The first version of the Samsung Series 9 debuted before the word "Ultrabook" had even been coined by Intel. It was a proto-ultrabook, a thin-and-light 13-inch laptop that looked like a Windows variation of the MacBook Air, clad in black duralumin. The original 2011 Series 9 was far from affordable for a laptop -- it actually exceeded the cost of an Air at the time by several hundred dollars -- but few who saw it didn't lust after it.
We actually got a sneak peek at the new 2012 Series 9 back in January, but it's taken until now for Samsung's elite laptop to become a reality. After a long wave of ultrabooks and the debut of new Intel processors, the new Series 9 is sleeker, lighter, and more affordable than last year's version. Still, at $1,299 it's $100 more than the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Air, and it's considerably more expensive than the average 2012 Windows ultrabook sticker price of $999 or less. (Even though Samsung doesn't call the Series 9 an ultrabook on the box, it is one.)
Unboxing the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook
I reviewed the 15-inch version of the new Samsung Series 9 (with the older second-generation Intel Core i5 processor) this spring, and found its reduced footprint and bezel gave the laptop the feel of a thin 14-incher. The same is true for the 13-inch Series 9: the entire footprint is smaller, making the laptop feel almost like a 12-incher. It's the thinnest and lightest ultrabook I've ever seen (sorry, Acer Aspire S5, that even includes you).
What are the new Series 9's drawbacks? It's hard to think of any. Excellent battery life, superb build quality, and a bright, high-resolution (1,600x900-pixel) screen in a 2.6-pound frame make the new Series 9 a perfect portable hybrid, and one of the most impressive ultrabooks of the year.
|Price as reviewed||$1,299|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||4GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||128GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.3x8.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.6 pounds / 3.24 pounds|
The new Samsung Series 9 (it's even called "New Series 9" on the laptop itself) feels leaner, tighter, and less physically flexible than its 2011 predecessor. A clean, smooth hinge and an extremely thin, flat form make this 0.5 inch-thin laptop feel smaller than any other 13-incher around, including the 2012 MacBook Air.
And it is. At 2.6 pounds, the Series 9 weighs less and is slightly thinner at its thinnest point than the new Acer Aspire S5, the Dell XPS 13, or the 13-inch Air. It's not as small or light as an 11-inch Air (2.34 pounds), but it's close. Only the Sony Vaio Z, at 2.5 pounds, matches it in the 13-inch category based on laptops we've seen this year.
The new Series 9 is made out of a solid piece of aluminum, lending it the same rock-solid feel as Apple's laptops, and avoiding some of the flexible feel of the last-gen Series 9. It's the same construction concept that went into the new 15-inch version, but on a smaller scale. The profile is blade-thin, with a steely metallic edge that wraps around the sides. The outer surfaces are a matte, dark steel blue, and attract finger smudges way too easily. Keep a cloth handy.
Matching the ultraportable feel of the new Series 9, the included charger is equally slight...except that the narrow plug that jacks into the laptop pokes straight out, and the cable itself is thick.
The 12.3x8.6-inch footprint is smaller than that of the average 13-inch laptop, too, so it's easier to slip into a smaller bag. That also means a little less palm rest surface area, which I could feel when typing up this review. Any narrower and it would be frustrating.
The shallow raised keyboard has a similar key feel to the MacBook Air and, to some degree, the Sony Vaio T. The typing experience falls in between the two: better than the Vaio T, not as good as the Air. The keyboard is backlit, but the pale-blue lighting is so subtle that you might not notice it's there except in a very dark room. The upper keys (volume controls, screen brightness) require holding down the Fn key to activate.
The large, wide multitouch clickpad seems responsive at first, with a smooth matte surface conducive to two-finger gestures. However, the built-in Elan software sometimes interacts oddly with the touch pad, resulting in icons or windows being dragged or text being highlighted by accident. This problem has occurred on other Windows laptops for me, especially with tap-to-click turned on. It's a shame, but not a surprising one. And yes, it knocks the ergonomics of this laptop down a notch.
The 13.3-inch matte display is beautiful and bright: colors and text pop and look wonderfully crisp, more so than on the 15-inch Series 9. Viewing angles are also superb, and text can be read off the screen even at maximum tilt. The screen is higher-res than many 13-inch laptops at 1,600x900 pixels. Some rare 13-inchers are full 1080p, but 1,600x900 feels like a better resolution at this size. The effective desktop area becomes larger, and icons are smaller, but not enough to be annoying.
Stereo speakers are seated below the front edge of the laptop, and while they have crisp definition for music or movies, they're not particularly loud. In a quiet room, it was still hard to hear some dialogue in a Netflix streaming movie. Headphones are still a better option.