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Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015) review: A slim 12-inch laptop that doesn't skimp on ports

The Windows mirror image of Apple's 12-inch MacBook, Samsung adds more ports, but loses battery life.

Dan Ackerman
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
7 min read

Before Apple even announced its slim, lightweight 12-inch MacBook , Samsung had already released a nearly identical product. First seen at CES 2015, the Samsung Ativ Book 9 matches the nearly spec for spec.


Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015)

The Good

Samsung fits a good number of ports into its very slim 12-inch Ativ Book 9. The system gets the best battery life to date from a Windows system running a Core M processor.

The Bad

Shorter battery life than Apple's very similar 12-inch MacBook, and a matching configuration costs more. The lack of a touch screen and small touch pad aren't ideal for Windows 8.

The Bottom Line

This very usable 12-inch laptop is a good, if expensive, tool for websurfing and casual use, but would benefit from better battery life.

Both systems have 12-inch displays with better-than-HD resolutions, both use Intel's Core M processor, both have premium-feeling designs and are very slim and light, with each weighing just a hair over two pounds.

Side by side, they're very similar, so why does the MacBook have an edge in our head-to-head comparison? While Samsung is among the most forward-looking companies making Windows PCs (it practically invented the ultrabook concept with the original Series 9), this new 12-inch Book 9 falls short in a few key areas.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The MacBook has longer battery life than the Samsung, and significantly so. The keyboard and touchpad on the Book 9 are good for such a small laptop, but not as good for long-form typing or for OS navigation as the MacBook versions are. Lastly, the Ativ Book 9, if configured with the same 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD as the MacBook, costs $100 more, at $1,399 (£1,399 in the UK, but not currently available in Australia). It's tough to sell a laptop that's very similar to a buzz-heavy new MacBook by saying it costs more and its battery doesn't last as long. However, a less-expensive version of the Book 9, with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, is less than the MacBook, at $1,199 (£1,199 in the UK).

One area where Samsung beats Apple is in ports and connections. While the new MacBook has the new USB-C connector, which is very forward-looking and will eventually be everywhere, it's the only port of any kind on that system (aside from a headphone jack). Samsung proves you can squeeze more into a similarly slim system by including two USB 3.0 ports and Micro-HDMI, alongside an audio jack and a proprietary power connection.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Yes, the 12-inch MacBook is flashier and more fun to use. But, especially compared to other Windows 8 laptops, the Samsung Book 9 also has a very premium look and feel, is powerful enough for everyday online tasks, and has a keyboard and touchpad good enough for most typing and navigation needs. Neither system has a touchscreen, but that omission is more noticeable in the touch-centric world of Windows 8. If Samsung could boost the battery life, and at least match the MacBook spec-for-price, it would earn a stronger recommendation.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015)

Price as reviewed $1,199
Display size/resolution 12-inch, 2,560, x 1,600 screen
PC CPU 1.1Ghz Intel Core M 5Y31
PC Memory 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics 2005MB Intel HD Graphics 5300
Storage 125GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8.1 (64-bit)

Design and features

Several people have seen both the Samsung Book 9 and the 12-inch MacBook side by side in the CNET Lab and have expressed surprise that Apple's new design has already spawned copycats. In reality, we first saw this system in December 2014, and it was announced shortly afterward at CES 2015, more than two months before Apple gave notice of the 12-inch MacBook. So, while the long development cycle of computer hardware precludes any notion of design plagiarism, let's at least give Samsung some credit for getting its 12-inch Core M laptop out first.

Comparisons to the MacBook are inevitable, but as a standalone ultraportable laptop, the 12-inch Book 9 is very slick, indeed. In the hand, it's incredibly light, but still feels sturdy and well-constructed. One of the reasons it's so small is that this model moves to Intel's Broadwell-generation Core M CPU, a processor designed for very slim laptops, tablets and hybrids that sell at a premium price and can even run without a fan.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Visually, it's very similar to other recent Book 9 systems, with a matte-metallic finish, black island-style keyboard, and relatively large touch pad. While 13-inch laptops have always been the sweet spot between productivity and portability, this and the 12-inch MacBook both have me reconsidering that convention, as the savings in desk footprint and weight may well be worth the screen-size tradeoff.

The keyboard gets squeezed down a bit more than full-time typists might like in order to fit. The island-style keys are spaced widely enough to prevent much mistyping, but the actual key faces are small, especially compared to the enlarged ones on the 12-inch MacBook. Keys such as the tab and backspace are especially small, as is the spacebar. The keys are, however, much deeper than on the MacBook and have a satisfyingly hefty click.

