on January 7, 2013
I'm starting physical therapy assistant school this month, and as such, I wanted a laptop to take to school with me. Here are some of the pros and cons as I have seen:
- Sleek, thin form factor - Nice lines, curves, and countours. This laptop looks quite stylish and very professional.
- Fast processor - With an i5 @ 2.5GHz, you will be able to surf facebook and write reports like never before. Joking aside, this processor is more than fast enough for normal usage.
- Integrated camera - It's nothing special, but it works.
- Build quality - It felt a little "plasticy" at first, but over time I have come to appreciate the materials and feel that the build quality is actually quite good, especially considering the price I paid ($500 -- it was on sale).
- RAM - 4GB is plenty for most people. In my opinion, any more RAM would be virtually pointless on this machine. The only reason I can think of that you would need more is for intensive video editing, but without a dedicated GPU, this laptop isn't really designed for such purposes anyways. Whatever games can be played on this laptop will be just fine with 4GB of RAM.
- Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics - I am actually quite impressed with the HD 4000 integrated graphics. Don't expect to max out Battlefield 3 (or even play on low settings with a comfortable framerate), but, benchmarks have shown that many modern games are playable on low settings with 25-30 FPS. Older games should run even better.
- Sound - For a $500 laptop, I feel that the speakers are perfectly adequate. If you want better sound, get some headphones.
- Keyboard - I can type about 80WPM average, so a good keyboard is very important to me. It seems that when you are buying a laptop, you're making a sacrifice as far as the keyboard goes no matter which laptop you buy (since a traditional desktop keyboard is much thicker and has much more tactile feedback), but the chicklet keyboard in this laptop works quite well and I can type with relative ease.
If you reformat the laptop to install Windows 7, make sure you install the latest touchpad drivers from Samsung so that can get "Palm Tracking", the feature that will disable the touchpad temporarily after any key is pressed (more on that later).
- Personally, I am not crazy about the finish on the top of the laptop. It can look a little "oily" in certain lighting conditions. I feel that it would look much better if it were a flat surface and did not have all of the ridges. That said, it's certainly not terrible, and I can live with it. Some people seem to really like the way it looks, so it's just personal preference. However, given the fact that this is one of my only "cons", please do not let this deter you from purchasing this laptop.
- The laptop's screen does not open up nearly as far as I initially thought it should. However, I am finding that I usually do not open the laptop's screen up all the way anyways, so it is more of a non-issue. My old Inspiron 9300 could open a full 180 degrees -- why you would ever need that much is beyond me, but going from that, to this, was a bit of a shock at first. I would imagine that most people wouldn't even notice and that the angle that it CAN open up to is perfectly adequate.
- Bloatware. There are a lot of additional programs and features installed which I feel are completely unnecessary and seem to be shells over built-in Windows functions. However, this was not as much of an issue for me since I reformatted and installed Windows 7, only installing the drivers and software that I wanted.
Speaking of bloatware, Samsung's "Easy Settings" is somewhat of a necessary evil because it's required in order for the Fn keys to work (such as the brightness and sound Fn key shortcuts).
In and of itself, Easy Settings isn't all that bad, but one "feature" of Easy Settings that I particularly despise is how it splashes a giant caps lock notification onto your screen whenever the caps lock is enabled or disabled. Why couldn't they make it much smaller and/or make it appear at one of the corners of the screen? Why not make it an option to enable or disable notifications such as this? Alas, I do not know. It seems like many software devs just make the assumption that their consumers want it "as simple as possible" and do not think that providing options is a good thing. And for many people, this may be a complete non-issue, but for me, it's an annoyance. Especially if I'm playing a game in which I use caps lock.
I'm still looking into a way to disable the caps lock notification while keeping Easy Settings (so that I can use the function keys), but one surefire way to disable the notification is to simply uninstall Easy Settings. Many options can still be easily accessed by simply hitting win+X, so it's not really a deal-breaker if I can't use the Fn key shortcuts.
- The internal microphone is terrible. I picks up the clicks and clacks of the keyboard and mouse buttons very well, but I have to basically yell for my voice to be heard at all. Even putting my mouth right up to the mic hole doesn't seem to make a big difference.
However, I since I have reformatted and reinstalled Windows 7, I have not yet installed the Realtek sound driver, so it's possible that that may fix my issue. I will update this review after I have downloaded and installed the driver with results. If the mic is no better, I would say that unless having a good integrated mic is a big deal to you, don't let this bother you. If you use a mic that much, it would be better to get a cheap external mic anyways.
