Are larger-scale ultrabooks the laptop version of "Dead man walking"? Well, it's a disconnect if you like ultrabooks for what they were originally promised to have: small-scale portability. Taking the thin splendor of a brilliantly executed 13-incher and going supersize feels a little like making the laptop version of Amazon's Kindle DX. Then again, the iPad succeeded at transcending being a big iPod Touch, so maybe anything's possible.
I felt more than a little deja vu handling the 15-inch Samsung Series 9 NP900X4B-A02, a larger version of the 13-inch Series 9 laptop that I fell in love with exactly one year ago. Actually, that's not entirely accurate: the new 15-incher is a large-scale version of the second-gen Series 9, which we took a peek at earlier this year.
The second-gen Series 9 is far better built, sleeker, and smaller, managing to slide into a footprint befitting a 12-inch laptop. Its big brother, this new 15-incher, goes in the opposite direction, a trend in ultrabooks we're seeing in laptops like the HP Envy 14 Spectre and Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 (even though Samsung doesn't call the Series 9 an ultrabook, it clearly is).
The larger version makes me feel like I've shrunk a bit, but it's still a gorgeous piece of equipment from a structural standpoint. The chassis, keyboard, and touch pad -- even the screen hinge -- have exactly the sturdy, clean design that anyone ponying up for a pricey, fancy laptop would hope for. The screen's big and bright, too, just like its predecessor's. What's not to like?
Well, first, the price: the 15-inch Series 9 NP900X4B-A02 will cost $1,499 when it debuts in late April. That's less than the $1,600-plus for last year's Series 9 13-incher, but it's still way up in the stratosphere. It's not unreasonable for a larger laptop, provided it also has better specs and performance than a tiny ultraportable computer.
That's problem No. 2: under the hood, the 15-inch Series 9 is really just the same as its soon-to-arrive 13-inch sibling. It has a Core i5 processor and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), and even that big screen has the same 1,600x900-pixel resolution. An included 8GB of RAM is the only notably lofty spec. There's no optical drive (of course), and there aren't even any extra full-size ports like Ethernet and HDMI; you'll need dongles or special cables, and only the Ethernet dongle comes in the box.
Still, there's no denying that the larger Series 9 is a beautiful computer. However, is it worth the $1,499 price, especially when even a MacBook Air costs less, and perfectly capable if slightly less sexy full-size laptops can be had for half of that? That's up to you. After all, Samsung makes a less thin but equally powerful Series 5 Ultra that's still reasonably slim but costs over $500 less. Also consider that, for $100 less, the next-generation 13-inch Samsung Series 9 will offer much of the same functionality, in a smaller size with half the RAM. I certainly would love a 15-inch Series 9 if it fell in my lap, but it's a lot of money for what you get. In this instance, you're truly getting a super-size ultrabook. You're paying for thin.
Larger-screen ultrabooks will be a trend throughout 2012, but I'm still not sure I get the motivation for larger, thinner laptops...even though this Series 9 is probably one of the best of them, if you're judging purely on style and feel.
Note: our review version came with Windows 7 Professional installed, but the retail version will ship with Windows 7 Home Premium.
|Price as reviewed||$1,499|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M|
|Memory||8GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||128GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||14x9.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.7 pounds / 4.3 pounds|
Steely gray all around, smooth matte metal surfaces, gleaming polished edges, and elegantly curved sides: the new Series 9 is one of the most impressively made laptops I've ever seen, and it feels as good as it looks. It leaves out any unnecessary flourishes or creaky bits that crept up on last year's model, in favor of a single-piece, all-metal, aluminum construction that's every bit as nice as a MacBook Air.
You'd think that taking the elegant efficiency of the 13-inch model and expanding it to a 15-incher would result in an awkward surplus of unused keyboard space or an extra-wide "surfboard" feel, but that isn't the case. Yes, the 15-inch version feels very wide and flat given its thinness, but I got used to that quickly and fell into the large screen with its compact bezel.
Part of what makes the design feel tight is the fact that this 15-inch-screen model fits into the footprint of a 14-inch laptop, according to Samsung. Indeed, this laptop's dimensions (14x9.3 inches) places it between a standard 14- and 15-inch laptop. It's nearly an inch wider than the 14-inch Series 5, and 0.3 inch deeper. A 15-inch MacBook Pro (which also has a slightly larger 15.4-inch screen) measures 14.35 inches by 9.8 inches. Incidentally, the original 13-inch Samsung Series 9 measured 12.9 inches by 8.9 inches, with a thickness of 0.64 inch, and weighed 2.92 pounds.
The most important metric might be thickness: at 0.58 inch, this is the thinnest 15-inch laptop I've ever come across. It weighs 3.68 pounds, which is also lighter than any 15-incher to my recollection (and is significantly lighter than many 14-inchers).
There's a question that arises: who needs a really thin 15-incher? This larger Series 9 isn't exactly ultraportable, and it's even a bit thicker than I would have imagined. Still, the laptop sits gracefully, has a wide-tilt screen hinge, and feels very comfortable. Because of this laptop's tweener size, after using it for a while you're likely to start feeling like it's not far from a 13-inch. It definitely rests easily in the lap, although the heat venting can run a bit warm.
The full-size raised keyboard has shallow keys, but it feels great to type on. The closest analog I've seen is a MacBook Air. In low light, a built-in backlight kicks in. It's subtle, but effective. The Samsung keyboard lacks a number pad and doesn't have function-reversed top keys (you need to press Fn to raise and lower volume, for instance), but other than a right-hand column of keys for Home/Page Up/Page Down, all keys are full-size and easy to access.
On the extra-large palm rest lies an extra-large multitouch clickpad, using Elan software. It feels as spacious as an Apple trackpad, with a large, matte-black and slightly recessed surface. Samsung posted a driver update during the process of my review that made the pad work a little more smoothly, especially for two-finger page scrolling, and overall it's better than average for a Windows laptop.
The 15-inch matte screen looks as great as the screen on the 13-inch version, although the 1,600x900-pixel resolution is slightly less astounding at this larger size. The screen looks very bright, almost shockingly so, head-on. However, it's a disappointment when viewed from off angles. From side to side it's got a passable range of readability, but from top to bottom the image blows out fast. The screen's so large and wide that the image can begin to degrade around the edges depending on where you're viewing it from, so center stage is best. The self-adjusting screen brightness auto sensor sometimes got finicky depending on where I placed my hand, too. That being said, from a direct viewing angle this is a premium laptop screen experience.
Stereo speakers seated under the laptop are fine for movies and TV shows, even music, but the audio quality resembles a loud pair of good but not great headphones. Plugging in your own headset will help matters.
The 1,280x1,024-pixel Webcam comes with CyberLink YouCam software and its requisite collection of absurd novelty effects. Video quality looked good, both for casual picture capture and Web chat.
|Samsung Series 9 NP900X4B-A02 (15-inch)||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||Micro-HDMI, VGA (needs dongle)||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet (needs included dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|