Samsung Series 7 Ultra review: Nice, but you may want to wait for the update

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MSRP: $1,059.99

The Good The aluminum-bodied Samsung Series 7 Ultra looks and feels great. Excellent battery life; a very nice 1080p touch screen; a comfortable backlit keyboard and a responsive, large clickpad.

The Bad The Series 7 has two USB 2.0 ports but only one USB 3.0, and, as with most ultrabooks, the battery is nonremovable and there is no optical drive. It has an older processor and integrated graphics.

The Bottom Line The shiny Samsung Series 7 Ultra has a long battery life and nice design, but its now-older processor gives us pause.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 8
  • Support 7

Editors' note: The Samsung Series 7 Ultra has been renamed the Samsung Ativ Book 7.

The Samsung Series 7 is a really nice ultrabook, and a few months ago it would have been easy to recommend. That was back before Intel announced its fourth-generation Core i-series processors.

Now, that doesn't all of a sudden make this not worth buying; it is still a solid laptop both in performance and design. And, so far, we're not seeing huge leaps in actual computing performance between the old and new processors. What we are seeing from Intel's new Haswell processors, though, as promised, is a contribution to better battery life. The Series 7 Ultra has excellent battery life already, but we have some hesitation about recommending the current version given the possibility of an updated version that could last even longer thanks to a new processor.

That, and it's currently about $1,000.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
The Series 7 Ultra looks and feels like a modern notebook. It's clean and uncluttered with nothing more than simple Samsung branding on the brushed aluminum lid. In fact, the whole body is aluminum, so it not only looks nice, but feels strong and sturdy.

Fan vents are hidden behind the screen hinge and there are a couple more on the bottom, but they're enough to keep the Series 7 from getting uncomfortably warm. Like many ultrabooks, it has no optical drive and the battery is nonremovable. However, the entire bottom panel can be taken off should you need to poke around inside.

The system is light enough for a daily commute or carrying around campus, but not so light that you'll forget it's there. If you need something that's as light as possible, consider the Sony Vaio Pro or Apple MacBook Air, though be prepared to spend more money.

Samsung Series 7 Ultra Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 Sony Vaio T13 Acer Aspire S7
CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U
Memory: 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000 (32MB shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000 (32MB shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000 (32MB shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000 (128MB shared)
Chipset: Intel HM77 Intel HM77 Intel HM77 Intel HM77
Storage: 128GB SSD 128GB SSD 500GB HDD, 5,400rpm with 32GB SSD 256GB SSD
Screen size: 13.3 13.3 13.3 13.3
Resolution: 1,920x1,080 pixels 1,600x900 pixels 1,366x768 pixels 1,920x1,080 pixels
System/travel weight 3.5 pounds/4.2 pounds 3.5 pounds/4.2 pounds 3.7 pounds/4.6 pounds 2.9 pounds/3.5 pounds
Dimensions (HWD) 0.7 inch by 12.8 inches by 8.8 inches 0.7 inch by 13.1 inches by 8.9 inches 0.8 inch by 12.7 inches by 8.9 inches 0.5 inch by 12.7 inches by 8.8 inches
OS Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit)
Price: $1,099.99 $999 $899.99 $1,499.99

The keyboard and clickpad match the silver body. The large, flat keys don't have much travel -- typical for laptops this thin -- but they do have a certain amount of pop that lets you know you've hit them.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard is backlit and not just around the edges of the keys, but the letters are translucent so those light up, too. This makes the keys easier to see in the dark, but more difficult to read when not lit. The function keys are mapped to things like volume and screen and keyboard brightness, turning on a silent mode that quiets fan noise, and pulling up a settings panel for adjusting the display, audio, power management, clickpad, and wireless and wired network connections. A function lock button lets you tune things without reaching for the Fn key, too.

The clickpad is responsive and has a satisfying click when you press it. If you choose to use it, though, the multitouch gesture support pretty much keeps you from ever having to click. Actions like two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom work well and there's a simple application for turning on and off different commands. Also, despite my best efforts, the palm rejection worked well, so I didn't experience any cursor jumps while typing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 1080p display is definitely a highlight. The Series 7 is available with or without a touch screen; the former is glossy, while the latter has a matte finish. I tested the touch screen, which performed flawlessly as I swiped and tapped my way around the Windows 8 interface or moved around windows and files. Off-angle viewing is excellent, with no issues viewing from the top, bottom, or sides.

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