Keyboard and Trackpad
The notebook has the best backlit keyboard we've ever seen, with adjustable backlight brightness via two FN keys. The letters illuminate in gentle white, as do the edges of each key. There's a number pad (rare on 15" notebooks) and all sorts of little creature comforts (the wireless on/off key is always illuminated as is the mute button when mute is on). There's almost no keyboard flex (if I push down on the metal deck between keys I can make it move just a hint) and the keys are responsive with good travel and tactile feedback. The keys don't bounce and trampoline like the HP Envy 15 that has serious flex, but we wouldn't mind a tiny bit more travel like the stellar Lenovo ThinkPad and MacBook Pro keyboards. All in all, the keyboard is very good and our only real complaint relates to a previous praise point: it's great to have a number pad and well laid out arrow keys, but they force the keyboard to be offset to the left. That means the trackpad is off center to the left and the whole arrangement feels a little weird. We got used to it and were typing quickly and correctly, but our left palms almost hung over the left edge of the notebook.
The large trackpad is better than average among Windows machines. It has a smooth surface that feels similar to the MacBook Pro, and it's easy to glide across quickly and efficiently. The trackpad is made by Elan and it supports multi-touch, and we found that two and three finger gestures worked well. Two finger scrolling worked like a dream, in fact. By default tap-dragging is turned on and it drove us mad: we were constantly accidentally dragging folders into other folders. We turned that feature off and life was much better with the Chronos. The buttonless trackpad has right and left click zones and the entire trackpad depresses when you click. The buttons are easy to press, but not too soft either. We much prefer them to the tendon-busting buttons on the late 2011 Envy 15.
Ports and Expansion
Ports selection is good with 2 USB 3.0 ports (sleep and charge), 1 USB 2.0 port, HDMI, gigabit Ethernet and a mini VGA port (the adapter is included in some markets, but we didn't get one in the box). The notebook can drive an HDMI monitor, VGA monitor and internal display simultaneously using AMD Radeon graphics. It has an SD card reader and a combo mic-headphone jack as well as a 720p webcam with mic. The Samsung Series 7 Chronos has Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n (Broadcom on ours, Intel in some other markets), Bluetooth 3.0 HS and stereo speakers plus a "woofer" on the bottom. It has an 8 cell battery that's sealed inside and we've averaged 5.5 hours on a charge doing office tasks (not gaming!).
Performance and Horsepower
Here's where your $1,000+ dollars come in. The Samsung Series 7 Chronos has excellent CPU and graphics specs, with a quad core/8 thread Intel Core i7-2675QM Sandy Bridge CPU with 6 megs level 2 cache and Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz, 6 gigs of DDR 3 1333MHz RAM (8 max) and an 8x DVD burner (no Blu-ray option). 4 gigs of RAM are installed on the motherboard and there's a single DIMM slot accessible under a door on the notebook's bottom. The machine has switchable graphics with integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics and AMD Radeon HD 6750 graphics with 1 gig of DDR5 VRAM.
Windows Experience Index:
Graphics (Aero): 5.7
Graphics (Gaming): 6.2
PCMark Vantage (assigned to run on dedicated graphics): 7469
TV and Movies: 2603
3DMark 06 (1280 x 800 resolution): 9847
The machine has an 8 gig SSD that used as an Intel Express Cache to speed up Windows boot and access times and speed up the launch of frequently used programs. You can't store your own data on this drive, but it does make booting and resuming faster. Our machine booted in 20 seconds vs. 45 seconds for the category average. We noted that once the desktop appeared, it took quite a few seconds longer for some associated apps and widgets to load. For example, Samsung's own Fn key manager didn't load until 48 seconds after boot. It manages the Fn keys for brightness, volume and more.
Our model shipped with Windows Home Premium 64 bit, and there's a more expensive SKU that ships with Windows 7 Professional, and a more expensive SKU (S03US) that ships with Home Premium and 8 gigs rather than 6 gigs of RAM.
