As the thin, sleek laptops otherwise known as ultrabooks continue to wend their way through the computing landscape, two things will start to matter more than anything else: design and price. The Samsung Series 5 Ultra is a line of ultrabooks priced far more reasonably than the impressive but dear Samsung Series 9 (which technically doesn't carry Intel's trademarked ultrabook stamp of approval). Yet, on the surface at least, the Series 5 retains a lot of the attractive look and trim design that the Series 9 had in spades.
We reviewed the 14-inch Series 5 Ultra already, which is a different beast altogether: equipped with a DVD drive, the 14-incher feels more like a thin "regular" laptop than anything ultrabookified. The 13-inch Series 5 Ultra meshes more naturally into the MacBook Air and ultrabook landscape. No optical drive. No dedicated graphics. No tweener features. Just a slim chassis, a quick-booting drive, and a spare number of ports.
Actually, in that regard, the Series 5 Ultra is a step ahead of most, as the included Ethernet port, HDMI, USB 3.0, and SD card slot should fill the everyday user's every need. The 13-inch Ultra is somewhat affordable, too: it lists at $999 with a 128GB solid-state drive, but we found it online for as low as $850. A configuration with a 500GB hard drive goes for even less, at $850 or as low as $700).
The biggest problem with the Series 5, frankly, is that it isn't the Series 9. It feels more like a budget ultrabook, and it's hard to shake that feeling even after a few days with it. In my view, this laptop is better the less expensive you can get it, so go with the 500GB hybrid hard-drive version. At $999, I can't help thinking of the larger, less expensive, and better -- to me, at least -- HP Folio 13.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$999 / $849|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.4x8.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.04 pounds / 3.62 pounds|
As mentioned above, when we reviewed the 14-inch Series 5 Ultra, which had a tray-loading DVD drive, we remarked that it looked and felt less like an ultrabook and more like a thinner "normal" laptop. "Ultrabook" is Intel's marketing language for a defined set of features and chassis sizes, originally aimed at creating a Windows laptop with the chops of a MacBook Air. Intel's size guidelines are a little more forgiving for 14-inch ultrabooks, hence the larger Series 5's bulk.
The 13-inch version, on the other hand, is as sleek and light as you'd expect an ultrabook at this point to be. Comparisons with the Asus Zenbook, Acer Aspire S3, and even the Dell XPS 13 are apt. The Series 5 Ultra is 0.69 inch thick at its thickest point, and weighs 3.04 pounds. That's roughly the same size as the XPS 13: it's the same weight, length, and thickness, but the XPS 13 has 0.5 inch less depth to its footprint. The 13-inch Asus Zenbook and Acer Aspire S3 are a little bigger. The HP Folio 13 is bigger and heavier.
Bottom line: there's no "ultrabook drift" in this laptop. The 13-inch Series 5 Ultra is a true ultrabook by anyone's definition, and it's smaller than you'd expect a 13-inch laptop to be.
So, the inevitable question: how does it compare with a MacBook Air? The Series 5 has an undeniably more plastic feel, although some parts are aluminum. It has a smaller footprint than the 13-inch MacBook Air, but it's a little thicker and over a half pound heavier. The Air has it beat with its thin, all-metal blade design, without a doubt, but that doesn't mean this system isn't attractive and surprisingly small.
This laptop slides comfortably into the Samsung laptop design spectrum. Remember the small Samsung Series 3? It's a little like that, but better-built. The sleek, curved edges, meanwhile, are reminiscent of the more expensive Series 9, but translated into a more functional, more pedestrian design. It's got a smaller footprint than last year's first version of the 13-inch Series 9, too, but it's a bit heavier than that laptop as well.
Size and weight are no small factor when it comes to ultrabooks; after all, most of the other internal features are pretty similar to other machines in its class. In some way, the field of 13-inch ultrabooks reminds me of 10-inch Atom Netbooks once upon a time: when every one has similar specs, design and ergonomics become chief factors.
The Series 5, from an ergonomic standpoint, is hit and miss. The position of the keyboard, the size of the large touch pad, and the clean, comfortable feel are theoretically advantages. Look more closely, and you'll see the seams. The screen opens well enough on its slightly stiff hinge, but the bezel has some flex. The shallow raised keys on the keyboard aren't backlit like on some ultrabooks (and the MacBook Air), and the somewhat mushy key feel isn't as good as the Series 9's. That large touch pad, instead of being a clickpad, has plastic buttons underneath. That might not bother anyone much. It's not the best touch pad I've ever seen, but it's a lot better than some ultrabook touch pads from last year (Asus Zenbook, I'm looking at you).
The 13.3-inch screen on the Series 5 Ultra has a matte antiglare coating, just like other recent Samsung laptops. The shift from glossy screen coatings is welcome, as it makes text far more readable, and movies more watchable.
The 1,366x768-pixel resolution is standard for a 13-inch laptop, although we've seen some ultrabooks outdo this resolution lately. Colors look sharp, and viewing angles remain sharp at horizontal angles (though vertically it degrades quickly). It's not as good as the screen on last year's original Series 9, but it's more than acceptable.