Gaming laptops are one of the things that every PC maker has prioritized at this year’s CES, with big names like Lenovo, and now Samsung, starting whole new sub-brands of gaming PCs. Samsung’s answer to Lenovo’s Legion is the Notebook Odyssey. The Odyssey begins with a 15-inch laptop in February and a 17-inch behemoth in April, both of which look like rejects from Alienware’s design interns. There’s an upsettingly high degree of unoriginality about these laptops, which could easily bear Acer’s Predator or Asus’ Republic of Gamers branding — they’re both cookie-cutter gaudy monstrosities.
Like Lenovo, Samsung is introducing a red-backlit keyboard on its lower-tier model and a multicolored keyboard on its higher-end laptop. Like a neophyte gaming PC maker, Samsung eschews high-end materials for a massive dollop of hollow plastic: I found flex both in the top lid of the Odyssey 17 and in the keyboard itself. A lot of flex. Samsung’s hinges on both Odyssey laptops are flimsy, nothing approaching the hydraulic motion of, say, Lenovo’s ThinkPads.
But the most offensive thing about these laptops is how gaudy they are. There’s a ridiculous glossy plastic surround that sits on either side of the touchpad, highlighted by LED lighting. It’s attractive only insofar as it inevitably attracts the eye — but it’s mindless decoration for absolutely no user benefit. The Odyssey 17 also has a "Beast Mode" button above the keyboard — which Samsung at least promises to rename before releasing the laptop — and that flips the switch to turn on max performance mode in the included Odyssey Control software suite.
I spent a good amount of time asking Samsung’s CES reps why anyone should want to buy the company’s gaming laptops over other, more established and experienced brands. If Samsung had a different look, if it had used some of its higher-end materials or displays, I’d understand its differentiation — but Samsung is seemingly deliberate in aiming to be exactly like everyone else. Except it’s failing even at that, because leaders like Alienware and Asus have advanced to using more metal in their construction and better screens and keyboards. Samsung’s answer was that it’s "the most vertically integrated PC maker in the market" — which is utterly immaterial to a PC buyer that just wants to buy the best possible computer.
The Odyssey laptops’ matte displays were also a letdown, exhibiting so-so viewing angles and a muted color palette. The 17-incher has 300 nits of brightness and the 15.6-inch model has 280 nits. Their resolution? 1080p on both. Samsung is evidently shooting to hit an appealing price point with the Odyssey, which will start at $1,199 for the smaller laptop, equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050. Dell has an Inspiron laptop with the same GPU for $799.
There are some positive aspects to Samsung’s Odyssey computers. A perforated panel at the bottom — HexaFlow Vent, in Samsung parlance — helps airflow around the innards of each machine and is unlockable with just three screws. Then you can mess around with upgrading the RAM or adding a bigger and better NVMe SSD. Being made almost entirely out of plastic, these laptops are also reasonably light for their size. The 17-inch laptop weighs 3.79kg / 8.4lb and the 15-inch is 2.53kg / 5.6lb. And, yes, they’re somewhat affordable for the high specs they promise, which include lots of memory, SSD storage, and quad-core Intel Kaby Lake processors. The Notebook Odyssey 17 also has a USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 port.
It’s just that gaming doesn’t have to be this gaudy, and Samsung’s entry into this category could have been an opportunity to do something different, something better. PC vendors are misreading the causal relationship between LED-laden gear and gamer purchases: many gamers buy obnoxious-looking PCs because that’s the only high-spec option on the market.
Photography by Vlad Savov