The notebook feels very fast and responsive, and given the Core i7 and graphics, it's up to most any task including 1080p video playback. The Chronos stays impressively cool with the bottom center area getting warm but not uncomfortably hot when streaming video or playing 3D games. The keyboard and wrist rest area stay quite cool. The fan is extremely quiet on battery power when doing typical business and school tasks. The fan is audible but still quiet when plugged in, and it gets loud but not wind tunnel loud when playing 3D games. The CPUs run at 47C when doing office tasks, which is in the realm of normal but not as cool as the HP Envy 15 that runs the fan at higher RPMs but keeps the Envy at a cool 35C when doing the same tasks.
Switchable Graphics? Kind Of
Update: Samsung issued an update that allows for more control over GPU selection, for those times when auto switching isn't doing the job.
Those of you who've shopped for or purchased laptops in the past year might know about AMD (formerly ATI) graphics and their less than awesome switchable graphics. The short story: they're more than a year behind NVidia when it comes to switching features, but they make excellent hardware. Most notebooks with AMD Radeon switchable graphics don't accelerate OpenGL apps (the Adobe CS suite and the game Rage being some of the most popular OpenGL apps). This isn't a Samsung problem, it's an AMD problem and it's common to several notebook brands. HP has updated the BIOS on some of their existing notebooks to allow you select manual switching, and the HP Envy 15 ships with the BIOS override option available. If you're considering both the Samsung and HP Envy 15, be sure to check out our HP Envy 15 vs. Samsung Series 7 Chronos Comparison Smackdown.
Why do you need it? If you right click on the desktop, you can select AMD Switchable Graphics and assign apps on your hard drive to either Power Saving (Intel) or High Performance Graphics (AMD Radeon). The interface is kludgy: once you add an app it disappears from the list, so you have no idea if you'd already added it last week. It also doesn't seem to listen when it comes to OpenGL apps like Adobe Photoshop. It does heed commands for DirectX apps (which most games use). Intel HD 3000 graphics are pretty capable and can offer some OpenGL acceleration in Photoshop, but not at the level of dedicated graphics (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, then this probably doesn't matter to you). In fact, Photoshop CS5 runs great on this machine when working with 20 meg RAW image files, but some transforms aren't as smooth and super-fast as they would be with good dedicated graphics. Dedicated graphics make an even bigger difference when manipulating 3D images and footage in Adobe applications.
AMD's software will try to auto-detect and turn on dedicated graphics if it senses an app it knows would benefit from it (3D games and 3DMark benchmarking apps generally work as intended). You don't really have to go into the control panel and micro-manage every application, but you can if you need to. But we really wish there was a way to truly control what runs on dedicated graphics.
Powerful notebooks usually don't wander far from AC. But the Samsung Series 7 Chronos managed up to 6 hours of productivity use with brightness set to 65% and WiFi active. That's pretty darned good. The machine lasted 5.5 hours playing movies stored on the hard drive. Streaming video drops video playback time, as does using the DVD drive.
The power brick is reasonably portable and is considerably smaller than the HP Envy 15 second gen charger, though it's bigger than Apple's compact MacBook Pro charger.
The Samsung Series 7 Chronos offers plenty of power and value. For $1,100 you get the same specs as the 15" MacBook Pro with Apple's resolution upgrade for nearly half the price. In fact, we prefer the Chronos' keyboard backlighting and Windows optimized software (for those of you who are looking for Windows rather than Mac OS X). The Samsung is a bit lighter than the competitors and it's quite thin and highly portable. Battery life is very good, the fan is quiet and the keyboard is top notch once you get used to the offset design. But the TN panel, though bright and matte, just doesn't hold a candle to the MacBook Pro, Dell XPS 15z with the 1080p WLED option or the late 2011 HP Envy 15 with its IPS display. Viewing angles, particularly top-bottom are poor and contrast can't match these competitors.
Price: Starting at $1,099