It's a slim, lightweight hybrid with the same built-in S Pen as the Galaxy Note phone.
The Notebook 9 Pen is a greatest hits tour of Samsung's best laptop features. It's slim, powerful and includes a generous list of extra features, from fingerprint and facial recognition security to a collection of ports often left out of similar laptops. Most notably, it also includes Samsung's own S Pen stylus, which is almost exactly the same one found in the Galaxy Note 8 phone, making this yet another way phones and laptops are starting to cross-pollinate.
The way the Notebook 9 Pen works with the S Pen stylus is going to feel familiar to Galaxy Note users, which you can take as an endorsement, considering how much we liked the Note 8.
Then stylus fits into a discreet slot on the front edge of the system, and clicking in on the top of the S Pen pops it out of its home. When that happens, a contextual onscreen menu launches for easy access to Samsung's inking apps. These phone-based apps actually work great on a laptop. There's a note-taking app, a screen-writing app and Smart select, which acts as a kind of smart screen grab, pulling in web page content, and even making short animated GIFs from videos.
The battery-free S Pen has the same specs as the Note 8 version, including 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and a side button (for erasing in most inking apps). For casual sketching and note-taking, it feels fine, although artists may prefer the thicker, more pen-like devices used by Microsoft, HP, Lenovo and others. Of the current high-end stylus devices, I still prefer the realistic drag and feel of Apple's Pencil against the screen of an iPad Pro.
But, the Apple Pencil and Microsoft Surface Pen are both an extra $99. Samsung includes the S Pen with the NoteBook 9 Pen (and which a name like that, it had better). Besides the S Pen, the system also includes an eighth-gen Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, for $1,399. (UK and Australian pricing isn't yet available, but that translates to roughly £1,000 or AU$1,780.)
|Price as reviewed||$1,399|
|Display size/resolution||13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080|
|PC CPU||1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U|
|PC Memory||8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz|
|Graphics||128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Home (64-bit)|
To give the company proper credit, Samsung has been making super thin and light laptops since before it was cool (or at least common). Way back in 2011, the company pioneered slim Windows laptops with the Series 9, a 13-inch laptop that weighed a then-unheard-of 2.9 pounds. Shortly after that, Intel teamed up with several PC makers to offer similarly svelte "ultrabook" laptops, and that's been the default design for 13-inch systems ever since, even if the ultrabook name fell by the wayside.
Today, hitting 2.5 pounds is considered the sweet spot for a 13-inch laptop. Having the Notebook 9 Pen at just under 2.2 pounds (0.95 kg) doesn't sound like a big difference, but in the hand it's noticeably lighter. For comparison, HP's super-slim Spectre weighs around 2.4 pounds, while Microsoft's Surface Laptop is 2.7 pounds.
And while it feels almost like carrying nothing at all, that's also the vibe you get from using it. The bland silver-gray design is painfully plain, and about as in need of a makeover as Apple's still-going 13-inch MacBook Air. Other PC makers go for more dramatic shades of gray, black, blue or even stark, matte white. This is closer to the color of a Black Friday doorbuster laptop.
That's a shame, because it feels sturdy and well-built otherwise. Samsung says it's made of a magnesium aluminum alloy called Metal12, which accounts for the light weight. The only drawback here is that there's a good amount of flex in the keyboard while typing, more so than I've seen in most laptops lately. The frills-free touchpad won't win many fans either -- it's functional, but it doesn't stand out, even in the lackluster world of Windows touchpads.
The 13.3-inch display has a full HD resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels. I usually think that's about all you need for everyday computing, but on a $1,399 laptop, it's not crazy to expect a higher-resolution screen. Clarity and brightness were excellent, but keep in mind that the screen is highly glossy, so you can get a lot of glare from nearby light sources.
The dual hinge is stiff enough to hold the screen at any angle, and like other two-in-ones, this folds back a full 360 degrees to form a chunky tablet, or can stop along the way for a kiosk or table tent shape, both of which are well-suited for video sharing.
There are only a couple of things about the Notebook 9 Pen that feel a bit dated. The hefty black bezel around the screen feels like a bit of a throwback, although it allows for a dual-lens facial recognition camera on top. And the power cable uses a traditional power plug, which flies in the face of many new super-slim laptops, which use USB-C for power.
I tried plugging a USB-C power cable from another laptop in, and it actually worked, with an onscreen warning about making sure your non-Samsung power supply would output enough power. In addition to that single USB-C port, there's also an HDMI video output, a standard USB-A 3.0 port and a microSD card slot -- all features missing from many super-slim laptops.
The Notebook 9 Pen uses its eighth-gen Intel Core i7 CPU to good effect, outperforming similar hybrids from HP and Acer, although all the systems compared here are more than powerful enough for everyday computing. Battery life is where it faltered, hitting 7 hours, 32 minutes in our video streaming playback test, which is merely OK. Most of the other similar two-in-one laptops we've tested recently surpassed that, in some cases by up to 3 hours. The culprit is a smaller battery -- Samsung says its other Notebook 9 systems have 75Wh batteries, while this has only a 36Wh battery.
The Samsung Notebook 9 Pen does a lot of things right. It's amazingly light, super fast, has both facial recognition and fingerprint security, and keeps a lot of the ports that other PC makers leave out.
But, it's also on the expensive side, starting at $100 more than many other premium laptops, including the MacBook Pro and HP Spectre. And for something this pricey, the overall design is a bit of a yawn.
The real deciding factor is going to be the built-in S Pen stylus. It works great, offers some useful extra features and has its handy custom storage slot -- which is something you never think about until your Surface Pen or Apple Pencil gets lost for the millionth time.
|Samsung Notebook 9 Pen||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|Acer Spin 5||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit): 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2017)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-7Y75; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD|
|Lenovo Yoga 920||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|HP Spectre x360 13-inch (late 2017)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|