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Samsung Series 9 (March 2012) review: Samsung Series 9 (March 2012)

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The Good Excellent screen; good build quality; comfortable keyboard.

The Bad Expensive; average performance not justified by price; underwhelming battery life.

The Bottom Line The new Samsung Series 9 has received a boost in power over its predecessor as well as a considerable makeover. Sadly though, its high price makes it difficult to recommend over similarly performing ultrabooks.

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7.5 Overall

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Samsung's first Series 9 was a stunning piece of kit, offering slim, light and powerful computing before the word ultrabook had even slipped out of Intel's mouth.

Nowadays, ultrabooks are all the rage, and the Series 9 doesn't stick out as a special treat in quite the same way it used to. Although Samsung argues that the latest model isn't an ultrabook (I'm not sure why), it basically is, and you'd be nuts not to check it out as part of an ultrabook shopping trip.

It comes packing an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive, for which Samsung wants £1,200, so sell your pets now.

With similarly specced ultrabooks and even Apple's MacBook Air available for less money, does Samsung's Series 9 have the same appeal that it did last year?

Design and build quality

The original Series 9 was undeniably a gorgeous piece of kit. The brushed black metal covering the lid was equal parts stylish and professional, making it well suited for a fancy coffee in a Mayfair hotel or a business class lounge. The new version has had quite the makeover and, personally, I'm not as keen.

Samsung Series 9 aluminium case
Go on, plunge your fingers into a Victoria sponge and try to leave fingerprints on this sand-blasted aluminium case. Samsung dares you.

For a start, Samsung has ditched the brushed black metal jacket, opting instead for a blue-grey colour with a matte finish. It's a much more subtle design that eschews the industrial, machined look of its predecessor. It's still smart and professional looking, but I can't help but feel that Samsung has taken the stylish edge off it.

The blue colour is rather attractive though and it certainly makes a refreshing change from the shades of grey that adorn most laptops these days. It's apparently been finished with a sand blaster, which Samsung reckons helps reduce fingerprints. While it does a better job of avoiding grease than shiny piano-black laptops, it's still going to need a polish if you've been typing away while eating an oily sausage roll. Make sure to keep a cloth on standby if you're heading into an important meeting.

At its thinnest edge it's only 12.9mm thick, which knocks a few millimetres off last year's model. I doubt whether you'd ever really notice the difference in size. With such a slender design it's incredibly easy to slide into a neoprene sleeve or a messenger-style bag. Weighing in at only 1.19kg, it's not going to drag you down as you trot off on your adventures.

Samsung Series 9 thickness
As you'd expect, it's extremely slim at just 12.9mm thick on this 13-inch model.

The original Series 9 was made from a material called duralumin, which is apparently the same stuff that fighter jets are made out of. The new model uses the more common aluminium though, so don't try flying it at supersonic speeds. Even without its war plane credentials, it feels extremely well built. There's no flex to be found anywhere in the chassis, even under the brutal barrage of pokes and presses I unleash on all laptops I review.

There's no tell-tale loose casing or bendy edging whatsoever, resulting in a machine that I'd have every confidence could survive a tough life on the road.

Under the lid you'll see more of that matte blue colour. Thankfully, Samsung hasn't seen fit to surround the keyboard with shiny plastic, which it did on the original Series 9 and was something of an eyesore. Instead, the entire base of the machine is made from metal, with the keyboard tray recessed slightly into the chassis to avoid the keys touching the screen when closed.

Samsung Series 9 keyboard
The low-slung keyboard is extremely comfortable to type on.

The keys are of the isolated variety and are set quite low, offering little travel when pressed. This resulted in a few mistakes at first, but I quickly got used to it and found it to be extremely comfortable to type on, even for long periods.

Less pleasing was the amount of rattle that the keys provided when you run your fingers over them. It's not a massive issue, but it does detract from the premium feel of the machine. It's certainly something I've never experienced on one of its main competitors, the MacBook Air. The keyboard is backlit though, so typing long into the night shouldn't be a problem for you.

The trackpad is a good size and is clickable, dispensing with separate buttons and keeping all that precious space available for you to slide your finger around. It's pretty responsive, but it often didn't recognise a single left-click when I clicked the pad, rather than tapping it, which quickly became annoying. I had to really make sure I was accurate in my pressing. Even then it didn't always work properly.

Samsung Series 9 trackpad
The clickable button-free trackpad means there's more space to skate your digits around, but it didn't always register my clicks.

Around the sides you'll find one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, a micro-HDMI outlet, a VGA socket (with adaptor), an Ethernet port (with adaptor), a microphone/headphone jack and an SD card slot hidden underneath a small flap.

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