Samsung Series 9 is here: Unboxing, hands-on

Samsung's rival to Apple's MacBook Air is here at CNET, complete with its own fancy packaging.

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Updated at 12:22 p.m. with latest impressions and comparison pics with the MacBook Air.

Well, it's finally arrived at CNET's offices: the Samsung Series 9 laptop showed up on our doorstep in a smooth black box with metal trim.

Samsung's competitor to the superthin MacBook Air has been a heavily talked-about laptop ever since its debut at CES 2011. In person, it's even better-looking than we remembered. Cool brushed black metal on the outside and curved lines give way to a sleek black interior, like a black MacBook Air. It's extremely thin--easily one of the thinnest Windows laptops we've ever seen--and it's also pretty light. How much like a MacBook Air is it? Check out the comparison photos below for yourself.

First impressions
First off, while the laptop's been referred to as the Samsung Series 9, the name of our model as given on the packing slip is the less poetic Samsung 900X3A.

Yes, it's a great-feeling laptop. Thin, lightweight, cool metal, sleek lines: if ever a Windows 7 lover dreamed of getting his or her own MacBook Air, the Series 9 is it. Plus, a rarity: our Series 9 has a matte 13-inch display.

The keyboard is nearly the exact same size as on the 13-inch MacBook Air; the keys feel comfortable and respond fast, and they're a little shallower in terms of key height than in other laptops. They're generously spaced, at least, and we were able to type pretty quickly. But, alas: media control keys along the top aren't function-reversed (meaning that you'll need to press Fn plus the "volume up" key). A small gripe.

The touch pad's a bit smaller than the MacBook Air's, but far bigger than on other Windows laptops. The Synaptics clickpad is devoid of buttons, with click zones under the front half of the pad. The matte surface offers some friction--more so than the glass trackpad on Apple's laptops--and very smooth multitouch, with understated clicking. If you're a tapper (I am) it works great for tap-to-click, too.

Ports
Unlike the new MacBook Airs, the Series 9's ports are accessible via flip-down panels much like the first-gen Air. Flip panels flank the left and right sides of the laptop. A microSD card slot, two USB ports (one of them a sleep-and-charge), a Mini-HDMI port, a headphone jack, and a funky proprietary port with a pack-in dongle for Ethernet are included. The small cell-phone-size charger plugs into a port on the rear of the left side panel, jutting out a bit but keeping a low profile.

Quick start-up
Samsung boasts that the Series 9 boots up to 60 percent faster than hard-drive-based Windows laptops. It certainly booted quickly for us, but it didn't seem to leap to life quite as quickly as the MacBook Air. However, the Series 9 has another trick up its sleeve: closing the lid puts the system into hibernation, powering off the system completely. Opening the lid and waking from hibernation only takes about 3 seconds. Most people will use the laptop this way, and it's a speedy wake-up call indeed.

Internal specs
As for the CPU, it's an Intel Core i5-2547M, running at 1.4GHz. It operates at a slower speed than other Sandy Bridge laptops, more equivalent to the MacBook Air. We tried running a preliminary Street Fighter IV benchmark out of curiosity--we'll get more detailed formal results later on, but the integrated Sandy Bridge Intel graphics were capable of running the benchmark, although at lower-than-desired frame rates. Still, this laptop should be capable of playing some games. A 128GB SSD drive and 4GB of RAM are included in this $1,649 configuration.

Yes, $1,649 is a lot to pay, especially since that's more than even the highest-end $1,599 13-inch MacBook Air (which, though offering half the RAM, comes with twice the SSD storage at 256GB). However, the Samsung's sleek looks and beautiful feel offer nearly the same experience as an Air. Is it worth the investment? Check back in for our full benchmark results and review as soon as we're done putting the Series 9 through our tests.

 

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