Samsung Q35 Review

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Introduction
Touted as the “world’s smallest Core Duo laptop”, the Samsung is indeed a really small beast, in fact it’s feels even lighter than it looks. You have to feel it for yourself to believe after lugging around and using sub 3kg notebooks previously. This laptop is brought primarily for my Mum who needed a notebook for her line of work. But she seldom uses it anyway, so got some time to “borrow” and use it, thus the birth of this review. The Q35 runs on intel’s “Yonah” (aka coreduo) range of notebook processors, the older brother of “Meron” (aka core2duo ,due to be released late 2006).

Do note that any Yonah-based systems can run the 64-bit Meron processor as they are based off the same base specs, so what you require is just a BIOS update and you will be running sweet Meron on any of your lappies brought this year on Yonah. Take note however, that though this is technically possible, notebook vendors recommend against DIY notebook processors upgrades. The main rival to the Samsung Q35 was the Dell XPS M1210 with the option of an added Geforce 7600 256MB graphics option, but at a higher price, purchased this baby at the 2006 Suntec Singapore PC Show for $2199SGD with the following specifications on top of free show gifts like a pair of Creative DJ headphones and a novelty souvenir:

  • 12.1″ WXGA display
  • CoreDuo 1.66Ghz (Code T2300 2MB L2 Cache) processor
  • Intel 945GM chipset
  • Integrated GMA 950 (128MB)
  • 1.5GB DDR2-667 RAM
  • 80GB Hard drive
  • DVD+/-RW DL
  • SRS HD Audio system
  • 802.11a/b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • 1xPC Card slot
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Out of the Box and Real World Tests
Inside the elaborately colour printed compact box, you will get the main unit with the usual manual, quick-start manual, auto-sensing AC adapter, cable, phone line cable, XP Home CD, AVS guide together with the battery wrapped separately from the unit. The battery retains a 20% charge from the factory and requires a preliminary full 8 hours charge before actual discharging use. The battery snaps onto the back of the laptop using 2 sliding locking connectors at the base of the unit and sticks out at the back of the unit by a considerable 2cm. The battery edge is rounded so it makes holding the laptop by hand on either edge more comfortable and ergonomic.

External Features & Comparison
(Top to bottom) The Samsung Q35 size compared to the Fujitsu T4020 Tablet, Compaq Presario 1200 & Fujitsu E8020.

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Right Side
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Front
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Left Side

(From left to right in each respective views)
Right: Processor exit vents, 1st USB port, VGA-out, Phone line port.
Front: Indicator leds, 3.5mm Headphone-out, 3.5mm Mic-in, Multi Card Reader
Left: AM Antenna port (not used), Ethernet port, Swapable DVD-RW DL Drive, PC card slot, Mini Firewire port

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Right Comparison
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Back View
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Left Comparison

Rear: AC power jack, Battery bay, 2nd USB port, Kellington Lock Port
A more reasonable candidate for direct one-to-one comparison is another laptop in the sub 12.1″ screen arena. Using the T4020, note that the Q35 is shorter on both the length and width of the T4020. Therefore we can conclude that wide-screen aspect of the same diagonal measurement allows the width of the unit to be trimmed down considerably too compared to other 12.1″ 4:3 aspect screen laptops. Its remarkable how much Samsung can pack in such a small chassis, lacking only an Infra-red port which is too, seldom required for consumer these days with Bluetooth going mainstream now.

Build Quality
The Samsung doesn’t look cheap, whether its the silver finished keyboard or the matching contrasting black underbelly, its designed both looking stylish and professional. Its quite solidly built and feels like a tight compact paper notebook in hand (and close in size too). Quality is much better than Dell’s Inspirons but not quite up there in class with the Macbook.

It uses a latch-less weighed hinge mechanism found mostly in flip hand phones. The screen can be lifted about 4cm above the keyboard surface before it flips and locks down. However, the screen does not locks on when closed, turning the unit upside down will cause the screen to sag open with a 1 cm gap. Though it’s not much of a concern (unless you carry it out open by hand), this concept makes the palm rest area more complete and whole with the absence of latching holes, which always a notorious grime and dust haven.

