Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook Review
Up until last week, you figured all this talk of law firms going paperless was just theoretical, but there it was, sitting in your inbox: the notice from district court telling you that you would have to file everything electronically from now on. Well, what the hell, you figured. If the courts are doing it, maybe you should, too. You went out and bought a document scanner and got hooked. Now you scan everything in sight, including junk mail from the CLE companies. But now that all your files are digital and backed up to the cloud, you figure you’ll need a nice, lightweight laptop to take your files along to court.
You could get a Macbook Air, but you aren’t exactly new at this, and let’s face it, a Macbook Air is for young, hipster lawyers who don’t know which side of the courtroom to sit on. You want something that says experience, but not Luddite. You want something sleek, but professional.
Well, here’s your computer. The Samsung Series 9 is essentially the same size and weight as the Macbook Air, and just as powerful with nearly the same battery life. The screen resolution (1366 × 768) is about the only metric where it falls behind the Air, but you won’t care because the matte finish won’t reflect the glare of the fluorescent courtroom ceiling lights the way the Air’s does. More importantly, the Series 9 is very sleek and professional-looking, like it belongs in a boardroom or courtroom, not an artsy-fartsy coffee shop. It goes with a suit, not ripped jeans and vintage t-shirts. For bonus points, it looks a bit like a folder (albeit a futuristic one) bulging with paper, a subtle reference to the piles of wood pulp you recently left behind.
What’s an ultrabook, you ask? It doesn’t matter, really. Intel just made up the term. It’s thin, light, and powerful, with great battery life. To the extent ultrabook means anything, it means Macbook Air copycats. To the extent the word is useful, it means a Windows laptop you probably want. Actually, in the case of the Series 9, it definitely means a Windows laptop you want.
Features and price
One of the reasons ultrabooks are getting so good is that solid-state hard drives coupled with good-enough, low-power processors add up to a speedy, capable machine with great battery life in a featherweight package.
The 1.7 GHz Core i5 processor in the Series 9 may not sound like much next to the 2.8 GHz Core i7 processors available in some full-spec laptops, but the solid-state hard drive makes up for the difference. The Series 9 boot in seconds and has plenty of go-juice for drafting briefs in Microsoft Word, scanning documents, and watching deposition videos. Unless you are doing intense video editing, it has plenty of speed.
There aren’t a lot of ports on the Series 9, but it does have the essentials: two USB ports, a micro SD port, a headphone/microphone jacke, and an HDMI port (that requires an included dongle to actually use) hiding under flip-down panels on both sides.
You will notice that, like all ultrabooks, the Series 9 does not have an optical (CD/DVD) drive. That’s because you really don’t need one anymore, especially on a laptop. When is the last time you used the optical drive on your laptop, after all? When was the time before that? See.
If you do use an optical drive frequently enough that it needs to be permanently attached to your laptop, then this is not the computer for you. But for most of us, an optical drive is something we use only occasionally, and then almost always while sitting at our desk. That’s why I replaced the optical drive in my ThinkPad with a battery slice over a year ago. I’ve put the CD drive in once that I can recall in order to install some software.
IF you intend to use an ultrabook as your primary computer, get a cheap external CD/DVD drive and leave it at your desk. The Series 9 is meant to be carried around without accessories.
When it was first released, the Series 9 cost about $1,650. Fortunately, the price has dropped since then, and you can pick one up now for around $1,000 on Amazon. That’s a great deal; a 13″ Macbook Air with essentially identical specs costs another $300.
Hardware and design
The Series 9 is very good-looking. It is designed to look like a metal folder, if the folder were made of duralumin, an aircraft-grade material that Samsung claims is lighter and stronger than aluminum. Whatever the marketing claims, the Series 9 is very light and very strong.
It’s hard to convey just how thin (.64″) and light (2.88 lbs.) the Series 9 is, but if you have handled a 13-inch Macbook Air, it’s about the same. If you haven’t, at just under 3 pounds it’s closer to picking up a couple of legal pads than picking up a laptop. It’s plenty stiff, as well. You can pick it up from a corner without much flexing.
The brushed finish is very attractive and nice to touch, but it picks up fingerprints like crazy. You might want to wipe down the lid with the included cloth to make the best impression.
The keyboard on the Series 9 is really good. It’s similar to the keyboard on the Chromebook I tested, but the keys feel even more solid. It’s also similar to the Apple keyboard I use with my Windows PC and iPad. That’s a good thing. The Apple keyboard is one of the best I’ve used. This Samsung keyboard may be even better.
