Samsung Galaxy Book Ion 13.3in review: Welcome back, Samsung

Slim with amazing battery life – Samsung returns to laptops with an impressive ultraportable

Editor's Choice
Price
£1,041 exc VAT
  • Outstanding battery life
  • High-quality display
  • Gorgeous design
  • Slightly disappointing keyboard

As soon as you clap eyes on the Samsung Galaxy Book Ion, you can tell this is a special machine. This is no MacBook Air clone, clad in dull grey aluminium, but a laptop with its own identity that hits all the right notes for a 13in ultraportable: it’s light at 970g, robust and packs a stunner of a screen. The company couldn’t have chosen a better machine to announce its return to the British laptop market.

Or, to be absolutely correct, a better pair of machines. As well as the 13.3in model on test, the Ion is also available with a 15.6in screen, but with precisely the same core specs: 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a Core i5-10210U processor. 

Samsung Galaxy Book Ion 13.3in review: Design

Whichever model you choose, we suspect you’ll love the design. The Ion is available only in “Aura Silver”, which has an attractive, pearlescent sheen when light falls on it. With a metallic blue strip running along the spine of the laptop, it looks distinctly different from the rest of the ultraportable crowd.

The way the Ion’s hinge lifts up the base at the rear, along with its angular body, brings back pleasant memories of the old Sony Vaio Z laptops. It’s tiny too: it measures 12.9mm thick when closed, while 4mm bezels to the left and right of the screen (and a 7mm bezel above) make it clear that Samsung has squeezed as much as possible into the space available. It’s also a supremely light 1.19kg.

You don’t get the same feeling of brutal ruggedness as a MacBook Pro, but that’s the trade-off with ultra-light laptops. Despite this, the Samsung Galaxy Ion is tough in all the right places. If you give the chassis a twist, it barely moves; there’s certainly no creaking or cracking to indicate poor build quality. The display backing is more flexible, but there’s no rippling in the LCD if you push your fingers hard on the rear of the lid.

Samsung Galaxy Book Ion 13.3in review: Keyboard and trackpad

We found typing on the Galaxy Book Ion a comfortable experience, but you shouldn’t expect the best keyboard in the world. The keys – while large and easy to touch-type on without too many typos – lack the well-dampened feel of rival machines, and there isn’t much travel to them, either.

 

The layout is also imperfect. We like the double-height Enter key and the cursor, while the Backspace and Delete keys are again a good size, but the fingerprint reader is awkwardly placed just next to the right-hand Shift key, shrinking it and crowding it over to the left. This meant we frequently ended up tapping the reader instead of Shift.

It’s a similar story with the touchpad, which is okay but not brilliant. We like the smooth glass top and the fact that it’s so wide, but the built-in click action feels insubstantial. That said, we didn’t have any issues with its accuracy or reliability.

Samsung Galaxy Book Ion 13.3in review: Display

You might be prepared to forgive the keyboard and touchpad’s minor foibles, however, once you lay eyes on that glorious QLED display. On this, the smaller model, it measures 13.3in across the diagonal and the resolution is 1,920 x 1,080, giving an aspect ratio of 16:9. 

We prefer the taller aspect ratio of the Surface Laptop 3 and Dell XPS 13, but the brightness and colour performance are like nothing else we’ve seen on a laptop. This is a truly stunning display, outshining the very best that even Apple has to offer.

First up, outdoor mode: hit Fn+F10 and the display will gain a significant boost to brightness, allowing you to continue working in the brightest of outdoor sun. Indeed, peaking at an incredible 791cd/m², this is the brightest laptop display we’ve ever tested. Only rugged laptops, designed for such challenging outdoor conditions, can go beyond this.

Colours, too, are sumptuous. The display has been factory-calibrated to the sRGB colour space, yet it’s also capable of reproducing the full Adobe RGB (99%) and DCI-P3 colour spaces (101.8%). The Ion’s only weakness is accuracy, with an average Delta E of 2.64 rather than the sub-one scores we’re gradually becoming used to with top-end laptops. 

For those wondering if a Full HD display is enough on a 13.3in screen, let us quickly dispel any worries: it’s gloriously detailed in action. In our opinion, a high dpi on laptop screens is massively overrated – and we wouldn’t have any concerns about choosing the 15.6in Ion, which also has a Full HD resolution.

