What is it: Pentium-based multimedia notebook
Applications: mobile working and presentations
Deciding which notebook to buy can be a bewildering task. But portable computing actually boils down to one basic rule: can you do it on the road? And that means you have to look at four main factors - screen, keyboard, battery life and pointing device.
The Sens Pro 500's key selling point is its screen which, at 12.1in, is bigger than most other notebooks. With 10-point fonts, you can magnify text in Word up to 130 per cent, and still have screen room to spare without scrolling.
Because it's a TFT screen, it is easy on the eyes, and handles video extremely well. There are a few minor drawbacks with the screen in that it only tilts back about 120 degrees, and the brightness control makes little difference to clarity.
The keyboard is spongy and fairly unresponsive, though few laptop keyboards make the grade in this department. But the layout and size of certain function keys are disappointing. For example, the home and insert keys are next to the delete button, so you could accidentally hit the home button instead of the delete key and overwrite your work.
There are Windows buttons either side of the small space bar, which activates the taskbar Start menu, so you could inadvertently switch out of your application every time you try to hit the space bar. Also, the caps-lock key and the right-shift keys are too small. Despite these drawbacks, you can type surprisingly well on the Sens Pro.
The pointing device is a rather good trackpad. Although it takes time to warm up straight from the box, it is very responsive when it gets going. A pointing device is a matter of personal taste but, although the trackpad may take time to get used to, it's worth it in the end.
The clicking options deserve a separate mention. Rather than search for separate buttons to click, you simply tap the trackpad. This allows you to drag-and-drop with one hand, in a similar way to a mouse.
Battery life is another critical factor with portables. Notebook manufacturers tend to rely on power-saving utilities and a good suspend or sleep function.
The battery indicator, suspend mode and power controls on the Sens Pro are not ideal. Sometimes, after running for an hour (and then with only basic applications and without resorting to motor-media like disk drives) the gauge reads 100 per cent. After 90 minutes, it show 80 per cent. After two hours and 20 minutes, warning lights flash and klaxons blare. So if you want to work on documents for a long time, bear in mind that the power indicator runs out more rapidly as the battery runs down. Also, the standard power management software is crude. It is easy to use but doesn't offer many options.
The other problem with power management on the Sens Pro 500 is the suspend mode. On many notebooks, this instantly shuts down the machine. But Samsung's baby runs through an ominous-looking DOS save-to-disk procedure. You then have to hit the On button again to resume.
There are also some problems swapping the CD-ROM drive for the floppy unit during suspend mode. The machine has to be shut down completely and switched on again before it recognises the new media.
The speaker, microphone and headphone sockets are all conveniently positioned, and the special feature keys on the top row of the keyboard are well laid out and easy to use.
The Sens Pro 500 also scores extra points for its excellent media options.
The floppy disk and CD-ROM cartridges are extremely easy to swap out when on the move (albeit powered down).
There is high-quality sound, with good speakers and an excellent built-in microphone, which is perfect for recording voice annotations for documents.
The only irritation is that the volume control is keyboard-based - a simple manual control on the side of the unit is usually more convenient and reduces keyboard clutter.
The notebook weighs a hefty 3kg. Combine this with the necessary cables, a spare battery and other assorted kit, and you've got a laptop which could weigh you down.
The Sens Pro 500 is a competent performer, and the 133MHz Pentium handled all the test applications well. However, it does get rather hot, and this could be uncomfortable if you are using it on your lap for long periods.
Verdict: this is a competent multimedia notebook. The sound and video capabilities, the high-quality microphone and speakers, the impressively large screen and the CD-ROM drive are a godsend. But the battery life is slightly unpredictable and the keyboard layout is fiddly. Although not a workhorse, the Samsung Sens Pro 500 is certainly worth a look.
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