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Flip open
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Beside the T4020
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Top View

The plastic top of the Q35 is finished in a matte silver finish which I can see is very prone to scratches, so you can choose to leave the factory taped clear cover on if may or get a thin slip on cover case if may.

The Screen
Spotting 1,280 x 800 over traditional XGA 1024×768 in a small package is one of the Q35 plus points, giving more screen real estate for work productivity. I especially enjoy working on MS Word with 2 spreadsheets side-by-side on the wide-screen format and it beats the classic single page word processing. Though I would love 1680×1050 res screen, it would be too much for a 12.1″ screen. The screen is a true to Samsung’s quality and experience in producing computer displays, particularly LCDs. It is exceptionally bright and vivid to the eye and there is no text blurring or gradient colour banding evident in cheaper LCD displays. The panel is fueled by an Intel GMA 950 under the hood, definitely not for gaming, but offers the best mix of battery life and student/office based application performance.

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The Q35 Screen
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Viewed offset
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Flipped

The screen can pivot to a maximum of 185 degrees, without coming in contact with the battery unit. Viewing angle is acceptable too, I can still read test sitting about 60 degrees off center before signs of screen darkening, so thats about an effective 120 degree viewing angle, though text is still much legible beyond that.

Though the fineness of the screen gives it pluses in it’s form factor, text can be rather small at times, which may not be suitable for users with long-sightedness or problems reading small text on-screen for extended periods. All these can be easily settled however, by tweaking the windows font size settings.

Keyboard and Touchpad
When placed flat surface, the Q35 keyboard is actually inclined ergonomically forward by about 5 degrees, which is good, without having to get speed-balls to tilt them. However, though spotting a full standard notebook keyboard (with num pad merged, no dedicated num pad like desktop replacements though), the spill-proof keyboard is comparatively cramped. The cursor and F keys (F1-F12) are small rectangular blocks, which takes quite abit getting used too. So its either that, or my hands are just too big, see the photos and judge for yourself then.

There are also no additional dedicated shortcut keys to quick launch programs but I guess all these are inevitable in smaller compact laptops, so I can give and take. The keyboard is silver finished with black lettering and with blue sub FN key commands. The keys are actually smooth to the touch yet maintaining the grainy texture as the body itself. They give good feedback with reasonable feedback depth and is “do-able” for fast typing. The qwerty alpha keys, return, backspace and shift buttons are all of full size.

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General Keyboard
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Cursor Keys
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Still Cramped

The only complaint I have is the position of the left Ctrl key, being swapped with the FN key. Left-ctrl keys are usually positioned on the extreme left of the keyboard and I always use it for one handed shortcuts like for example cut/copy/paste/undo, but I see myself pressing the FN button most of the time, hopefully Samsung can fix this with a keyboard replacement or with future revisions.

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The Keyboard
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Touchpad
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Power and AVS button

Thankfully the touchpad is of a widescreen aspect to fit the screen, spotting a distinguishing lighter shade of grey and has a rougher texture than most touchpads I’ve used. There is also a marked vertical scroller situated on the right of the pad, but no support for lateral scrolling. The pad buttons are of a flat polished plastic which gives a satisfying soft click when pressed.

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Instant on Multimedia (AVS)
The Instant on AVS Multimedia feature allows you to experience movies, photos and music at the touch of a button, without booting up Windows through a direct button on the notebook.” So as claimed by Samsung, activating the AVS in windows is a breeze, but won’t start for me when the notebook when the computer’s not booted. Either it seems that the AVS is not preloaded on the swap flash drive and on the harddisk, or maybe the partitions are wrong, otherwise relatively buggy. But not much of a concern to me either as I don’t really use the function. But I can tell that watching DVDs on AVS will give about longer battery life, as you won’t be running so many other processes, Wifi and Bluetooth with windows booted.

Road Warrior Tests
I never knew the Q35 was so light till I brought it out for a road warrior test in-campus for a week, to the extent I was even reluctant to revert to my old tablet! For real in world tests, the Q35 has exactly the same footprint as an A4 lecture college pad. And its small enough to fit most lecture theater folding seat tablets with space for your notes by the side. Battery life is more than enough for one day of lectures (will touch on that later).

