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Samsung X460: Thin, Light, Feels Right

Welcome back, Samsung. You've been laying low in the U.S. market when it comes to notebooks, but after kicking the tires on the X460, I can honestly say you were missed. I mean, you manage to craft a 14.1-inch thin-and-light all-purpose notebook that's perfectly road-ready and goes toe-to-toe with Lenovo's ThinkPad X300--even though the X300 is an ultraportable-class machine.

That's right, I'm leaning more towards comparing this all-purpose laptop with a notebook in a lighter class than with other all-purpose models thanks to its design. You see, this is basically a Samsung X360 with upgraded parts (a slightly larger screen and a discrete GPU). It's even smartly priced considering what's on the table; our review unit goes for US$1699.

That money buys you solid performance in the form of a 2.26-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU, 3GB of RAM, and a discrete GPU. Although the GPU is no powerhouse--it's a 256MB nVidia GeForce 9200M GS--it certainly gives you better graphics performance than many thin-and-light machines. In games, it could handle only 49 frames per second in Doom 3 (at 1024 by 768 resolution) and 70 fps in Far Cry. Numbers like those make me wish Samsung had followed the route of the new MacBooks, which sport the GeForce 9400M GS chips. At least that way you could play a game that came out in the past two years. The X460's processing power and battery life shine a bit more brightly; in our PC World Test Center WorldBench 6 tests, it hit a very respectable 93, while its battery ran for a nice, long 4.5-hour stretch.

As I've already said, the X460 is an all-purpose machine--but it comes this close to qualifying as an ultraportable, measuring 13.3 by 9.7 by 1.25 inches and weighing just 4.2 pounds (add 0.83 pound for its charger). The case is expertly built and ready to travel. It even houses an optical drive. It's not quite as paper-thin as the ThinkPad X300, but it gets points for svelteness.

It also squeezes in a lot of ports. On the video front, it fits VGA and HDMI. For connectivity, you have an ethernet jack, a modem, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Around the sides: three USB ports, a five-in-one flash card reader, a PC Express card slot, and headphone/mic jacks. Throw in the 1.3-megapixel Webcam and a fingerprint reader, and you're getting a pretty robust package.

The 14.1-inch-diagonal backlit LED screen on the X460 is amazingly bright. Good and colorful, without blasting out saturation, the screen is extremely easy on the eyes. In fact, you can see the display in just about any lighting condition, outdoors or in. That's no small feat considering that I can clearly make out my five o'clock shadow on its glossy surface, and that reflection doesn't bother me at all. Even intentionally aiming the panel at direct sunlight doesn't beam the brightness back into my face. As for the 1280-by-800-pixel resolution, I could wish that it was capable of going higher, but the truth is, you won't go counting numbers here, since the image quality is so good.

Taking a note from Apple--and Sony before it--Samsung opts for a cutout keyboard. That is, the keys pop out through holes in the case. This design makes for a more solid feel and creates a nice amount of spacing between the keys. But the real question is, does typing on this keyboard feel good? Yes. With its solid, tactile feedback, you can register every key press. The keys don't offer much of a textured touch, but they don't feel flimsy.

You won't find any superfluous multimedia shortcut keys. Extra tasks are handled by pressing the Function button and one of the F-row keys. (That's the only way you can toggle the number and caps lock.) The sole dedicated buttons are a shortcut to the Samsung MagicDoctor utility (basically a quick-fix finder for problems on the PC) and a speed-boost shortcut key (really a quick toggle between basic power-saving settings and full speed). As for the mousepad, it's pleasantly sensitive, and the two buttons are both well-spaced and solid to the touch.

The sound is surprisingly big considering its miniscule source. Not that you'll go using this machine as some nerdy boombox, but sitting in an outdoor area with a lot of ambient noise, I was still able to clearly hear the stylings of Beardyman without missing a beat(box). Of course, it's a little hollow because it lacks a proper subwoofer, but the mids and highs do an ample job. The volume can be turned up enough that you won't always need headphones.

People who loathe preinstalled bloatware will love the scarcity of software here. But it's not completely barren. Our unit comes with Samsung's one-step diagnostic and system recovery application, which can help fix things that could go wrong with installs and get you back to a factory-fresh state. You can also perform a quick reinstall of important Windows files, while keeping your data intact. (Wait a sec--a fast restore that takes only 2 to 3 minutes to work? Sign me up!) The other program on board is the OmniPass security software, made to work in tandem with the built-in biometrics.

I'm pretty impressed with the Samsung X460. Oh, sure, I have a couple quibbles about choices like the discrete but low-end GPU (obviously a cost-cutting measure), but that doesn't stop me from recommending this machine. It's a little outside the range of our definition of an ultraportable laptop (which includes a screen smaller than 13.3 inches diagonally and usually a weight under 4 pounds), but this is a great thin-and-light choice, regardless.