The touchpad is a generous size, and gestures such as two-finger scrolling work well, even in apps such as Google's Chrome Web browser, which can be a hangup for low-power systems. But this touchpad lacks the wider array of multitouch gestures that people love in MacBooks. In a Windows 8 laptop, having access to a touch screen can make up for some of that when it comes to quick navigation, but as there's no touchscreen here, just getting around the OS can be a chore.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Many PC makers have come to see the wisdom in offering a very stripped down set of preloaded apps. It helps performance, reduces on-screen and hard-drive clutter, and frankly, no one uses proprietary apps, which tend to be overly self-serving. It's been awhile since I've seen a custom toolbar/app launcher as comprehensive as the Samsung Smart Advisor. It lives along the top of the display, with a secondary quick-launch bar along the bottom, above the Windows 8 taskbar.

Dan Ackerman/CNET, Samsung

From the toolbar, you can perform such exciting tasks as ordering printer ink, buying a Samsung-branded $20 mouse from a very dated-looking online storefront, launching a weather widget, or just jumping the gun and trading in your hardware via an affiliate deal link with NextWorth. You can also customize the toolbar to show other features, such as an icon to launch the RealPlayer media app (I can't recall the last time I've seen that pre-installed on a PC).

The secondary toolbar, smaller and located at the bottom of the screen, is somewhat more useful, with links to support and settings menus, a customized start menu, and a launcher for SideSync, an app that can link a Samsung phone and computer, allowing you to mirror the phone screen on your PC.

The 12.2-inch display has a native resolution of 2,560x1,600, which is slightly higher than the 12-inch MacBook, although this system sticks with a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio for the screen. Also like the MacBook, it's a non-touch display. For touch in a Book 9, you'll have to trade up the the 13-inch version.

Joshua Goldman/CNET
I missed the touch more here than I would have on an OS X laptop, because Windows 8, especially its tile interface, is built around occasional touch interaction, especially when using the sidebar to search for files and apps or to connect to Wi-Fi networks.

The screen is glossy but not overly so, and it presents clear, bright colors. Like many other non-touch Windows laptops, it lacks an edge-to-edge glass overlay, instead surrounding the screen with a pronounced bezel.

Ports and connections

Video Micro-HDMI
Audio 3.5mm heaphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0

Connections and performance

Samsung proves that you don't have to ditch all of your ports and connections to make a slim laptop. While Apple strips its 12-inch system down to a single USB-C port, the Book 9 fits in two USB 3.0 ports and a Micro-HDMI output.

Sarah Tew/CNET
As is to emphasize why this Book 9 and the Apple MacBook are being so closely compared, both use Intel's 1.1GHz Core M 5Y31 processor. The configuration we tested has only 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, while the MacBook's lowest-end configuration doubles both of those. It's not surprising then that the Samsung was slower in some of our benchmark tests, but only notably so in the challenging multimedia multitasking test.

As with the MacBook, the Core M here is fine for everyday websurfing, email, social media, light photo editing, and even streaming HD video. While some of the earlier Core M systems we tested felt sluggish even at these tasks, PC makers seem to be better able to optimize for that CPU now then they could previously.

Another trouble spot for Core M so far has been battery life. Apple solved this problem by making its 12-inch MacBook practically all battery, squeezing the components into a tiny motherboard which resulted in its running for 11:03 in our video-playback battery-drain test. The Samsung at least scored the best out of any of the Windows-based Core M laptops to date, running for 7:37 on the same test. That's still far from what even very slim Core i5 laptops can do, and heavy Internet use will drive that number down even more.

Sarah Tew/CNET


It's rare that we get an opportunity to test a pair of Windows and OS X laptops so close in configuration, features, and design, and within weeks of each other. The Ativ Book 9 can safely be called a good alternative to the MacBook if you want something slim and light with a 12-inch higher-res screen, but need to run Windows.

Samsung takes the win in offering more ports, deeper keys on its keyboard, and a lower overall starting price, but the MacBook wins for battery life, overall keyboard and touchpad usability, and for having a lower price for the same 256GB storage configuration.

Handbrake Multimedia Multitasking test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 370Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) 428Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) 465Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015) 563Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro 682
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) 263Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 268Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro 294Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) 307Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015) 311
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Apple iTunes encoding test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 107Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) 112Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) 130Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015) 130Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro 142
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Video-playback battery-drain test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 1080Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) 747Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) 726Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015) 457Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro 346
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015) Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.1GHz Intel Core M-5Y31; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2,005MB (shared) Intel HD 5300 Graphics; 128GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2,000MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 128GB SSD
Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.1GHz Intel Core M-5Y60; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5300; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) Yosimite OSX 10.10.2; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 6000; 128GB SSD
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) Yosemite OSX 10.10.2; 1.1GHz Intel Core M-5Y31; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 5300; 256GB SSD


Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Battery 7
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