Samsung Galaxy Book Ion 13.3in review: Specs and performance

If you want a quiet life, engage Samsung’s Silent mode. Otherwise, the internal fans whir away constantly when the laptop is plugged in; an attempt to keep the Core i5 chip at an optimum temperature despite the slim chassis. 

This machine was never going to top the performance charts, though, and its 72 overall score in our benchmarks underlines that fact. That’s in line with our expectations for a tenth-generation Core i5 chip with 8GB of RAM for company, but if it’s speed you’re after then choose a Dell XPS 13 with a Core i7 and 16GB of RAM instead. 

It’s a similar story for 3D acceleration, with the Samsung Galaxy Book Ion scraping its way to 31fps in the onscreen GFXBench Car Chase test and 26fps off-screen. Likewise, average 720p frame rates of 36.4fps in Dirt: Showdown and 11.5fps in Metro: Last Light emphasise that this laptop is for lighter gaming duties only.

There’s only one area where this laptop is screamingly fast, in fact, and that’s SSD performance. Taking into account both read and write speeds (2,508MB/sec and 2,148MB/sec), it’s one of the fastest SSDs we’ve found in an ultraportable, although it can’t quite match the Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371.

The most impressive aspect of the Galaxy Book Ion’s performance, however, is its battery life. In our video-rundown tests, where we set the display to a moderately bright 170cd/m² and engage Flight mode, the Ion lasted for 13hrs 3mins. That’s above average for a Windows 10 laptop - although it’s still dwarfed by the Asus ExpertBook B9450F’s 22-hour result.

Samsung Galaxy Book Ion 13.3in review: Ports and features

Samsung hasn’t forgotten the practicalities, either, with plenty of ports and sockets along the edges. On the left are a full-sized HDMI and Thunderbolt 3 port, alongside a 3.5mm headset jack and DC charging port (the Ion can also be charged via that Thunderbolt port), while on the right edge is a pair of USB 3 ports and a microSD tray.

The latter also supports Samsung’s UFS memory cards, which are faster than regular SD cards, offering read and write speeds of up to 500MB/sec and 200MB/sec respectively. Alas, these are hard to come by; you can’t even buy one from Samsung’s own UK website, so it looks like you’ll be stuck using slower standard microSD cards for some time.

There is a way to add more high-speed storage, though, if you don’t mind getting busy with a screwdriver. Inside the chassis, the Samsung Galaxy Book Ion has space to add both extra storage and RAM, with one slot available for each. That’s not something you often see in ultraportable laptops.

Samsung Galaxy Book Ion 13.3in review: Verdict

There are so many things to love about the Samsung Galaxy Book Ion that its foibles don’t spoil things. It’s fast and responsive. It’s light and thin. And, unlike so many other rival ultraportables, there are loads of ports to play with; you can even expand the storage by adding a second SSD internally.

Combined with a stunning display, a battery that just won’t quit and a reasonable price, it goes together to produce an ultraportable laptop of rare quality. Welcome back to the world of Windows laptops, Samsung – you’ve been sorely missed. 

Samsung Galaxy Book Ion 13.3in specifications

Processor

Intel Core i5-10210U

RAM

8GB

Additional memory slots

No

Max. memory

8GB

Graphics adapter

Intel UHD Graphics

Graphics memory

Shared

Storage

512GB

Screen size (in)

13.3

Screen resolution

1,920 x 1,080

Pixel density (PPI)

166

Screen type

QLED

Touchscreen

No

Pointing devices

Touchpad

Optical drive

No

Memory card slot

microSD

3.5mm audio jack

Yes

Graphics outputs

USB C (Thunderbolt 3), HDMI

Other ports

2 x USB 3.2 (Type A)

Web Cam

720p (Windows Hello compatible)

Speakers

Stereo

Wi-Fi

802.1ax

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 5

NFC

Yes (reverse wireless charging)

W (mm)

306

D (mm)

200

H (mm)

12.9

Dimensions, mm (WDH)

306 x 200 x 12.9mm

Weight (kg) - with keyboard where applicable

0.97

Battery size (Wh)

69

Operating system

Windows 10

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