Published August 5th, 2010
A great little dual-core netbook with a nice keyboard, decent sound, and a better graphics chip than the first generation netbooks.
Here is a review of my new toy, the Samsung N220 netbook which I bought for editing my websites while commuting.
Intel Atom N450 CPU (dual core) 1.66GHz
1GB 667MHz DDR2 RAM
250GB HDD 5400rpm
Intel GMA3150 graphics
100MBit Wired Ethernet
10.1" LCD Screen 1024x600 resolution LED backlit
Integrated VGA webcam
"Island" style keyboard with 2mm gaps around every key
2.1 speaker sound
Pre-installed OS: Windows 7 starter + Phoenix Hyperspace minimal OS
Of all the netbooks I tested before buying, the N220 has the nicest keyboard. It has an "island" style layout where each key is slightly smaller than it could have been and there is a 2mm gap on each side to make it harder to accidentally press two keys at once. This is especially handy for typing one handed on the train when you are squashed in your seat.
My main gripe with the keyboard is that I would much prefer if the right shift was bigger and pipe/backslash key was on left of the Z key as I naturally shift with my right hand and I'm always hitting the pipe/backslash instead.
Separate home/end keys would have been nice too as I use these a lot as a programmer to highlight lines and on the N220 you have to use left Fn key to activate them.
The touchpad is smooth (I tried a similar spec Acer netbook that had a touchpad covered in a matrix of raised dots but that felt awful and sticky).
The left and right buttons are implemented as a rocker bar which is not ideal for linux where you can press both buttons together to simulate a middle button click for pasting. When you press both left and right together the bar has to flex a tiny bit instead or rocking.
Touchpad is apparently multi-touch (gestures) but as yet I haven't found an Ubuntu application that can use it.
I highly recommend using a mouse when at a desk as it makes everything so much smoother. I have a tiny mouse that fits in the N220 neoprene case and it is great for desktop use.
The six-cell 5900nAh / 66Wh battery seems to last around 7 hours when using wired networking and Ubuntu for surfing and bit of developing (compiling with Eclipse). The 12 hours boasted on the marketing refers to the Phoenix Hyperspace OS with the HDD spun down.
In Ubuntu, the batter meter shows red when there is over an hour and a half left so I need to measure the accuracy of this. On one occasion I tried to hibernate the machine with 30 mins to space and it ran out of power during the hibernate and shut down. Luckily fsck managed to fix the filesystem when I started it up recharged.
The 250GB 5400rpm SATA drive provides tons of space for the kind of things you'd do with a netbook. If I find I can get away with 64GB or even 32GB then I might replace this with an SSD to improve battery life.
The 1024x600 LED backlit screen allows for decent web surfing without horizontal scrolling on most sites and gives a nice sharp picture as you'd expect from Samsung who in my view make some of the best LCD monitors.
The screen is not reflective / glass coated and so it can be hard to use in sunny conditions.
Windows 7 Starter Edition is fairly usable with the standard installed 1GB of RAM but thanks to all of the bloatware that comes pre-installed (McAfee antivirus, Google Desktop, MS Office trial, ...) there are a lot of processes that start on boot and reduce the performance of the OS.
You can easily spend a few hours removing programs via the control panel and services to get a lean and mean W7 base system.
The N220 comes with an option to boot a minimal Linux-based OS called Phoenix Hyperspace in it's own partition which can either be launched via the BIOS screen or switched into from Windows. It resembles Android or Ubuntu Netbook Remix in that rather than a bare desktop you get your programs organised into groups accessible from a series of always-visible tabs.
I tried the Phoenix OS a few times but found it quite buggy and on a couple of occasions after using it I found the netbook would no longer boot Windows and had to use the system restore feature.
Ubuntu Netbook Remix
I tried dual booting W7 and UNR but encountered major problems getting GRUB to work with W7 and PH as every time I booted PH it would inactivate GRUB. In the end I decided to wipe the whole disk (recovery partition and all) and install a clean UNR which works like a dream.
I've found UNR to be very fast loading with minimal unwanted processes starting at boot.
In order to get your Fn keys working in UNR you'll need to install some Samsung tools for Ubuntu which can be found here http://newyork.ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1397371&page=3
Very good sound considering the size. Decent bass response. Good for relaxing with some music videos on YouTube and also playing movies.
The Atom CPU is located on the left of the netbook just under the caps lock and shift keys and if you rest the N220 on your legs while using it then the heat from the CPU can get uncomfortable on your left leg. The CPU is actively cooled with a quiet fan. After installing the samsung-tools in Ubuntu you can see the CPU temp by using Fn-F8 to control the CPU fan speed. On the highest setting "Speed" the fan is still almost undetectable.
Wired Ethernet works perfectly as expected in W7 and UNR. Wireless worked fine in W7 but currently (August 2010) there is no Linux driver for the Realtek wireless chipset so I have installed the NDIS wrapper which allows Linux to use a Windows driver. After installing this wireless performance is very good.
The N220 has a feel of quality about it. The key travel is very nice, the screen is sharp although brightness and performance under sunlight could be better.
There is no lid catch, it is held together by resistance in the hinge which makes it hard to open one handed.
There are 3 USB ports (1 left, 2 right) and one of these can be set up in the BIOS to provide power even when the N220 is switched off which is useful for charging. I didn't even see the SD card reader at the front until I read about it online!