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Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

Samsung has plenty of experience in crafting slim, powerful laptops, but unlike its premium Samsung Series 9 ultraportable, the Samsung Series 5 Ultra appears to be more of an "everyman" device.

It won't out-power Ultrabook rivals such as the Dell XPS 13, Acer Aspire S3 or Asus Zenbook UX31, and it doesn't look A jaw-droppingly attractive. But importantly, and some would say crucially, it won't cost you the Earth, either.

The Samsung Series 5 Ultra is available in two models - a 13.3-inch model, the NP530U3BI, priced at £799.99 in the UK or $879.99 in the US, and a 14-inch model, the NP530U4BI, costing £849.99 or $899.99.

Considering most Ultrabooks retail for £899-£1,100, this makes the Samsung Series 5 an attractive proposition for anyone on a budget.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

Both models pack in mid-level Intel Core i5-2467M processors, but the 14-inch model comes with an optical drive and an HDD capable of being upgraded to an impressive 1TB of storage space.

Our review unit was the smaller 13.3-inch model, but at 20mm in thickness, the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B is still one of the bulkier Ultrabooks we've seen. It's comparable to the HP Envy 14 Spectre but unlike that machine, the chassis doesn't feel chunky.

It has the sloping, blade-like appearance of other Ultrabooks and weighs a miniscule 1.5kg.

The outward design is attractive without being breathtaking. The plain silver design is equally well placed at home or the office, and the brushed metal finish won't attract smudges the same way a reflective surface would.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

Look below the surface, though, and you'll soon notice the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B has a few tricks up its sleeve. Most notable is the option of including a 500GB HDD alongside a fast-booting 16GB SSD, giving you both space and speed.

The usability of the machine hasn't been ignored either, and the keyboard and touchpad are indicative of Samsung's usual excellence.

Standing out from the crowd of Ultrabooks isn't getting any easier, and whether this - Samsung's first attempt - is strong enough remains to be seen.

It might get noticed thanks to the friendly price, but can the rest of the machine live up to the Ultrabook moniker?

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

Samsung has taken the middle ground on equipping the Series 5 Ultra 530U3B, opting for an Intel Core i5-2467M (1.6GHz) CPU, 4GB RAM and a 1366 x 768 screen resolution.

The processor is part of the Sandy Bridge family (a prerequisite for Ultrabook-class), so the graphics memory is built into the CPU core.

Don't expect any hard gaming on the Series 5 - if that's what you're looking for, Samsung has crafted the Series 7 Gamer especially for you.

Gaming aside, the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip doesn't do a bad job. You'll find streaming movies over Netflix or using editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver is within the grasp of this machine.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

If you do crave a slightly bigger graphical grunt, the 14-inch Series 5 packs in a dedicated AMD Radeon HD7550M GPU. And, while both machines come with 4GB RAM as standard, there's the option to upgrade to 8GB for a bit of extra future-proofing.

One of the main features of the Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook is the decision to include a 500GB hard disk drive, as well as a 16GB SSD (an SSD-only option is available).

In order to keep to Samsung's stated 20-second boot-up time, the Series 5 Ultra 530U3B also includes a 16GB iSSD and a technology called ExpressCache. Start it up and ExpressCache loads the operating system and most-used programs straight from the iSSD, while the HDD is left to boot in the background.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

It appears to work very well, and the Series 5's boot-up time stands up against the other Ultrabooks we've tested. The extra storage space is undoubtedly a bonus.

Even though external hard drives don't cost a fortune any more, buying one to go with your Ultrabook still means extra bulk to carry around. If you've got a large media library or a wealth of documents and programs, you'll thank Samsung for giving you the extra space.

Samsung takes a certain amount of pride in its bright screens, and the 300nit screen on the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B is no exception. The lack of a Super-TFT coating means bright lights and reflections don't interfere with usability.

This should prove popular with anyone looking to use the Series 5 as a mobile workstation, although media enthusiasts might miss the richer colours and deeper contrast supplied by a reflective coating.

