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Hands-on with the Samsung Series 5 Ultra: Like a Series 9, but affordable

The Series 5 is a more mainstream and far more affordable alternative to the sleek Series 9, but with many of the same features.


For those who have been craving a more affordable Samsung ultrabook, here's your savior: the Series 5 Ultra.

Last year, the Samsung Series 9 nearly stole the show as one of the must-have laptops at CES, but the thin 13-incher--an ultrabook before the name ultrabook was coined--cost more than a MacBook Air.

This year, the Series 9 survives, in an even sleeker yet still expensive iteration. The Series 5 Ultra, which comes in both 13 and 14-inch varieties, starts at $899. That's the price we've come to expect from a Windows ultrabook, and surprisingly enough, the Series 5 Ultra looks like it hasn't made too many concessions to get there.

You'll notice right away from the photos that the Series 5 is thicker than the Series 9. Looks-wise, it resembles the Samsung Series 7 Chronos we reviewed last year, but slimmed down. The streamlined metal body weighs under four pounds, and is less than an inch thick.

Both Series 5 models, stacked. Scott Stein/CNET

The Series 5 also has a matte display, just like the Series 7 and Series 9. The 1,600x900 resolution screen has SuperBright technology, which means it should look as good as the Series 7 Chronos display (it won't look as spectacular as the Series 9's screen, though).

For those who didn't love the fold-down port doors on the Series 9, the good news is that Series 5 has fully-exposed ports, and more of them. A full-sized HDMI port, Ethernet, and SD card slot come standard, and a mini-VGA dongle is included in the box. The 13-inch Series 5 (NP530U3B-A01US) feels a lot like the HP Folio 13 in terms of its overall size.

Interestingly, the 14-inch version of the Series 5 Ultra (NP530U4B-A01US) comes with an optical drive, further blurring the line on what we think of as an ultrabook. In terms of storage options, the Series 5 can be equipped with either a 128GB SSD or with a more capacious 500GB standard SATA hard drive and 16GB of ExpressCache memory. We last saw that type of hybrid hard drive solution on the Acer Aspire S3, and it could be of interest to a potential ultrabook customer who wants more space for their media.

Based on a first hands-on look at the Series 5, the initial conclusion is it's certainly a hot-looking ultrabook--and it won't cost an arm and a leg to buy one. Still, in the wake of Intel's press conference and what we know about future Ivy Bridge processors, the Series 5 is decidedly a current-gen ultrabook, not a next-gen one. That makes me hesitant, and it should make you, a potential customer, hesitant too.

The Series 5 Ultra will be available this January. Click above to see photos taken in a brief hands-on session with both models.