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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.

Samsung Galaxy Book S primary alt
Mark Hachman / IDG
At a Glance

The Samsung Galaxy Book S is worth a look for several reasons: This ultralight, fanless 13.3-inch clamshell combines superb battery life with WWAN connectivity that compels you to work on the go.  Priced at $1,000 on Samsung.com, the Galaxy Book S is affordable, too.

The Galaxy Book S boasts Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8cx chip, an ARM processor that trades middling performance for a crazy 16 hours of battery life. Samsung’s learned what users like: The laptop adds a decent fingerprint reader, USB-C ports, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. 

It’s the best Qualcomm-powered PC we’ve seen in some time, including the Microsoft Surface Pro X, but the standard performance caveats of Snapdragon notebooks remain. Meanwhile, some X86-based machines have improved so much in battery life that they’ve stolen Qualcomm’s claim to fame. 

Samsung Galaxy Book S primary 1 Mark Hachman / IDG

Samsung Galaxy Book S basic features

Samsung’s own site offers the Samsung Galaxy Book S right now, though it's scheduled to ship by April 1. You must select from one of two carriers, Sprint or Verizon. (There is no unlocked version.) Samsung asked us to add that while the Samsung Galaxy Book S is sold out right now through Sprint, however, it is still currently available for purchase through Best Buy and Microsoft, too. 

While Sprint is charging the full $1,000 price, Verizon’s currently taking $100 off if you pay for it as part of its 0% APR 24-month payment program via the Samsung link. Trade-in options are available for both carriers. We were unable to test the purchase via Verizon due to lack of an account; however, we successfully tried the same process using the Sprint link.

Regardless of how you purchase, the Galaxy Book S will have these specs:

  • Display: 13.3-inch (1920x1080) 10-point touch
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx octa-core processor (2.84GHz, 1.8GHz)
  • Graphics: Adreno 680
  • Memory: 8GB LPDDR4X RAM
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Ports: 2 USB-C, microSD/nanoSIM tray
  • Camera: 720p HD (user-facing)
  • Battery: 39.8Wh (rated), 39.4Wh (as tested)
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11ac VHT80 MU-MIMO, Bluetooth 5; X24 modem for LTE WWAN
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Dimensions (inches): 12 x 8 x 0.24 inches (6.2mm)
  • Weight: 2.18 pounds, 2.49 pounds with charger
  • Colors: Mercury Gray (as tested), Earthy Gold
  • Price:  MSRP: $1,000 (Samsung); $1,000 (Sprint); $900 (Verizon)
  • Optional accessories: $80 Samsung Galaxy Books S Pouch

The Samsung Galaxy Book S ships with the standard Windows bloatware (Candy Crush Friends, etc.), and a surprisingly light helping of Samsung apps. Samsung Gallery connects to Samsung’s cloud storage for images; Samsung Flow lets you move files between Samsung devices; and Samsung DeX connects a Galaxy phone in a desktop-like environment on your PC. Windows provides comparable apps itself, but the Samsung apps are designed to be more seamless.

Super-thin, super-light

At just over two pounds, the Samsung Galaxy Book S lands in tablet territory (including a keyboard). Thanks to its anodized aluminum construction, you’d have to call it one of the most impressive ultralight PCs around. We received the Mercury Gray color from Samsung for review, though the pinkish “Earthy Gold” is also available. 

samsung galaxy book s earthy gold Samsung

This “Earthy Gold” variant of the Galaxy Book S (not reviewed) looks decidedly pink.

On the desk, the Book S opens with a finger, and the display reclines to about 45 degrees. It’s solid, too: I perceive no keyboard flex while typing, and the display barely flops or wobbles while moving the keyboard around.  

Power on the Galaxy Book S by tapping the button to the upper right of the keyboard, a relatively small key that—surprise!—also conceals a fingerprint reader. (You’ll need to power on, then tap again to authenticate.) I was skeptical about such a tiny sensor, and it sometimes required a second tap or the repositioning of my finger. Still, I never had to default to a secondary PIN code or password to access the Galaxy Book S.

Samsung Galaxy Book S power button fingerprint reader Mark Hachman / IDG

While it’s small, the fingerprint sensor behind the power button logged me in after one or two taps.