The 1366 x 768 pixel resolution is perfectly serviceable for watching films in 720p high definition, and the silver bezel doesn't intrude on the experienc

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

Cinebench 10: 5,809

3D Mark '06: 3242
Battery Eater '05: 191mins

So, after tearing through the specifications, the real question is how does the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B perform day-to-day? This is an Ultrabook, after all.

The answer is, reassuringly well. We couldn't find much fault with running Windows 7, as programs opened swiftly, and even with multiple folders, web pages and media running, it kept up with our movements.

Boot-up from sleep was near instant, taking less than two seconds, and powering on from a full shut-down took us only 35 seconds - not bad, but a bit longer than Samsung's official reckoning.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

There's a reassuring lack of bloatware that often clutters start-up with pop-ups and update messages, which we're always thankful for.

Once you're powered up and using the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B, you immediately feel comfortable with the machine. We've got used to the shallow travel of Ultrabook keyboards by now, and had no trouble adjusting to the Series 5 straight away.

The keys are large and isolated, and although there's no numeric keypad, it's great to see a keyboard where the arrow keys are a decent size.

Similarly, Samsung has given us a huge, responsive touchpad with physical left and right buttons. We've been critical of integrated touchpad buttons on the Acer Aspire S3 and HP Envy 14 Spectre, and using the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B's pad is a real pleasure.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

Even better, the touchpad supports multi-touch and takes advantage of gesture-controlled Windows 7 so you can pinch to zoom or use two fingers to scroll.

There are two stereo speakers at the front of the chassis, one on either side, that complement the main speaker at the base of the screen during media playback.

Although the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B doesn't get up to serious volume, the distribution and balance of sound is excellent. Audio doesn't feel tinny and there's no distortion when you do push the volume up.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

Predictably, the battery life on the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B is neither wonderful, nor woeful. We squeezed a reasonable 191 minutes from the Battery Eater benchmarking program - running with a looped 720p high-definition video in the background.

Samsung quotes 6.4 hours of regular use on a single charge and, with care, you can certainly manage this - lasting you almost an entire day at the office. This should be more than sufficient for most users, but ideally we like to see Ultrabooks score over 200 minutes.

Even so, you really have to push the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B to start bothering it. During use it kept quiet and moderately cool, and the overall experience, especially where the keyboard and touchpad are concerned, was positive.

We weren't especially blown away by the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B but, at the same time, we knew it wouldn't let us down.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra review

The Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B offers excellent value for money, and if you're looking for an Ultrabook on a budget, this is well worth considering.

It's neither the most powerful nor the most stylish looking Ultrabook we've seen, but the usability of the keyboard and touchpad, along with the connectivity, are definite plus points.

We liked

The benefit of 500GB of storage space on a laptop as thin and light as the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B is not to be sniffed at, even with the availability of both external and cloud storage. It's a definite plus in our book, as is the excellent keyboard/touchpad combination.

Usability is something we've come to expect from Samsung after testing many of its laptops, and it's certainly the highlight here.

However, the strongest argument in favour of the Samsung Series 5 Ultra is its value for money - at a shade under £800/$900, this is an exceptional deal.

We disliked

Unfortunately there's little to make the Samsung Series 5 Ultra 530U3B really stand out from the Ultrabook crowd. The design didn't reach out and grab our wandering eyeballs the same way the Asus Zenbook, HP Envy Spectre and Apple MacBook Air did, and although the chassis looks thin, it's thicker than other available Ultrabooks.

We also felt that the performance and battery life were weaker than they could have been. Overall, we prefer the Samsung Series 9.

Final verdict

Samsung has produced a well-rounded and affordable Ultrabook in the Series 5 Ultra 530U3B.

Thanks to a spacious keyboard, comfortable touchpad and anti-glare screen, this would suit anyone looking for a mobile workhorse.

The inclusion of a 500GB hard disk drive is something we haven't seen in an Ultrabook yet, and impressively, Samsung has managed to keep the weight down to 1.8kg.

Lastly, although power and battery life are sacrificed, the price-point of the Series 5 Ultrabook is particularly attractive and gives this machine a real chance against its better styled and more powerful rivals.

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