Samsung Galaxy Book S review: Incredible battery life, WWAN options sell this on-the-go PC

It has just one major flaw: its Snapdragon processor, which limits the apps you can use and their performance.

Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG

Real-world performance: Decent, for what it does

I spent the better part of two weeks using the Samsung Galaxy Book S, either tethered to a desk or on the go. I can safely say the Galaxy Pro S works best within Microsoft’s UWP environment of built-in Windows 10 apps, Office work, web browsing and the like. 

By asking you to buy the Galaxy Book S through a wireless carrier, Samsung is really playing up the “Always Connected” aspect of Snapdragon PCs. I drove around my hilly small town, sporadically pausing to browse, play back video, and conduct speed tests. I toted along the Microsoft Surface Pro X with a T-Mobile eSIM inside for comparison.

Samsung Galaxy Book S sim tray Mark Hachman / IDG

Underneath the Samsung Galaxy Book S hides the hybrid SIM/microSD slot, paired together inside a tray that can be opened with a fingernail.

Using Internet speed tests, Verizon’s coverage was consistently solid. Using the Galaxy Pro S, I averaged about 30 to 40Mbps downstream across many locations, while the T-Mobile-powered Surface Pro X ranged from over 100Mbps downstream to just a few hundred kilobytes. In each location, I was able to stream Netflix with no issues, although the stream hiccuped a time or two near the Bay.

Because of the fundamental difference in the ARM architecture underlying Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor, any PC with one inside also ships with a number of caveats. While the Snapdragon 8cx can run native 32-bit and 64-bit apps encoded specifically for its ARM64 architecture, they’re a rarity in the Windows world. Instead, Snapdragon PCs like the Samsung Galaxy Book S are restricted to 32-bit apps encoded for the X86 architecture used by Intel Core and AMD Ryzen processors, via emulation. At this point, 64-bit X86 apps can’t run on a Snapdragon PC at all.

In the real world, this plays out in odd and exasperating ways. I couldn’t use the 32-bit binary version of our company VPN, as it never installed correctly. I tried Microsoft’s “new” Edge, which supports ARM64, including its curated suite of extensions as well as the Chrome Web Store. Paied with an ad blocker, webpages were responsive.

Also using Edge, I was able to play back a test 4K/60-fps YouTube video on an external display. When I tried to load a 4K video via the Netflix site, however, the previews rendered normally but the video wouldn’t play. The Netflix app via the Microsoft Store played the 1080p version of my movie just fine.

In general, Snapdragon PCs are best for web browsing, Office work, video, and some very minimal game playing. Microsoft Office  was a tad slow, as we show in our benchmarks below, but otherwise normal.

Samsung Galaxy Book S xbox game pass Mark Hachman / IDG

All these circled exclamation points mean you can’t play the game.

It’s refreshing to see playable games show up within the Microsoft Store app, under the Game Pass heading. Unfortunately, the only games available currently were 2D sprite-based games (Blazing Chrome, among others) that ran slowly on an external 4K monitor. On the native Galaxy Book S display, everything ran fine—unsurprising, really, as the graphics were of 1980s arcade quality.

Benchmarks: Its Achilles heel

The limitation on 64-bit binaries hamstrings our ability to benchmark the Samsung Galaxy Book S fully, though a small subset of benchmarks help us define what the Samsung Galaxy Book S can do in terms of Office and graphics capabilities.

We were interested to compare the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor to the more powerful semi-custom Microsoft SQ1 chip inside the Microsoft Surface Pro X. Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 8cx in late 2018, and while it doesn’t include a “prime core” for burst workloads, it maintains the same four “performance” cores running at 2.84GHz, balancing those against four “efficiency” cores at 1.8GHz. 

While the SQ1 boasts a more powerful CPU and GPU combination—including an Adreno 685 GPU, as opposed to the Adreno 680 inside the Galaxy Book S—it also has to render the Surface Pro X’s 2880x1920 display, versus the more conventional 1080p display within the Galaxy Book S.

We have three benchmarks for evaluating the Galaxy Book S as a PC. The first, PCMark 10’s Apps suite, uses the actual Microsoft Office suite to measure app loading times, and also how quick and responsive the Galaxy Book S is with spreadsheets, word processing, and the like. 

Samsung Galaxy Book S pcmark 10 apps fixed Mark Hachman / IDG

Samsung’s Galaxy Book S actually tops the Microsoft Surface Pro X, an arguably more powerful machine, in this benchmark.