Like some of Acer’s Swift notebooks, the Book S is thin enough that the chassis actually bulges to accommodate the pair of USB-C ports (one on either side). They’re not Thunderbolt-enabled, though they are USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gbps). Forget USB-A or any legacy ports, save for a 3.5mm jack. 

Samsung’s charger is small enough to confuse it with your smartphone’s. If they both use USB-C you could try to swap them, but the Galaxy Book S will complain. The laptop ships with quick-charging capabilities, but those may go away if you use another charger.

Samsung Galaxy Book S left side reclined Mark Hachman / IDG

You won’t find many ports on the Samsung Galaxy Book S: just one USB-C port plus a headphone jack on the left side...

The sparse port selection is supplemented by the hybrid expansion slot drawer on the underside, with trays for both microSD and the LTE SIM. 

Because Samsung basically requires you to purchase the Samsung Galaxy S from the carrier itself, an existing T-Mobile or AT&T customer may find it to be prohibitively expensive to add an additional line of service. (While buying wireless service and connecting via the WWAN isn’t required, it’s one of the reasons to buy the Galaxy Book S.) There’s no eSIM option, either. Note that this isn’t a 5G device; the Galaxy Book S includes a Qualcomm X24 modem, which supports CAT20 LTE and a (theoretical) download speed of 2 gigabits. 

Samsung Galaxy Book S right side closeup 2 Mark Hachman / IDG

...And this lone USB-C jack on the other. Note how the laptop expands to accommodate it.

The Galaxy S display is a 13.3-inch TFT 10-point touch display. It pushes out a generous 355 nits maximum, letting me find a comfortable (though somewhat shady) outdoor site to work. A separate USB-C hub let me output 4K/60-fps video through HDMI to an external 4K display with no issue.

The display bezels are slender on the top and sides (about an eighth of an inch), while the bottom bezel is a chunkier 0.75 inches deep, wide enough to house a 720p webcam. It’s good enough for everyday use, though it lacks special features such as biometrics or a physical shutter.

Samsung Galaxy Book S outside working Mark Hachman / IDG

This photo proves the Samsung Galaxy Book S is sufficiently bright to work outdoors on a cloudy day. But the glossy screen can be distracting.

The glossy display, while beautiful, attracts fingerprints and smudges like an unwatched burrito lures a hungry Labrador retriever. Working outside quickly becomes an exercise in dodging reflected background objects, too.

The quality audio options are an unexpected delight. The pair of downward-facing speakers blew me away—almost literally—as perhaps the loudest I’ve heard in some time. Samsung says the Galaxy Book S is tuned by AKG, with Dolby Atmos software under the hood for audio enhancement. Sure, the bass isn’t great—not unusual in laptops—and Dolby appears to downplay portions of the audio soundscape to provide a richer overall sound. The Dolby Atmos software provides built-in presets that detect and auto-adjust the audio to accommodate a streaming movie, say, versus playing a game. There’s also a manual equalizer. 

Keyboard and typing: Just okay

I prefer laptop keyboards with fairly substantial travel, something the Galaxy Book S lacks. Each key is firm and resilient, however, and wide enough to provide a comfortable landing space. The three levels of backlighting (plus off), aren’t particularly powerful.

Samsung Galaxy Book S keyboard Mark Hachman / IDG

The Samsung Galaxy Book S keyboard is spacious, if a bit shallow.

The standard layout offers small touches: The F11 key doubles as a shortcut to the desktop, for instance, minimizing all other windows. Other function keys open the Task View and the alternative “project” options to external displays. There are also dedicated Insert and Delete keys.

The Precision touchpad is large and spacious, located directly underneath the space bar. The top isn’t clickable, although there’s probably enough room otherwise to make up for it.

Keep reading for the performance benchmarks, including battery life.

At a Glance
  • Samsung's ultralight, ultraconnected laptop has many great features and just one major flaw: its Snapdragon processor, which limits the apps you can use and their performance. But its bigger problem is that the competition is getting better.

    Pros

    • Incredibly light, incredibly thin
    • Superb 16-hour battery life
    • LTE connectivity is designed in out of the box

    Cons

    • Snapdragon 8cx processor still requires too many sacrifices
    • Keyboard is mediocre
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