at 30fps and then speedily grappling across peaks. Switching between Intel’s integrated graphics and AMD’s discrete GPU is easier than it’s been in the past thanks to the new Catalyst Control Center. Similar to Nvidia’s Optimus, the software, which you can bring up by left clicking on the desktop, determines if the program needs to use the GPU. You can easily toggle the GPU on or off in the control center if the system doesn’t know what sort of graphics should be used.
|PCMarkVantage||3DMark06||Just Cause 2|
|Samsung Series 7||7620||9,849||34.24|
|MacBook Pro 15-inch (2011)||7648*||10,359*||N/A|
|Sony VAIO Z (2011)||12079||7,960||25.96|
|Dell XPS 15z||7303||N/A||24.95|
The good news is that the system stays relatively cool when throwing games and Flash-heavy content at it. The bad news is that the fan noise can get quite loud. Located between the screen hinge and keyboard, the fan revs up and then slows down from time to time. It’s not a deal breaker — just be prepared to tune out feedback when watching Hulu.
Battery life and software
Amongst 15.6-inch laptops, the Series 7’s battery life is pretty standard yet still impressive. On The Verge Battery Test, which loops a series of 100 websites and downloads high resolution images with brightness set at 65 percent (and the keyboard backlit turned off), the Series 7 lasted four hours and 24 minutes. In actual use, just using the laptop to surf the web, write this review, and listen to music, I got about five hours and ten minutes of use with the keyboard backlight turned on and brightness at 65 percent. Obviously, you'll get considerably less juice if the GPU is constantly being hit, but it's a decent amount of time for such a powerful machine.
While I’d like to say Samsung kept Windows 7 Home Premium fairly untouched, it did add a few of its own tweaks. The most notable one is its Software Launcher dock, which bears some similarity to Apple’s dock. It’s actually nicely arranged and you can add shortcuts as you wish. As usual, Samsung loads the Series 7 up with a number of its own utilities, most of which carry an "Easy" descriptor, including its Easy Migration, Easy File Share, and Easy Settings. The only software I was continuously bothered by was Samsung's hard drive reformating / back-up tool, which kept prompting me to do something with the odd partition. Interestingly, Samsung does preload it’s Kies software which integrates with the app on its Android phones. It’s actually one of the first cross-platform efforts I’ve seen from Samsung. As for third-party apps, Samsung has teamed up with Amazon to preload the PC Kindle software, WildTangent for games, and CyberLink for its Media Suite, which includes PowerDirector.
Over five hours of battery life in this performance range works for me
|Samsung Series 7||4:24|
|Sony VAIO Z||5:27|
|Dell XPS 15z||4:36|
HP's Envy looms on the horizon, but Samsung has crafted one of the best Windows 7 laptops out there right now
Samsung sure knows how to eye the competition, and by competition I mean, Apple. For $500 less than the MacBook Pro ($660 at some retailers this season), the Series 7 has a very good blend of performance, graphics muscle, and battery life. However, we knew there would be sacrifices, and while the Series 7 might come close to closing the gap with the MacBook Pro on performance, it simply isn't as well-built as Apple's machine. And that can be seen most notably in the keyboard, touchpad, and the screen quality.
The Dell XPS 15z is definitely made of better parts, but for the same price as the Series 7 you'll be giving up the quad-core power and slightly better AMD graphics. My hope is that the new HP Envy 15 can round-out all those issues and provide a true MacBook Pro competitor on both those performance and build-quality levels, and some may want to hold out for that. However, if you can live with those shortcomings, and I suspect many can for the amount of performance and graphics power you get for $1,300, Samsung has crafted one of the best Windows 7 laptops out there. Now, we’ll just see if Apple's lawyers have anything to say about it.