As I mentioned above, the elan touchpad driver installed on this laptop features Palm Tracking. Whenever you hit a key on the keyboard, Palm Tracking automatically disables the touchpad so that you don't accidentally jump the cursor and start typing somewhere else or lose focus on the current window. In general, this is a fantastic feature and allows you to rest your hands on the laptop while typing, but there are a few circumstances when I would want to disable it (i.e. gaming).
Sadly, the most recent driver does not allow Palm Tracking to be disabled in the GUI menu. However, there is a solution. I have made a couple of .reg files which, when ran, either enable or disable Palm Tracking. For the .reg files and full instructions on how to use them, please download from mediafire, here:
If that link gets deleted, simply type this in your address bar: mediafire(dotcom)(forward slash)?1d5gyop026rcfux
Obviously, replace what is in the parentheses with .com and / respectively. Delete the actual parentheses from the URL as well.
After you download Palm Tracking.zip, simply extract the Palm Tracking folder to any place of your liking and open up Readme.txt to understand how to use the files.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic laptop for the price and the issues I have expressed here are minor annoyances at worst which most normal users would probably not even notice anyways. So, If you like the looks of this laptop and you don't plan on heavy gaming, this laptop should more then exceed your needs and expectations. So far, I'm really liking it. I will update this post with any more information as it becomes relevant.
After reading some troubling information about how Easy Settings can negatively affect DPC latency, I have decided to completely uninstall it altogether. Easy Settings was just bad news from the start. It has low-level processes than can increase the DPC latency, it splashes giant notifications on your screen whenever certain buttons are pressed (caps lock), and it messes with the power options and the actual behavior of the computer itself in strange ways.
For example, with Easy Settings, my computer will resume from sleep when the lid is opened (it won't do this without Easy Settings for some reason). However, Easy Settings also changes the "Shut Down" button to "Sleep" in the start menu, and it disables the pulsing blue LED during sleep mode, making me think that the computer was completely off when it was not.
So in the end, I think that completely removing Easy Settings altogether is definitely the right move. Although I lose Fn key functionaily (the sound Fn keys still work though), and although the computer no longer resumes from sleep when the lid is raised (I have to hit the power button to wake it up), I would rather live with this things than be subjected to the jacked-up bloatware party going on under the hood. No thanks, Easy Settings.
I have also determined the the mic just plain sucks. Maybe it's just the nature of the beast with built-in mics, but I have a feeling that everyone's mic is probably similar to mine.
That said, I did figure out what I have found to be the best possible settings for clarity and volume. The Realtek sound driver is absolutely essential to making the mic sound at least halfway decent because of a couple enhancements it features.
So, here's what I did to fix the mic:
1. Hit win+R
2. Type this: "control mmsys.cpl sounds" or copy and paste (without quotes)
3. Hit enters
4. Choose the "Recording" tab at the top of the Sound menu
5. Double-click "Microphone" (Realtek high definition audio)
6. Click the "Levels" tab
7. Completely max out both the Microphone and Microphone Boost sliders
8. Click the "Enhancements" tab
9. The following should be selected:
-DC Offset CAncellation
-Noise Suppression (NS)
-Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC)
10. Finally, click "Ok" to apply the changes
You should find that doing these things should clean up your mic a lot. If you already have the Realtek driver installed, the enhancements may already be selected by default, but you may still need to turn up the sliders in order for your voice to be heard by others. Also, you can play with Noise Suppression vs. Far Field Pickup (only one can be enabled at a time) -- I've found the NS is a little softer but more clear, while FFP is louder, but a little more muddled and unclear. Personally, I go with NS.
The bottom line is that the mic is junk and it is probably not located in the ideal position anyways. If it were me, I probably would've put it next to the camera so that it actually faces the user and is farther away from the keyboard so as to reduce the bone-jarring clicks and clacks that happen while typing. But, alas, I am not an engineer, and no one asks me these questions.
Despite all of these things, I still feel that this is a great laptop for the money. It's just a little disappointing to see prevalence of such terrible software and questionable design choices this far into the life of the laptop in general. I'm sure Samsung probably isn't alone in this, but sometimes it makes you wonder what their engineers/designers were thinking when they designed the product.
Ultimately, I feel that a score of 4/5 stars is perhaps a little generous, but mostly accurate. If this laptop came without all of the bloatware installed, I would give it 5/5 stars hands down, even with the crappy built-in mic. But, I just can't so easily excuse such terrible software which seems completely superfluous and actually harmful to the system. It doesn't make sense to me.