Samsung NC10 Netbook

Esper now has three laptops on board. Three computers for two people on one boat. Bit excessive, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Since we bought the boat in 2005 I have been looking for an all-in-one 12 volt solution to our computing requirements and up until now I’d been struggling to find that holy grail.


Our On-board Computing Requirements

  • To run navigation software (inc USB 2 powered GPS)
  • To use as our media centre (inc USB 2 powered hard drives)
  • To take ashore to download email, blog, upload photos and surf the net
  • To avoid strain on the boat’s 12v power supply


Attempted Solution 1: Dell Inspiron 17″

This is the laptop we watch films on. More importantly it’s the one I use for photo editing and web development. Alas, as an onboard computer there are some flaws with this beast: it draws 4amps just to run and 6.5 to charge the battery. Not much use unless it’s used on a sunny day, powered by the solar panels. Also after three years of constant use the screen is going. Part of that wear and tear may be attributed to carting it on and off the boat, stuffing cables, mices, adaptors and power supplies into a waterproof bag when going ashore in the dinghy to track down a hotspot. When piped through the stereo it makes for a great cinema experience but we will need a bank loan to replace it.


With the navigation lights on and occasional radar use that infernal battery monitor would frequently tip 5amps


Attempted Solution 2: Acer Aspire 15″
On paper this was the solution I was after. As a chart plotter it has a decent sized screen and was the cheapest laptop on the market at the time, costing £330. The thinking behind the purchase was that with such a small processor it wouldn’t draw much on 12v, and at £330 if it got trashed it was less of a heartache to replace than the Dell. Unfortunately it wasn’t much use for night sailing. With the navigation lights on and occasional radar use that infernal battery monitor would frequently tip 5amps. I was also watching the monitor like a hawk whilst listening to music through it. With the laptop and car stereo running we were still drawing over 3.5amps, thoroughly spoiling our sundowners at anchor. Finally, with me spending so much time on the Dell, Liz was getting a little frustrated at not being able to check her email and so the Acer has since become ‘her’ laptop.


The Gap
After two laptops and four years of cruising I still wasn’t satisfied with our computing solution. Our main problem is that as soon as the sun goes down we lose our source of power. Be it a night sail or an evening of entertainment at anchor, some kind of 12v power is required and the house batteries were taking a hammering to run either laptop.  I need the Dell for it’s processing capabilities but we needed something that solved the power issue whilst being inexpensive. Up until now there just wasn’t anything on the market. Fortunately…


reducedConsiderations: The Netbook
…in the last year we’ve seen the growth of the netbook, defined by Wikipedia as “light, compact, highly portable, inexpensive, and energy efficient laptops”. Perhaps the most  well known is the Asus Eee PC, which uses solid-state technology. This means it has no moving parts. The hard drive is a chip, a bit like a built-in USB memory stick. No moving parts on a rocking boat? Ideal! It could be the solution you are looking for if you just want it to run PC-based navigation software as the Eee PC’s compact and inexpensive benefits make it a serious contender. We know yotties who have gone for this netbook and are very happy with it. However there are two drawbacks to the original model that bothered me: the screen was only 8 inches and the hard drive was only 20Gb. There are larger screen versions now but this pushes the price up, outside of my price range (£300). After installing the operating system and necessary patches/updates there’d be little room left for the charting software. As for email and photo management, the hard drive would struggle to offer a scalable solution, whilst the rather cramped keyboard could bring on some serious RSI. I needed a bit more flexibility and a workable screen size.


Considerations: How Much To Spend?

I do believe that when buying a computer for on-board use one shouldn’t spend too much. I’ve heard of yotties spending over £1,200 on a laptop, just because it is ‘robust’ or has a fur-lined four-wheel drive double suspension hard drive. Waste of time, mate. Your laptop is likely to be the most delicate bit of kit on board your boat and it will get trashed. Also it will date quite quickly. It doesn’t take a degree in maths to work out who benefits from spending £300 on a cheap laptop versus £1,200 on a top-end one, despite the fact both will yield no more than five years service, tops. Mind you, what do I know? I’m the sucker who bought three laptops in the last few years! Despite that I think I’ve found my saviour…


lid1Enter the Samsung NC10
I’d done my research and I’d read a lot of reviews on netbooks. The one that kept coming out on top of the pile in reviews, receiving 5/5 in customer feedback across the Internet, was the Samsung NC10. You’ll rarely read a bad word about this netbook and, convinced it was the right solution, I purchased one from Amazon for £308, got it delivered next day and had it up and running out of the box. This is a great bit of kit and I can understand why some of the reviews said things like ‘bought one for my wife and was so impressed I bought myself one too’, or ‘I bought one as back-up but actually use it more than my normal laptop’. With a full-sized keyboard it’s a synch to use and even with the standard 1Gb memory it performs all the basic day to day tasks with ease. What surprised me most, however, was how ‘big’ a 10” screen is. My father, aged 65, had no problems scrolling through and reading a Word document. I mention this point because I appreciate many yotties are of retirement age and may be suspicious of using a laptop with such a small screen. Think, if you are happy with your 7” chart plotter then this is no problem to work with.