The Q35 is small enough to be held discreetly in the hand with your notes in hand when going around tutorial classes and is not too heavy in hand for extended periods. You can hardly feel the Q35 when placed in a bag amist all those heavy textbooks and doesn’t produce a considerable buldge in your school bag.

Size & Weight
On paper, Samsung claims the Q35 measures 299 x 214 x 35mm (WxDxH) and weighs 1.89kg. Dimensionally, the figures are correct, excluding the battery, with the battery, it’s 20mm more on the depth, bringing it to 234mm. The other thing manufacturers always claim and boast are weight values, but they are usually based unrealistic “stripped” configurations (like weight saver options, bay-swapping etc…) not possible for the average road warrior.

Using a calibrated scale with battery installed, my Q35 weighs in at a remarkable 1.88kg! It’s even lighter than some of my textbooks! Though 1.88kg is incomparable to ultra compact notebooks in the sub 1kg range, this is definitely in the featherweight category of the fully featured laptop range, spotting a features such as an optical drive and expansion slots, unlike the Q35 predecessor, the Q30.

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On the scale
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Just under 2kg
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Connectivity LEDs

Connectivity
The Q35 spots an Intel PRO wireless module, offering 54 Mbps at 5 GHz (802.11a) and 2.4 GHz (802.11g). Dual mode supports 802.11b/g, and a tri-mode supports 802.11a/b/g, together with Bluetooth 2.0 + Enhanced data rate supporting bluetooth stereo audio and remote control (which is definitely a plus for me and my Motorola HT820 bluetooth stereo headphones). Nothing on wireless-N though, but if needed can be expanded through the PCIMA interface. There is no S-video out for TV output, so you are better off if your TV have VGA input or the least, head down to your local computer cable shop to purchase a VGA to RGB interface cable if need be.

The front of the Q35 features a 6 in 1 Multi-Memory Card Reader, supported formats includes Memory Stick (together with the PRO & DUO with adapter), SD (mini and micro SD with adapter), MMC (and high speed MMC), XD (with adapter). So counting all these, you can actually say it’s a 10 in 1 card reader!

Battery Life
The Q35 comes standard with a 6 cell, Smart Li-on Battery with claimed 7 hours battery life by Samsung. Realistically, actual battery life is always lower than the manufacturer’s maximum claim as they are usually recorded with maximum power saving and screen brightness all at minimum, Wifi/BT off and CPU idle – unrealistic for normal use. Under realistic use with Wifi and Bluetooth continuously on, screen brightness 40%, doing word-processing, powerpoint tasks, music, regular surfing/email and typing this review I managed a respectable 5 1/2 hours of battery life before window’s forced hibernation.

Found in some laptop batteries, you can check the battery life by simply pressing the battery indicator button on the battery itself, giving you battery life through lighted LEDS in precentages.

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Expandability
Below the Q35 are a myriad of expansion panels, on top of the standard Memory upgrade panel, the Q35 also spots panels for Harddrive, Mini-PCI (Wireless card + Bluetooth) & DVD upgrade. Nothing on processor though, but this is definately one step towards DIY and the modularity of laptops to come.

Conclusion
Overall, the Q35 is a mixed bag of tricks, though not very up there for gaming, it can handle most demanding 3D games out there with a compromise of visual quality, otherwise it is perfect for students and office work alike, either it’s spreadsheets or word-processing.

Also, do note that it’s a Yonah running the Intel GMA 950 so it’s very much Vista Ready and also Aeroglass interface compatible. We had seen through the plus points and problems the Q35 has but I am still in a positive light for the Q35, therefore here we have the verdict:

Pros

  • Value for money
  • Small footprint
  • Resonable high resolution screen
  • Lightweight
  • Integrated drive
  • Bluetooth comes standard
  • System runs cool (even at 100% CPU)
  • Respectable battery life
  • DIY Expansion panels
  • AVS system

Cons

  • Battery sticks out of body
  • Small keys
  • L-Ctrl button swapped
  • AVS system won’t start when not booted
  • No Infra-red
  • Finishing easily scratched
  • No Shortcut Buttons
  • Lid won’t lock when closed
  • Only 2 USB ports

Value: 80%
Office Performance: 75%
Gaming Performance: 45%
Features: 65%
Battery: 85%
Expandability: 70%

Overall Rating: 70%
Lowdown: A fully capable lightweight laptop which is not only great for travelling but a steal for the configuration and price.
Q35 Offical Product Page

Review Update (13/09/06)
The Q35 keyboard started acting up one month after purchase, the “q” and “a” keys stopped functioning. Brought it to the Samsung service center (Singapore) at 4th floor Plaza Singapura for repair. Previously there were service centers at Suntec and Centrepoint, but has both ceased operations. So there’s only 4 service centers left in Singapore (The rest at Toh Guan, Causeway Point and Century Square). With this, it’s a chance to evaluate the after-sales service of Samsung notebooks itself.

