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I'm on the hunt for a new, light, travel notebook and, since Netbooks are the current rage, I am seeing what they have to offer. Last time, I checked out the popular MSI Wind. This time, I'm looking at the current darling of the 10" Netbooks: Samsung's NC10.

Samsung NC10

Given all the praise that this Netbook had been gathering, I expected to be impressed. And I generally was, but not enough to have it be a keeper.

The out-of-the-box experience was encouraging and better than the MSI Wind's. Opening the Wind's box felt like unpacking a motherboard or barebone PC. Not unexpected, I guess, given MSI's main business. The cheesy looking pink zippered slipcase that greeted me when I opened the box didn't help the first impression, either.

But opening the NC10 felt like unboxing a more expensive notebook, or a slick piece of consumer electronics. All the accessories came in their own box and the NC10 was wrapped in a protective thin foam envelope that was securely supported over the accessory box between two foam end-caps.

Even the slip case was nicer; an understated black slipcase with hook-and-loop fasteners. I liked the pearlescent white finish more than the Wind's dull black, too. But nice packaging just sets the stage; it's up to the product to make good on the promise.

Boot up was uneventful, with the usual XP installation screens. After reboot, the install script dropped shortcuts for Samsung's Update Plus, Recovery Solution III and an online User Guide on the desktop (Figure 1).

NC10 desktop

Figure 1: NC10 desktop

The Update Plus is like Windows Update, but for Samsung apps and drivers. The Recovery Solution III is like Windows Restore, but provides options for restoring just basic Windows files, just user data (if you have previously backed it up) or a "bare metal" restore that first wipes the C drive. The User Guide was an .exe file that answered my initial questions, which were mostly about decoding the special function icons on the Function row keys.

Two other apps that are installed are My Bluetooth Places and Play Camera. The first launches a Bluetooth Configuration Wizard that refers to WIDCOMM Bluetooth software that handles the Broadcom 2045 Bluetooth adapter that was reported in Device Manager (Figure 2).

The Play Camera app is something that I wish that MSI had included in the Wind and lets you fire up the built-in webcam and snap pictures or record videos in .asf format. The picture wasn't particularly bright, even when I cranked the brightness control up to full. And I noted a greenish tinge that other reviews had mentioned and found that the Play Camera app had the Hue control greyed-out.

Some NC10 Devices

Figure 2: Some NC10 Devices

I expanded some of the items in Device Manager so that you can see what the NC10 is made of. My usual objects of interest, the WLAN and Ethernet interfaces, show an Atheros AR5007EG single-chip 802.11b/g PCIe adapter and a Marvell 88E8040 PCIe 10/100 Ethernet NIC.

Figure 3 shows the NC10 side-by-side with my "reference" travel notebook, a Fujitsu P7120. Once again, the NC10 is very similar in size and weight. If the NC10's keyboard looks taller than the Fujitsu's, well, that's because it is. But bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, as I soon found out.

Fujitsu P7120 and MSI U100 Wind
Click to enlarge image

Figure 3: Fujitsu P7120 and MSI U100 Wind

Figure 4 shows the NC10 and the MSI Wind also side-by-side. The NC10 is a bit more squared-off then the Wind, but not drastically so. Both screens drop down behind the body to present a lower profile. Both 1024x600 10" non-glare screens were equally bright and clear. It could be my imagination, but the NC10's screen seemed a bit grainier than the Wind's, probably due to a difference in the anti-glare surface treatment.

NC10 and MSI U100 Wind
Click to enlarge image

Figure 4: NC10 and MSI U100 Wind

I initially thought that the NC10's six-cell battery didn't protrude below the body as much as the Wind's. But when I put them next to each other and checked from the side, I saw that both had identical keyboard slants.

While both have the same port complement, the NC10 has moved things around a bit. Two USB 2.0 ports, the 10/100 Ethernet port and power connector are on the left side and the security lock slot, VGA connector, one USB 2.0, mic and headphone connectors are on the right. The icons for each port that were printed around the keyboard frame were a nice touch.

The power button is on the right side lined up with the hinge and the 3-in-1 (SD, SDHC, MMC) card slot located at the right front. I liked the Wind's status lights better than the NC10s because they were angled and easily viewed from above, as well as from the edge with the cover closed. On the other hand, the icons for the NC10's front-mounted lights were easier to see against the white background.

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