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Samsung's pricey new Ativ Book 9 Pro and Spin look like worthy MacBook competitors

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People are still surprised when I tell them Samsung makes laptops -- even though the company has produced some pretty good ones over the past few years. Samsung used to make a great Chromebook, and its Book 9 Plus used to be one of the best alternatives to Apple's MacBook Air .

Now, the new $1,399 Samsung Ativ Book 9 Spin and $1,599 Ativ Book 9 Pro are challenging Apple's computers once again.

samsung-laptops-7446-001.jpg

Samsung's Ativ Book 9 Spin and Ativ Book 9 Pro are challenging the high-end laptop market.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Ativ Book 9 Pro is a 15-inch MacBook Pro competitor with a powerful processor, discrete Nvidia GeForce graphics and a gorgeous 15.6-inch, 3,840x2,160-pixel-resolution 4K touchscreen display, while the Book 9 Spin is sort of like a high-resolution touchscreen MacBook Air with a 360-degree hinge that lets the computer double as a tablet.

Both are shipping this November in the United States.

There are plenty of new Windows 10 computers these days with 4K screens, backflipping screens and all manner of processors inside. What makes these Samsung computers stand out?

I just got my hands on the new Book 9 Spin and Book 9 Pro for a few hours, and they felt pretty great. Unlike most ultrathin laptops, which use a mix of metal and plastic components, or have frames that bend and creak, both of these PCs have rigid aluminum unibody frames that feel like they could withstand a rough ride in a backpack.

These computers are machined from a single block of aluminum.

Josh Miller/CNET

Just like the MacBooks they hope to supplant, these computers are machined from a single block of aluminum -- only they're a nice sleek black with beveled, polished chrome edges, instead of Apple's traditional muted silver. The hinges feel strong, the keyboards feel pretty responsive (but thin), and the touchpads feel amazing for a Windows laptop both in terms of their slick surfaces and how quickly they respond to gestures. From what I can tell, Samsung picked some pretty great high-res touchscreens for these PCs, too.

Where many thin laptops skimp on connectivity (including previous Samsung computers), both of these computers have a host of full-size ports. Both the Spin and the Pro have three full-size USB 3.0 jacks and a full-size HDMI socket, while the Pro has a full-size SD slot and a USB Type-C jack that supports USB 3.1 data and DisplayPort 1.2 video output as well.

Both machines feature Intel Core i7 processors, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of fast solid-state storage and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, so you might be asking yourself: Why pick one over the other? The Book 9 Spin is smaller, nearly 2 pounds lighter, costs $200 less and has that backflipping screen, but the Pro has more processing power. It's packing a quad-core Intel Core i7, as well as a discrete GeForce GTX 950M graphics chip that should offer enough muscle to play a few games. Plus, it's got four speakers instead of the two in the Spin.

I'm only seeing one potential deal breaker so far: Samsung isn't promising nearly as much battery life as competing notebooks. While we've seen manufacturers quote 8 to 12 hours of battery life for a variety of new notebooks (and we often see less in real-world use), Samsung says we should expect 7.3 hours and 6.5 hours for the Book 9 Spin and Book 9 Pro respectively.

Samsung isn't promising nearly as much battery life in these laptops as on competing notebooks.

Josh Miller/CNET

Here's hoping those are conservative estimates, because other than potential battery life woes, the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro and Book 9 Spin look like they could be some pretty excellent laptops.

Discuss Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro

Quick Specifications See All

  • Type Core i7
  • Installed Size 8 GB
  • Edition Windows 10 Home
  • Capacity 256 GB
  • Diagonal Size 15.6 in
  • Chipset Type Intel HM170