Last week we finally got our hands on the Galaxy Book S, Samsung’s ultra-portable laptop. On the outside, the Galaxy Book S appears to be a normal Windows 10 laptop, albeit in an impressively thin housing.
But this isn’t your typical laptop. Inside is a processor you’d normally expect to find inside a smartphone — and yes, that means it has built-in 4G LTE connectivity. It runs Windows 10, but there are some app limitations that could make or break your purchasing decision.
After a week of testing, we’ve come away convinced that the Galaxy Book S is a preview of our computing future – a future that we fully welcome.
Thin, light and just right
Inside the housing of the Galaxy Book S is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor. The ARM-based processor is the same type that’s used inside smartphones and tablets. That allows Samsung to shrink down the overall size of the Galaxy Book S thanks, in part, to the lack of fans. The Book S weighs slightly more than 2 pounds, making it light enough that you could almost forget it’s in your backpack.
When shopping for a Galaxy Book S, you won’t find any customization options for its specifications. Samsung makes just one model, with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage. A combo micro SD and SIM card slot slides out from the side of the Galaxy Book S. You can add up to 1TB of storage via the micro SD card.
The 13.3-inch touchscreen display has a standard HD resolution (1920 x 1080), but it looks much clearer than that. At one point, we double-checked the system settings to make sure the resolution wasn’t higher than 1080p. When watching some gamers on Twitch, we thought the colors weren’t oversaturated, but instead were crisp and clear, even when there was a lot of movement. Blacks were dark, and didn’t blend in with different shades of gray. If anything, the screen is slightly too reflective if there are a lot of overhead lights or in direct sunlight, but adjusting the display’s brightness to 100 helped offset most of the glare.
On the right side is a lone USB-C port, with another USB-C port and a headphone jack on the left side. Either port can be used to charge the laptop or for tasks like syncing your phone.
There’s a 720p HD webcam above the display. Beneath it is a full-size keyboard, with a power button in the top right corner that doubles as a fingerprint reader. The keyboard was oddly satisfying to use. The keys are somewhat shallow, requiring very little pressure to activate, and pop back into place almost instantaneously. The trackpad is centered with the laptop’s housing and, we have to say, is one of the laptop’s most disappointing features.
Throughout a week of daily use, we found that the invisible line on the trackpad differentiating where a left click ends and a right click begins seemed to move around. Usually, the lower right corner is reserved for right clicks, but we’ve accidentally right-clicked many times — and most of them happened when pressing about halfway up the pad. Other times, when trying to right-click on something, we couldn’t trigger it no matter how many times we tried.
Left or right click issues aside, the trackpad is otherwise responsive, and one thing we really appreciate is that it’s big enough to drag files across the desktop.
Performance and app compatibility
The Galaxy Book S uses an ARM processor. It’s a type of processor that’s commonly found in mobile devices, like an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone. There are core (and very nerdy) differences in how an ARM processor works when compared with the far more common Intel or AMD processor, with the ARM processor requiring less energy, for example. But those differences also mean that developers have to build their apps specifically for an ARM processor, which, up to this point, has rarely been used in a laptop. As such, app compatibility is one area that you need to pay attention to with laptops like the Surface Pro X or Galaxy Book S. Of primary concern are 64-bit apps, such as Adobe Photoshop, which won’t run on the Galaxy Book S.
During our testing, we were able to install nearly all of the core apps we use to work every day: the new Edge browser (Microsoft’s latest Chrome competitor), Typora, Slack, Discord, Outlook, 1Password, VLC, and a VPN app for work.
We installed the Epic Games launcher to try to install Fortnite, but it’s not possible (exactly what we expected). That said, we were able to install and play Minecraft without any issues.
Apple’s iTunes is painfully slow and, to us, simply unusable. It installs and runs, but there’s a long wait with every click or scroll while the app loads or refreshes. Our password manager of choice, 1Password, is slow, but eventually it gets the job done.
Part of our testing involved running a couple of benchmark programs. These are programs that Underscored uses with every review to get a quantitative result for the given device. In this case, the Book S got put through its paces with common tasks, intense graphic rendering and general stress tests. We used PCMark 10, and the Book S scored a 4,493 during the PCMark 10 Applications test. This number won’t mean much, since we don’t have anything to compare it with, but at least going forward we’ll have a baseline to compare other ARM-based laptops with here at CNN Underscored.
Outside of the two apps we already mentioned, overall performance on the Galaxy Book S was impressive. Apps loaded fast, even as we multitasked by installing the Office suite and bouncing between apps at the same time. We didn’t install or use Chrome, as we instead chose the Chromium-based Edge browser. We were zipping around websites and YouTube without the same sluggish performance in Chrome we experienced when testing the Surface Pro X.
One of, if not the, headlining features of the Galaxy Book S is its battery life. Samsung touts up to 25 hours of continuous video playback, an astronomical number for any laptop.
To test that claim out in the wild, we played a 4K video clip on repeat using VLC, with the display brightness set to 50%, Bluetooth and location services turned off, and the keyboard backlight disabled. Using a Wyze camera, we recorded a time-lapse video and, to our surprise, the Book S lasted 14 hours and 47 minutes. To put that into context, the entire Harry Potter series is right around 20 hours. So, in essence, you could watch 75% of the Harry Potter series on a single charge. Pretty bonkers.
The likelihood that any of us will binge-watch nearly 15 hours of video on a laptop is low, so how does the battery perform under normal, everyday use? It’s just as impressive.
We were able to go two days between charges with a mix of light and heavy use on Wi-Fi and LTE connections. It’s not far-fetched that we got around 10 hours of consistent use, with the screen brightness set to 100 at all times.
So, who is the Galaxy Book S for?
The Galaxy Book S is one of the most compelling laptops we’ve ever used and tested. It’s a mobile-first device designed with portability and connectivity in mind, but the apps it can run are full-fledged PC apps.
There are compatibility issues that Microsoft, Samsung, Qualcomm and developers will have to work through, but the app issues we did experience were few and far between.
We think the Galaxy Book S is best suited for someone who is always on the move, or at least wants the option of being mobile, and who doesn’t require professional video or photo editing tools.
At $999, the Galaxy Book S is priced to compete with the larger iPad Pro or the Surface Pro X — and it even includes a keyboard.
Note: The price above reflects the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.