Before ultrabook became the new buzzword in mobile computing, the Samsung Series 9 was the pinnacle of ultra-thin laptop PC.
Exhibiting style, portability and premium specifications, it was arguably the closest thing to a MacBook Air a Windows user could get.
Fast-forward to 2012 and the MacBook Air wannabes are everywhere – in the past month we've seen the Acer Aspire S7, Fujitsu Lifebook U772, Sony Vaio T series, Dell XPS 14 and XPS 15, Lenovo U310, HP Envy 4 Pro and Toshiba Satellite U840W all flying under the 'ultrabook' banner.
Entering this weight-obsessed climate is Samsung's new Series 9 Notebook – a stylish 15in ultraportable that packs a third-generation Intel processor inside a razor-thin duralumin enclosure. The result is a sleek and stylish laptop that doesn't skimp out on performance.
Under the hood
Samsung's latest Series 9 is the first model to offer Intel's new range of CPUs, colloquially known as 'Ivy Bridge'.
The version we tested came with an Intel Core i7-3517U which boasts two cores, a clock speed of 1.9GHz (3GHz with Turbo Boost) and Hyper-Threading technology for higher processing throughput. As you'd expect, this gives the Series 9 plenty of grunt when it comes to multitasking and processor-heavy applications.
Other noteworthy specifications include 8GB of DDR3 RAM, two USB 3.0 ports, an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU and a Samsung-branded 128GB SSD, all running on Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit).
Connectivity options are pretty reasonable for an ultra-thin laptop: you get micro-HDMI, a four-in-one memory card slot, a USB 2.0 port, the aforementioned USB 3.0, a headphone and microphone jack, Bluetooth V4.0 and inbuilt WiFi (802.11abg/n).
Ethernet and VGA are notably absent, though Samsung has included a proprietary adaptor in the sales package for wired connections.
This is one area where the Samsung Series 9 is really built to shine. Like its 2011 predecessor, it's one of the sleekest and most expensive looking laptops on the market. Even the power adaptor looks impressive this time around; having undergone the same 'extreme crash-diet' as its parent.
However, the star of the show is undoubtedly the laptop's curving duralumin enclosure. Chiefly used in aircraft construction, it's a lightweight metal alloy that purportedly boasts twice the strength of aluminium.
At just 14mm thick and weighing in at 1.65kg, the Samsung Series 9 is able to go toe-to-toe with the lightest of ultrabooks. It's the sort of laptop you can toss into a bag or briefcase and immediately forget you're carrying. This is doubly impressive when you consider its generous 15in display (by contrast, most ultrabooks have a 14in display or smaller).
While primarily aimed at fashion-conscious consumers, the Samsung Series 9 would also make a suitable business laptop thanks to its matte screen and 'mineral ash' finish.
The Samsung Series 9 sports a 15in matte LED screen with a native resolution of 1600x900 pixels.
Samsung is touting the Series 9 as having one of the brightest screens on the market, and it's certainly no slouch in this area. With a rating of 400nits, the display remains viewable even in direct sunlight.
The screen automatically adjusts brightness levels to suit its current environment; we found this reduced eyestrain while using the laptop in the dark.
We had no complaints with the display during testing; it exhibited wide viewing angles and rich colour reproduction. Meanwhile, the decision to eschew a high-gloss screen renders reflections almost non-existent.
If you're primarily looking for a multimedia laptop, the display will not disappoint.
Like many recent ultrabooks, Samsung has opted to squeeze the keyboard down to make room for a generously-sized touchpad and wrist rest. Subsequently, the Series 9 is somewhat compromised as a desktop replacement model (when using a mouse, all that wasted real-estate is painfully obvious).
On the plus side, the keyboard and touchpad are both highly responsive to touch. We experienced no problems with the touchpad which supports Scroll Scope, Flat Type, Gesture UI -- although the lack of visible buttons might take some getting used to.
Performance & battery
In PCMark7, which assesses a laptop's CPU responsiveness, media playback and multitasking, the Samsung Series 9 received an overall score of 4664, which compares very favourably to other high-end ultraportables on the market. It scored particularly well in the areas of video transcoding and system storage.
Battery life was also pretty solid, with the low-voltage specs helping to minimise battery drain during light use. In our Real World Benchmarks heavy use test, the Samsung Series 9 held out for three hours and five minutes; a reasonable result.
The Samsung Series 9 is a strong performer that easily matches the best ultrabooks on the market when it comes to style and portability. If you don't mind paying a bit extra for the premium trimmings, it's a solid contendor.
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Issue: 341 | August 2015