Service (After sales service, Samsung Singapore Specific)
Upon getting the queue number from the queue machine, waited about 15mins before being attended, that is not until I approached the staff and ask them about notebook repair queues, which don’t seem to be moving at all. Later do I know that they were only serving the handphone repair queue, which seem to be the only repair item customers bring that day. They slotted me right into the queue and attend me thereafter, deposited the notebook there on a Saturday afternoon and they called the very next working day, Monday that the notebook was ready for collection.

AVS Issue Resolution
They changed the whole keyboard, but still the same layout with the ctrl and FN keys swapped, no updates. On the AVS unable to start without booting, apparently, I was told from the technican that when you upgrade the Q35 Ram, the AVS will NOT work, unless you are booted into windows and only a fresh system reformat will do the trick.

Nevertheless, they did ask for required harddisk partitions to format for free if may, before reformatting the laptop all complete with the OS, system default apps and Norton antivirus installed. The notebook is still under warranty so no payment for labour and parts were required. Generally besides the hiccup on the notebook service queue, the repair job was very fast indeed, in fact done within less than a working day, Impressive.

– Shaun

4 COMMENTS

  1. fantastic review. I was wondering, how does the samsung q35 compare with the dell xps m1210?

    I was thinking of getting one or the other. Mainly for travel purposes. Over in the uk, I can get them both for similar price (xps on ebay brand new saves a lot of money), but with the xps clearly getting much better specs (double RAM, dedicated graphics, faster processor). I do game, though i don’t think i’ll be using a 12″ laptop for gaming too much.

  2. Hi canon,

    The dell xps m1210 was a very good contender to the q35 (it was one of my “nominations” before the purchase) firstly not only with the integrated graphics options but the built-in webcam as well. For a gamer, I strongly recomend the XPS over the Q35 as the GF Go7400 is definately far superior to the GMA, but there are some pitfalls on the XPS:

    I’ve tried the m1210 at a few PC exhibitions and it just have the typical flimsy plastic feel, typical of dell notebooks not quite as solid as the Samsung. Tough spotting similar resolution, XPS screen is also quite washed in bright conditions, (esp with spotlights around the show area, so I guess it would be the same in sunlight, unlike the Samsung). Otherwise the construction and form are very similar with the battery sticking out at the back too.

    The major tradeoff the XPS with dedicated graphics would be battery life. But I guess as you said, gaming on a small screen may be quite off, but it’s mostly made to personal prefs I say. Also playing intensive games unplugged can’t even last you more than 1hour @ 100% CPU based on some reviews I’ve read online. It doesn’t have the dual graphics option like some Sony Vaio have, so it’s a very “neither of both case”.

    However, the dell has 2 more USB ports than the samsung (XPS=4), and S-video TV out. On a sidenote, Dell do enforces and strongly recommends a larger 9-cell extended battery for optimal XPS battery life if you choose the GeForce Go 7400… It just makes the XPS one more step away from portability.

    I guess you did get quite a good deal on ebay, surprising you are not buying direct form dell?

  3. direct from dell costs a lot lot more. There are good reputable shops that sell xps on ebay in the UK that retain the warranty, and save around £300 – no small amount! If I had to buy through dell, i’d definitely be buying the samsung since it’s much much cheaper, it’s just that now I’ve seen a great deal on ebay which makes the m1210 very tempting. I realise it is heavier and has less battery life. The jury’s still out on this one! If I were a middle aged working man I’d definitely be going for the samsung, just that I’m still young and gaming and know I’d love the chance to play half life 2 when I’m away on some peripheral business (not too far from a plug socket)

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