Samsung Q430 cuts corners, still feels nimble

An average screen and limited assortment of ports knock down an otherwise-great laptop.

The Samsung Q430 has the specs required to zip through work and play. Aside from those internal components, parts of the laptop feel like Samsung isn't trying very hard; a dull display, pointless and annoying software extras, and a few cut corners hold the Q430 back from excellence. Even with this missed potential, the underlying performance makes the laptop worth considering for general-use, mid-range buyers.

The Q430 is a Best Buy exclusive that costs about $830 as this was published, with a solid lineup of components. You get a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM, a 500GB hard disk, and an Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics processor with 512MB of dedicated RAM. All together, these parts powered respectable benchmarks, scoring a solid 108 in PC World's WorldBench 6.

In real-world testing, the Q430 can run nearly anything, from business productivity software to demanding games. The GeForce 310M drives this gaming performance, keeping pace with nearly any recent title. For general use, the laptop nimbly juggles many open applications, letting you multitask with ease. Strong battery life acts as a good counterpoint, with the laptop scoring a satisfying 4 hours and 16 minutes in our benchmarking.

The Q430's input devices feel average, however. The keyboard works well enough, although I'd prefer a slightly tighter rebound on the keys; still, the surface is easy for touch-typists. The laptop lacks any extra buttons to launch browsers or activate special commands, but the omission is usually better than useless extras. You access basics, such as volume and brightness control with a Function-key modifier.

The adequate trackpad feels only slightly different than the palm-rest around it, causing regular swipes to carry too far. Worse, it stops registering movement a full fingertip from its edges; you'll get disoriented when it feels like the mouse should be responding, but it just sits. At least it includes two distinct buttons that are easy to feel, although the smooth texture can seem a bit slimy.

While the 14-inch glossy display includes a sufficient 1,366 by 768 pixels, it skimps on color and contrast. You'll have to crank the brightness to the max to get the best definition. Reduce this setting, and blacks and grays begin to merge. Colors are also sufficient, but they lack the flair of a great laptop.

Audio performance sounds fine for a laptop, but that's another area that could be improved. Music and dialogue favor high tones and can sound garbled, as if you're listening to a conversation across the room. Low drums and other bass effects are only suggested, admittedly like most competitors.

The laptop lacks some competitors' connections. You get three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, audio-in and -out, webcam, and a flash-card reader; those are all solid standards. Its Wi-Fi supports b/g/n networks, also as expected. And that's nearly it. There's no Bluetooth, eSATA, FireWire, USB 3.0, or other ports that can help in a pinch. The Q430 includes a 100Base-T Ethernet port, but the fairly common Gigabit standard doesn't make the cut.

The Q430 includes a few software extras, such as CyberLink DVD suite to help with the built-in DVD burner. The Best Buy Software application is more notable, however, since it pops up to annoy you at each launch. This software-store hard-sell feels cheap. It also comes with Google Toolbar and other needless additions.

Even with a mediocre display, thin roster of ports, and just-sufficient audio, the Samsung Q430 can win over mid-range buyers. Strong processor and battery performance can help you overlook those shortcomings.

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Zack Stern

PC World (US online)
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