Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite review: Budget AMD-powered plastic letdown

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MSRP: $799.99

The Good The Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite has a touch screen, feels reasonably sleek, and handles everyday tasks reasonably well.

The Bad A plastic design, underwhelming display and battery life, and underpowered AMD processing.

The Bottom Line Samsung’s latest budget spin on a Windows touch-screen, AMD-powered, ultrabook-esque laptop has some flair, but the corners it cuts aren't worth the money saved.

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6.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 5
  • Battery 6

Sometimes it's pretty hard to tell what constitutes "low-cost" in a laptop. There are doorbuster, underpowered computers for $300, plenty of perfectly decent bargains for $500, and a wide swath of ultrabooks and gaming PCs that'll get as expensive as you let them.

The perfect sweet-spot $799 touch-screen Windows 8 ultrabook has been made already: we've reviewed several, in fact. But, those configurations tend to get discontinued.

The Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite has a retail list price of $799.99, but it's now sold most places for $749. It's a reasonably nice-looking variation on the Samsung Ativ Book 9 (formerly the Series 9) superthin laptop. But, corners have been cut. Instead of metal, it's made of plastic. And, most importantly, instead of an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, the Book 9 Lite is AMD-based, using a customized quad-core processor. So, it's not an ultrabook at all -- not technically, since that branding belongs to Intel -- but, like many previous AMD-powered "sleek" laptops such as the HP Sleekbooks, the idea is similar.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Do these changes make the Ativ Book 9 Lite a worse laptop? Well, yes. Is it still a functional, sleek, and solid computer? Yes, but you can do better. The Book 9 Lite loses some of the Samsung magic. It's just not a great laptop. And if you go bargain-hunting for last year's ultrabooks, there's a good chance one of those discontinued models could even be a better overall experience. I'd buy this product at $600, but not at $800. Hunt down one of those previous third-gen Intel touch-screen ultrabooks instead, unless you prefer Samsung's built-in Samsung Galaxy-friendly software...which you can also get on other, better Samsung laptops (read below on that).

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013) Sony Vaio Pro 13 Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus Acer Aspire S7- 392-6411
Price $799 $1,099 $2,200 $1,399 $1,399
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch, 1,366x768 touch screen 13.3-inch, 1,440x900 screen 13.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen 13.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen 13.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen
PC CPU 1GHz AMD A4 Quad-Core 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4250U 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U
PC memory 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz 8,192MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz
Graphics 512MB AMD Radeon HD 8250 1,024MB Intel HD Graphics5000 1,659MB Intel HD Graphics 4400 1,749MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400 128MB Intel HD Graphics 4400
Storage 128GB SSD 128GB SSD 128GB SSD 128GB SSD 128GB SSD
Optical drive None None None None None
Networking 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8 (64-bit) OSX Mountain Lion 10.8.4 Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit)

Design: plastic isn't always fantastic
I always loved the Samsung Series 9. The Ativ Book 9 Lite isn't exactly that laptop.

It does, however, have a lot of style...but it's a plastic type of style. The Book 9 Lite's dark-gray matte chassis immediately feels heavier and thicker, but only in comparison with a wafer-thin Series 9. It feels like it has the same heft as a MacBook Air, and feels like a budget plastic stand-in.

Sarah Tew/CNET

However, if you get closer, you can see differences. The glossy brushed-metal-effect plastic back lid is reminiscent of a Toshiba laptop, or something by Asus. The lid opens smoothly, but the top screen bounces up and down a bit during heavy typing. The bottom half has tapered side edges, but the center feels thicker. It almost feels like a DVD drive should be hidden in there, like on a Toshiba Portege or Acer Timeline M5.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard's got lots of finger room, and the palm-rest area below feels generous. The clickable touch pad is big, too. But, there's just something about the whole experience that feels a little off. The keys aren't backlit, and the matte plastic surfaces and typing responsiveness feel less crisp, a little cheap. The touch pad works just fine, especially for off-edge Windows 8 swipe gestures.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 13.3-inch, 1,366x768-pixel-resolution display is fair, not great. I was always impressed by the crispness and off-angle viewing the older Series 9/Book 9 provided; this doesn't have that. This is a standard everyday LCD display, prone to washing out at off-angle. It's reasonably bright at highest settings, but text just doesn't pop at this resolution. You can't expect a lot more at this price. It also has a glossy edge-to-edge covering, which throws a lot of glare. But, that's because this is a capacitive touch display. Touch interactivity works well, and is a welcome addition compared with the touch-free Book 9 I last reviewed, but most Windows laptops now have touch screens. It's not a surprising addition.

Stereo speakers tucked under the sides pump out loud audio, but sound quality on the Book 9 Lite doesn't feel like a standout any more than picture quality.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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