Samsung Series 5 NP535U3C review

Pros

  • Slim and light design
  • Tempting budget price
  • Matte display means no reflection issues

Cons

  • Poor performance levels
  • Battery life isn’t good
  • Awkward card reader

The Samsung Series 5 NP535U3C looks like an ultrabook, feels like an ultrabook, and will be sold alongside ultrabooks, but don't be fooled. Although there are plenty of superficial similarities, the Series 5 NP535U3C is built around an AMD processor, a change that affects not only price but also overall performance in ways most consumers are not likely to benefit from or appreciate.

Ultrabooks vs. Sleekbooks

When Intel launched its proprietary ultrabook specification, most OEMs got right on board, as evidenced by the current glut of super-thin laptops on the market. But for a laptop to get the Intel-approved ultrabook brand name, it must meet certain requirements for thickness and weight, and it has to use Intel's hardware. In response, AMD has begun partnering with manufacturers to make laptops that look and feel like ultrabooks, but will be marketed under various other descriptions and labels. HP is using the term Sleekbook, for example, and Samsung says its notebooks have a "sleek and chic design."

The bottom line regarding these machines? They are the same in many respects as their ultrabook counterparts, often using the same chassis and components, but they diverge on one key point: Their use of AMD processors naturally results in slightly different performance levels. They also hit lower price points than the Intel-based systems, and AMD is hoping this budget oriented nature will be a persuasive enough factor to tempt shoppers to take the plunge.

Design

On the outside, the Series 5 NP535U3C is identical to the Samsung Series 5 Ultra NP530U3B, a middle-of-the-road ultrabook. It marries an aluminium lid and palm rest with a fibreglass underside for a look that complements the sleek footprint (315 x 218 x 17.5mm, WxDxH) and light 1.5kg weight (just a tad heavier than the Series 5 Ultra, which weighs 1.4kg).

A chiclet-style keyboard boasts black matte finished keys, but not the backlight you'll find on the HP Folio 13. The touchpad, in a welcome departure from the blank clickpads seen on other laptops like the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, has a basic multi-touch surface and separate right and left mouse buttons, thereby reducing inaccuracies, accidental clicking, and the need to retrain yourself to mouse with one finger.

The Series 5 NP535U3C has a 13.3in matte screen, meaning that even in a brightly lit room or when outdoors you can still take advantage of the 1,366 x 768 resolution display. While that doesn’t match full HD offerings, it's just fine for browsing the web or watching shows on Netflix – and of course, it saves money. The audio, on the other hand, is only so-so. When tested with some Bill Evans and Art Blakey, the volume was good, but the sound clarity dropped off at higher volumes, and the bass was nearly non-existent.

Features

Compared with other ultrabooks, the port selection on the Series 5 NP535U3C is perfectly adequate, comprising two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, a compact Gigabit ethernet port, full-size HDMI out, and a mini VGA port (which requires a separately sold dongle to use). A card reader supports several formats (SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC), but it's awkwardly designed.

Like many manufacturers, Samsung fills the empty slot with a plastic placeholder to keep out dirt and foreign objects. But unlike competitors, Samsung doesn't use a spring-loaded design to pop out the placeholder or memory card with a gentle push on the end. Instead, the lack of an ejection system means you have to pry it out with a fingernail or small tool. Once removed from its slot, the plastic placeholder is equally challenging to replace properly.

Internally, the Series 5 NP535U3C is equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting headsets, keyboards, and mice. But you won't find two features common on ultrabooks: An optical drive or Intel's proprietary Wireless Display (WiDi) technology for streaming HD video and audio content over the air. The Series is also equipped with a 5,400rpm 500GB hard drive. This matches the drive size seen in the likes of Lenovo’s IdeaPad U310, but it doesn't include the 32GB cache SSD that makes ultrabooks so nimble.

On the hard drive, you'll find several preinstalled programs, including a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security, Microsoft Office Starter 2010 (with limited Word and Excel capability), and several free programs such as Skype. Samsung covers the Series 5 NP535U3C with a one year warranty.

Performance

Where this Samsung Series 5 really diverges from Intel-approved ultrabooks, however, is in its processing hardware. It is outfitted with a dual-core 2.1GHz AMD A6-4455M Acclerated Processing Unit (APU), paired with 4GB of RAM – which, as mentioned earlier, results in significant performance differences.

Case in point: The Samsung Series 5 NP535U3C scored 1,337 in Futuremark PCMark 7 and 0.87 in CineBench R11.5. By comparison, the Intel-powered Samsung Series 5 Ultra NP530U3B scored 3,330 on PCMark 7 and 1.74 on CineBench with nearly identical hardware save for a second-generation Intel Core i5 processor.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U310, which costs about the same as the NP530U3B but boasts a newer third-generation Ivy Bridge processor, performed even better: 3,570 in PCMark 7 and 2.39 in CineBench. The AMD-powered Series 5 NP535U3C also fell far behind in multimedia tests, completing Handbrake in 4 minutes and 5 seconds, and Photoshop CS5 at a snail-like 7 minutes and 27 seconds.

Sharing the same chip die as the AMD A6 processor is an AMD Radeon HD 7500G graphics processor. Though it supports DX11, it was unable to run our Crysis and Lost Planet 2 gaming tests, and offered weak scores in 3DMark06, where it earned 4,216 with medium details under 1,024 x 768 resolution. This is a step up from the 3,469 scored by the HP Folio 13, and the 3,234 scored by the Intel-powered Series 5 Ultra, but these systems used the older second-generation processors. The Lenovo U310, using Intel's third-generation integrated graphics processing, posted a score of 4,978, a markedly better result.

The final area of performance we test is battery life using MobileMark 2007. With its 45Wh battery, the Series 5 NP535U3C lasted 5 hours and 23 minutes, falling behind rivals like the HP Folio 13 which managed close to 9 hours.

Verdict

As an inexpensive ultraportable, ultra-low-voltage laptop, the Samsung Series 5 NP535U3C is passable, but only if you ignore the similarly priced competitors sitting next to it in the laptop aisle. You’d be wise to consider pushing the budget out a bit further for something like the IdeaPad U310, which offers considerably more on the performance front. Or indeed Samsung’s own Series 5 Ultra NP530U3B – at any rate, there are better options out there, and we’d recommend you pass on this AMD-powered Series 5.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Samsung Series 5 NP535U3C

Type

General Purpose, Ultraportable, Ultrabook

Processor Name

AMD A6-4455M

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium

Processor Speed

2.1GHz

RAM

4GB

Weight

1.5kg

Screen Size

13.3in

Screen Size Type

Widescreen

Native Resolution

1,366 x 768

Graphics Card

AMD Radeon HD 7500G

Storage Capacity (as Tested)

500GB

Rotation Speed

5,400 rpm

Networking Options

802.11n

Primary Optical Drive

External

Wireless Display Capability (WiDi)

No

WiMax

No

Battery Type

45 Whr (Watt hours)

Tech Support

1 year