Samsung Notebook 9 Pen review: Samsung adds a touch of the Galaxy Note to this 2-in-1 laptop

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MSRP: $1,399.99

The Good The Samsung Notebook 9 Pen is extremely light but powerful, has plenty of ports, multiple biometric security features and includes Samsung's excellent S Pen stylus.

The Bad Especially for a premium-priced laptop, the design is bland. Battery life is merely OK. The stylus feels better suited for a small phone screen than a laptop screen.

The Bottom Line With the Notebook 9 Pen, Samsung works some key features from the Galaxy Note 8 phone into a premium two-in-one laptop.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 7

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen

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
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Ultra, man

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.