The trackpad is actually pretty good, too, if you tweak the settings a bit. It is much better than any other buttonless trackpad I have used on a Windows machine. I had a hard time with it, at first, because the sensitivity is set quite high by default, and features like drag-and-drop (without clicking) are turned on. This meant windows were regularly flying around the screen as accidental brushes with the trackpad set things off. Once I dialed back the trackpad’s sensitivity and turned off tap-to-click and drag-and-drop, however, it was a pleasure to use.
Samsung seems like it was determined not to compromise with the Series 9. They keyboard is great, the trackpad is as good as Windows gets, and the screen is a thing of beauty. Viewing angles (which matter if you want to show something to someone sitting next to you) are very good. The screen washes out when tilted towards you, but it remains very readable when tilted in any other direction. Most importantly, it is a matte screen, bucking the recent trend of glossy laptop screens that reflect any glare in the vicinity. I’m a huge fan of matte screens, and this one is excellent.
After the lightning-fast wake-ups of the Chromebook I just tested, waking up the Series 9 from suspend felt pokey and tentative. That’s how Windows usually feels, but it was a pretty stark contrast. With a Macbook or Chromebook, you don’t even have time to say “hold on a sec” while your computer wakes up. The screen is on as soon as you open the lid, and wireless is available a moment later.
With a Windows laptop—including this one—you have time to get out “hold on a sec while this wakes up … come on, internet!” before you can actually use your computer. Does this matter? Well, yes and no. A few more seconds are never the end of the world, but I’ve had to unpack my computer to get information to respond to a question from a judge, and I don’t like keeping the judge waiting any longer than I have to. It makes me feel like a presenter griping about PowerPoint and projectors for the billionth time, like I don’t know what I’m doing with this fancy laptop I hauled along to court.
On the other hand, the Series 9′s wake-up times aren’t any worse than any other Windows PC I have used, so I can hardly dock it any points.
Battery life is pretty good. The always-optimistic Windows battery meter estimated a little over 6.5 hours on a full charge. Other reviewers with more sophisticated battery-testing procedures than I have put the number between about 4 and 5 hours [Engadget (4:20); Gizmodo (5:10) PC Magazine (5:14)]. Those numbers sound right to me. 5 hours is great, out of the box, and not far off the real-world results of the Macbook Air (about 30 minutes more). For normal use, that’s effectively all-day computing, and it means you won’t have to rush for the seats next to the outlets at every conference.
The Series 9 comes loaded down with a small-to-medium amount of bloatware. I didn’t find myself frantically trying to remove all the pre-loaded software like I usually do with a new laptop, but I did take the time to replace the intrusive Norton Internet Security with Microsoft Security Essentials. If this were my own laptop, I would also remove some of the included crapware, like the Bing toolbar, Cyberlink YouCam, and a few of Samsung’s “easy” apps that merely duplicate built-in Windows functions. The PC Decrapifier makes this easy, and it’s one of the first things I use on any new computer.
Running other software, the Series 9 feels plenty zippy, even if it isn’t quite as fast as my trusty ThinkPad T400, which sports a 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo and 8 GB of RAM, but only a 5400 RPM hard drive. Starting Word, for example, takes just a heartbeat longer on the Series 9. It handles web browsing in Chrome just fine, but stumbles like the Lenovo Q180 did when streaming HD video from Netflix. I suspect that means it won’t do much good with iTunes or Photoshop, either. So it will be just fine for getting real work done, but it’s no multimedia powerhouse.
Who should buy this?
The Samsung Series 9 is an excellent laptop, and most reviewers rate it the best Windows competitor to the Macbook Air. I agree. This is the ultrabook I would buy. Samsung really focused on the most-important parts of the user experience: the keyboard, trackpad, and screen. All are a pleasure to use, and when put together, they make the Series 9 feel like an integrated, well-implemented computer instead of a bunch of parts bolted together, the way many Windows PCs feel. It looks really good, too, and without trying to slavishly copy the Macbook Air the way some ultrabook manufacturers have done.
If you are in the market for a new laptop, I think you should be looking at an ultrabook, anyway. If you are going to leave it on your desk all the time, go ahead and get any old laptop. If it’s plugged in, weight and battery life are hardly relevant. But if you carry your laptop around, whether to and from the office, court, or the coffee shop, get an ultrabook, and get this one.
The only real question is whether you should get this or a Macbook Air. The Air is definitely better, but only if you want to use OS X. If you want to stick with Windows, get the Series 9.
Reviewed by Sam Glover on .
Summary: With a great keyboard and overall design, and a good screen, trackpad, and battery life, the Samsung Series 9 is the all-around best Windows ultrabook available.
With the Series 9 ultrabook, Samsung really focused on the most important parts of the user experience: the keyboard, trackpad, and screen. All are a pleasure to use, and when put together, they make the Series 9 feel like an integrated, well-implemented computer. It also looks good without trying to slavishly copy the Macbook Air the way some ultrabook manufacturers have done.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)