We ran the test on a recent Core i7-based (Whiskey Lake) Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon as well. With a score of 5,951, the X1 Carbon easily surpasses the 4,615 Samsung’s Galaxy Book S recorded. But does this number matter in the real world? Yes, and no.

The PCMark 10 Apps test offers a more granular breakdown of its results. It took the Lenovo X1 Carbon 2.2 seconds to calculate one test, a stock history metric, that the Galaxy Book S required 7.1 seconds to complete. Simply opening Word required 1.9 seconds for the X1 Carbon, 2.5 seconds for the Galaxy Book S. Opening a test document in Excel required 2.79 seconds for the X1 Carbon, and 5.4 seconds for Samsung’s PC.

Another number seemed significant: While the X1 Carbon could play back H.264-encoded video at a full 30 frames per second, Samsung’s Galaxy Book S couldn’t get past 24.6 fps. 

We use the PCMark 8 Creative benchmark to evaluate how laptops like the Galaxy Book S will perform in photo editing, video editing, light gaming, and more. The Galaxy Book S posted one of the lowest scores.

Samsung Galaxy Book S pcmark 8 creative Mark Hachman / IDG

Here, it’s pretty neck-and-neck between the various Qualcomm-powered devices. They still fall well behind X86-powered PCs, especially modern laptops.

A similar test, the WebXPRT 3 benchmark, runs on a webpage to measure how well the laptop can perform in some light editing and multimedia tasks. Again, the Samsung Galaxy Book S performs a bit slower than the Surface Pro X.

Samsung Galaxy Book S webxprt 3 Mark Hachman / IDG

Nothing really sets the Galalxy Book S apart in this test of web-based productiviy apps.

Finally, we use 3DMark Night Raid, a cross-platform benchmark that can run on top of ARM as well as X86 systems. Here, the slightly slower Adreno GPU within the Galaxy Book S puts it slightly behind the Surface Pro X.

Samsung Galaxy Book S 3dmark night raid Mark Hachman / IDG

The more modern, more powerful Adreno GPU cores help elevate the Samsung Galalxy Book S, though the slightly more advanced Adreno core within the Surface Pro X keeps it on top.

Performance matters, but battery life is a Snapdragon PC’s strength. We loop a 4K video (rendered in 1080p on the Galaxy Book S screen) and play it back until the battery expires. The Samsung Galaxy Book S achieved a whopping 16 hours of battery life, enough for a whole day’s work and a whole lot more.

I also ran the PCMark 10 Battery rundown test, which loads and runs Office apps periodically until the battery runs down. That generated 9 hours and 51 minutes of battery life. While your mileage will vary, the conclusion we can reach from both is that you’ll receive exceptional battery life from the Samsung Galaxy Book S.

Samsung Galaxy Book S battery life Mark Hachman / IDG

Finally, the benchmark where the Samsung Galaxy Book S can shine: battery life. 

Conclusion: Compelling, but still not enough

With Qualcomm-based PCs, comparing battery life versus price is probably the most relevant metric, as long as performance is adequate. From that perspective, the Galaxy Book S delivers. The Galaxy Book S also packs in features that show Samsung carefully thought through the mobile computing experience: a bright screen, fantastic battery life, ultra light weight, plus the connectivity—all affordably priced. It works well within a limited ecosystem of Office apps, web browsing, Windows’ own UWP apps like Mail and Calendar, and a few other options.  

Unfortunately for Qualcomm, it’s no longer the only game in town when it comes to long battery life. The original, outdated Microsoft Surface Laptop outperforms today’s Galaxy Book S, delivering over 11 hours of battery life for $665. But the recent HP Spectre x360 13t delivers almost 16 hours of battery life on top of a similar 1080p screen, with a powerful 10th-gen Core i7 chip under the hood—and for a similar price. (Because of the app compatibility issues, we can’t directly compare the two on more than a single performance benchmark, but it’s still telling: Samsung’s Galaxy Book S generates a PCMark Work score of 2,121, while the Spectre x360 13T is 79 percent faster, at 3,807.) HP’s Elite Dragonfly delivers comparable battery life for $2,199, in a sub-3-pound package. 

The great failing of the Microsoft Surface Pro X is that it couldn’t deliver on performance, price, or battery-life. While Samsung’s Galaxy Book S can’t overcome the Snapdragon’s inherent performance deficiencies, it satisfies the other two criteria. As we’ve tried to show, however, there are comparably priced alternatives that do everything well, and you owe it to yourself to look at those too. 

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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