Pros

  • Bench tests have recorded over 7 hours battery life. Expect at least 6.
  • Keyboard that’s almost full size (93% of a full-sized one, to be precise)
  • 160Gb hard drive
  • Three USB 2 ports, VGA output and SD memory card input
  • Bluetooth (great for wireless mouse, gps)
  • Wi-fi
  • Installed speaker and camera – actually works well for Skyping, without the echos
  • Complete mobility!

Cons

  • No DVD/CD drive – it’s too small for that!
  • Small touchpad, which I tend to avoid using at the best of times
  • If you like to look hip with a slick-looking laptop you’ll be disappointed by the NC10’s pedestrian design
  • Not spec’d for high-end computer games (I tried and it was like watching a film in slow-mo)


My NC10 with mouse, phone and banana for comparison!

Our NC10 with mouse, phone and banana for comparison!


On a whim I also purchased a Logitech bluetooth mouse. With the NC10’s annoyingly small touchpad this is a real boon. When I use my laptop for navigation I frequently stand against the chart table with my arm down my side, using the mouse’s optical laser on my thigh. Try it, it’s very comfortable. The other thing I bought was 2Gb of memory for £15, to replace the 1Gb installed on the machine. I have just done a cursory edit of a large photograph in Photoshop CS3 and it didn’t trip up. In fact exporting the full-sized image (4000x3000px) at 100% didn’t take much longer than the Dell.


Conclusion
I’ve yet to install charting software or run a USB GPS, so we’ll call this a preliminary review. When I return to the boat in March I may follow up this review with a further report, but only if I encounter any problems. I don’t expect I will though – Samsung has created a killer bit of kit here and I’ve found it difficult to tear myself away since purchasing it. I can see myself saying ‘au revoir’ to the Dell.


As if to prove the point you should know I’m lying here in bed writing this article with the netbook propped up on my chest. After I’ve published this article I will watch a film. Then I might check my email, all whilst listening to some music. After I put the NC10 to sleep I will wake up tomorrow and continue on the remaining three hours of battery life. Capiche?


The NC10 may not be a complete solution to everything you throw at it, specifically if more than one of you wants to watch a film. I guess we still have the Dell to fall back on for that. However it’s going to see us through a night sail without breaking the boat’s batteries, is now my office for email, photos and blogging, and it’s a great little interface for our media centre. Also I look forward to simply slipping the NC10 under my arm and hopping ashore, rather than taking half an hour to pack and load into the dinghy all the gubbins required for a bigger laptop. This year I might just be sailing into geek heaven.


Further reading, where to buy and full technical specifications:


Amazon

Dabs

Samsung






16 Comments on “Samsung NC10 Netbook”

  1. Very imformative review and has given a lot of food for thought for when we need to replace our laptop.
    Keep up the good work.
    Would also like an opinion from Milly,we are sure that she has to send her own E.mails. How does she cope with the key board.Do her claws fit well on the letering or do her nails fall between the keys?All relevent questions that need to be answered. Regards to all Colin n Tricia 😆

  2. My Dearest Patricia,

    I don’t lower myself to getting my paws dirty on one of those fangled machines. No, I prefer to recline in my chaise longue, G&T in paw, and dictate to my personal secretary my words of wisdom. One can only assume you get your husband Colin to do the same for you? I would expect no less, my dear.

    Yours,
    Millie the Cat

  3. all well and good but you don’t tell us how many amps it consumes when beign used and when charging. BTW I assume that you don’t use an inverter to power the laptop – please say you don’t. It’s far more efficient to us a DC-DC transformer (available for about £20) to step up from 12V to 19.2V which most laptops use. I’m sure as a seasoned cruiser you will know this anyway 🙂

  4. Hey Jamie
    This has saved me hours of time trying to sort out what to buy. Going to order this week….i 🙄 😆 if it is no good I will throw it at you when we catch up in Marmaris later in the season. Cheers to you all from the snow in England (Robin is still fishing in Oz lucky dog)!.

  5. Thanks Jamie, very useful stuff, better speak to Karen to get funding….. Good luck this year.

  6. Hi Jamie
    Many thanks for the information, having read all the reviews it sounds an excellent machine and one well worth considering as a replacement for this old thing. I’m not sure whether it might be a bit too fast for me though, haha. 😆 It would be good to hear how it’s doing once you have given it a good workout. Regards to Liz and Millie, The Scousechef

  7. Jon, I wouldn’t dream of using an inverter for the laptop unless it was in an emergency… or the inverter was pure sine wave. We use a very good Kingston transformer. I’m afraid I can’t tell you the figures for charging as I am not on the boat. I return at the end of the month. We tend to charge during the day when the sun is out, therefore making use of the solar panels, so for us it’s less of an issue, but it’s an important consideration all the same. I’ll let you know when I find out more.

