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Samsung Notebook 7 Spin review: Pay for the power, not for the design

Lots of power, lackluster design

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The Samsung Notebook 7 Spin feels like it just might languish in the land of the in-betweens: it’s got a lot of oomph, including a dedicated graphics card, but it isn’t meant for hardcore PC gamers; it can handle video and photo editing, but it’s too heavy for producers to lug around on a regular basis; it makes an excellent stay-at-home laptop, but some people won’t want to spend more than $1,000 on that.

Yup, just as Samsung has started making super sleek, thin notebooks, it has made a 15-inch workhorse of a laptop that wouldn’t catch your eye unless someone dropped it in your lap — and you would definitely notice it then, because it’s heavy.

It also has one of those hinges that lets the display fold all the way back until it’s a tablet, not unlike the Lenovo Yoga series, the Asus ZenBook Flip, or the Acer Spin 7. Bend-y laptops are on trend, and they do serve a purpose for some people; every time I call it a gimmick, I inevitably get a note from a reader who loves watching video on his laptop in tent mode, or who appreciates that she’s getting both a laptop and a tablet for the price of one. Still, studies have shown that these devices are still primarily used as laptops.

But, despite its boring appearance, the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin is not a bad laptop — at all. Samsung is aiming this at people who watch a lot of video, or edit a lot of media, and it makes a good case for that. It’s actually a really powerful Windows 10 machine with dual hard drives, up to an Intel Core i7 processor, a minimum of 12GB of (swappable) RAM, and a full-HD touchscreen display. For people who use their laptops more like desktops, it will do the job for them — and compared with other powerful 15-inch laptops, it’s reasonably priced.

It’s basically the Camry of 15-inch laptops: it will get you very far, but it's not going to turn heads along the way.

Samsung-Notebook-7-Spin-2016

First things first: I should note that the Notebook 7 Spin I’ve been using, with the 15.6-inch display, is not the only model available. There’s a Notebook 7 Spin with a 13-inch display, a single hard drive, a Core i5 processor, and eight gigabytes of RAM that starts at $800. For a lot of interested buyers that one will be sufficient, even though it’s not as powerful.

But this review is of the behemoth machine, which costs $1,199. It is unembellished with the exception of "Samsung" spelled out in slightly raised lettering on its cover. Its build is a combination of metal and plastic: tap on the top of the laptop and you’ll get a distinct metal ping, but if you tap or grip the bottom you’ll hear the dull thud of rubberized plastic. Samsung attributes the combination of materials to different factors: an all-metal laptop of this size would be heavy, expensive, and generally more difficult to manufacture.

The hinge is one design aspect I like. Unlike Lenovo’s Yoga notebooks, which have a visible hinge, Samsung’s mechanism is hidden within a smooth metal casing. It’s discreet, whether the laptop is closed, open, or in "tent" mode.

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The Notebook 7 Spin is 0.78 inches thick, which is on the larger side. It doesn’t taper off, either, which usually adds to the illusion of thinness. But it depends, of course, on what you compare it to. While the Notebook 7 Spin is thicker than the half-inch HP Spectre x360 15T, and just a little bit thicker than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, it’s thinner than Lenovo’s 15-inch ThinkPad Yoga.

One upside is that it’s packed with ports: HDMI, one USB-C, one USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, a "normal" SD card slot, and the standard headphone and mic jacks. It supports 4K video output. It charges super fast. All of this helps makes a case for its larger size.

it weighs a whopping five pounds

On the downside, it weighs a whopping five pounds. (For comparison’s sake: the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display weighs four and a half pounds.) Twice in the past few weeks I’ve opted to travel with another laptop, just because I didn’t want to deal with carrying it around. When I do take it with me, I have to switch from a shoulder bag to a backpack. After a mile-long walk to the ballpark in downtown San Francisco the other night, it felt really, really heavy.

Samsung-Notebook-7-Spin-2016

A few different things contribute to the weight. One of those things is the capacitive touchscreen display. It’s a really nice, bright, full-HD (1920 x 1080) 15.6-inch display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. It’s not as high-res as other laptops, but it’s sharp enough for this screen size. The Notebook 7 Spin also has a built-in HDR mode, accessible by hitting Fn + F10, that makes darks and light pop ever so slightly when you’re watching video. But the HDR mode also causes a barely perceptible flicker when a movie or TV show jumps from shot to shot and the lighting changes (for my tests I watched House of Cards on Netflix, which tends to have a lot of dark scenes, both technically and narratively). Because of that, I rarely used HDR mode.

Oh, and if you’re interested in using this as a tablet: forget about it. Its sheer size makes using a 15-inch tablet unwieldy. I did, however, take advantage of the tent mode while watching video.

the Notebook 7 spin as a tablet? forget about it

The keyboard is full-sized, roomy, and backlit, and the keys felt springy and comfortable. In short, I liked everything about it with the exception of the trackpad alignment. As with a lot of 15-inch laptops, the extra real estate allows room for a number pad on the right-hand side, which means the trackpad is off-center to the left (although centered to the alphabetic keys). Switching from a standard laptop to this one means getting used to a trackpad that feels misaligned, and even when I adjusted to it I still inadvertently right-clicked from time to time.

Samsung-Notebook-7-Spin-2016

The 15-inch Notebook Spin 7’s best features, though, are under the hood. The top-of-the-line model I've been testing has a 2.5GHz Intel Core i7 processor, a 128GB solid state drive, and a one-terabyte hard drive. It comes with 16GB of RAM, which can be swapped out for two 16GB RAM modules for a total of 32GB of RAM. It boots up fast, thanks to the SSD, which takes care of Windows 10 and your programs (the 1TB hard drive is there for media storage). Naturally, it supports modern wireless protocols and Bluetooth 4.1. Its graphics card, a Nvidia GeForce 940MX, is decent; most hardcore gamers would be looking for something more powerful. But, this isn’t one of those laptops. When it came to everyday stuff, like keeping multiple tabs open in Chrome and streaming video, this laptop handles my workload just fine.

Battery life was okay in both official and unofficial / everyday tests, but did fall below Samsung’s claims. Samsung says it should get between eight and ten hours of battery life; in my test, which involved turning off all power saving settings, fixing the display at 65 percent brightness, and running a continuous loop of web pages in Chrome, it lasted just about seven hours. In everyday usage it would get me five hours or less — not enough to get through an entire work day, but few laptops do.

The Samsung Notebook 7 Spin isn’t a laptop for everyone; I personally wouldn’t buy it, because I’m willing to sacrifice some features for portability. But if you happen to be looking for a 15-inch Windows 10 laptop that "bends" and can support a fairly heavy workload, this one should at least be a consideration. Samsung has managed to cram a lot of power into a $1,199 15-inch laptop, compared with the $1,2999 Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 15, the less powerful $1,249 HP Spectre x360 15T, and the unbending $2,229 Dell XPS 15 and $1,999 15-inch MacBook Pro. That alone is a feat, even if its design is not.

Photos by James Temple

Samsung-Notebook-7-Spin-2016

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