  8. Pleased you like the NC10. The technology changes so fast that one has difficulty keeping up. I purchased the original EeePC from Asus with linux. I soon changed that to Ubuntu. The free software is great. Your comments regarding the size are correct but the new version is larger and comes with Windows!!!. I have found my unit great for web work plus windows charting software run on linux under Wine. If you are not techo able dont try it stick to windows. I use both inverter to charge battery or 12 volt car charger – no problems

  9. I was thinking of buying a netbook and your review helped me decide which one.

    I’ve just put an order with Amazon for an NC10.

  10. Interesting review and I can certainly see how this technology fits the boating/motor-home/caravan niche. Having spent many years in I.T. and purchasing laptops (or “notebooks” for the pretentious) for my office, the key consideration is portability. However, in Jamie’s case there are further considerations which he has covered quite well – power consumption, size, robustness and weight. My colleagues carry their laptops between the office and the car. I carry mine a slightly longer 25 minutes up the road and I can assure you that no matter how portable you think your laptop is, you will feel it, even on the shorter hauls. My laptop was sold as a “desktop replacement” and believe me, it belongs on the desktop! I got around this by buying an IPAQ – a small handheld device which runs Windows Mobile. This means you can get “low-fat” versions of Office, Windows Live, Outlook and many other great applications like Skype and Google Maps. I also use mine as an MP3 player and watch movies using a great open source application called TCPMP. Having both bluetooth and WiFi – I can very soon browse the Internet and more importantly synchronise my e-mail and calendar with the office. This tiny 3″ X 5″ unit weighs 189g and sits rather comfortably in my pocket. However, the Netbook starts to become attractive with two main things – input and OS. Regardless of how far technology has come, there is nothing like a decent keyboard, and having 3 USB slots and a card reader, I would say input is very well satisfied. With its ability to run Windows XP (forget Vista) you will be able to install and run most of the apps you already do on your laptop.

    Some considerations: remember, the netbook fits a gap in the market that has been open for some time, technology has only just caught up. This means you cannot expect to run power hungry applications with super duper High Definition sound and graphics like you would with a £2k desktop – but of course, you don’t want to do that do you. If film is your thing then look at an Archos, if it is music, then perhaps an IPOD and for gaming, maybe consider a Nintendo DS. While the latest laptops are at least 3 times as powerful as the Netbook, I must say for £300 – you are getting an absolute bargain and with its 1.6Ghz processor and 1Gb RAM – you will still be able to comfortably watch a film, listen to music and play some games.

    I have tried to play devils advocate and find some bad reviews on this Netbook but I am struggling! Jamie mentioned some Cons, let me give you my opinion –

    No DVD/CD Drive – buy an external one for £40. Or how about a compact flash/SD/USB Stick for £1 per Gb – who needs DVDs anymore?

    Small Touchpad – buy a mouse.

    Style – come on! you live on a boat – practicality comes first. Personally, I love the look.

    Following on from the above point, I do recommend a decent protective case – much like you would have a laptop or camera bag. Some great looking ones on Amazon between £15-20. There are even some reckoning they are waterproof – perhaps Jamie would like to test them for us?

    I know power is an important factor with you people who live on a boat and I think Jamie should come back to us on the power consumption issue. If battery life is 6/7 hours, believe me that is excellent, but would like to know if that is idle, intermittent work or watching 3 movies back to back!

    You might also wish to consider a spare battery. In my experience, laptop batteries start to show signs of deterioration after about five years – pop a spare battery in your bag and you won’t be caught short.

    So, a more realistic price breakdown is as follows (all prices from Amazon) –

    Netbook – £295
    Case – £14.95
    DVD Drive – £39.99
    Extra 2Gb RAM – £14.99
    8Gb Flash Drive – £9.99
    Spare Battery – £40 (guess)
    Wireless Laser Mouse – £22.37

    Total: £437.29

    Conclusion: For you yotties, motor homers and caravanners. Even for you commuters, I think the Samsung NC10 Netbook would, as Jamie concludes, serve you very well.

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  12. Hi Jamie , I stumbled upon your bit about your NC10 while Googling for an acceptable inverter to run my NC10 on… Which one do you use ??

    I have just popped into Portsmouth after sailing on the 20th. Nov. to Israel in order to deliver a J120 back to Tel Aviv from the Marmaris Regatta. I will join another delivery soon from Slovenia to Bodrum soon .. This will get me back with plenty of chandlery and Playmobil bits and bobs for Neil’s boys.

    Have a happy Christmas and love to Lizzie

    Best wishes, Mike

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  14. Thank you for the awesome article, so I’ve been a samsung user for roughly 5 years now, and I lately upgraded from a samsung omnia i910 to the Samsung Wave and up to now I am loving it! (I do leave out a few options of my omnia though) I am from Halifax Nova Scotia in Canada, I was originaly going to wait it out for the galaxy s to reach on the bell community but decided to shop for the wave as an alternative and save myself $400.

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