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Samsung raises design bar with Series 9 laptop (just don't call it an 'ultrabook')

What a difference a year makes. Ultrabooks are lurking around every corner, and the Series 9 is back to reclaim the mantle of the hottest-looking superslim laptop.

CNET/Sarah Tew

One of last year's most head-turning laptops, the Samsung Series 9, is back, with an even slimmer, sleeker look.

Just one year ago, at CES 2011, the term "ultrabook" was never uttered. Instead, we saw a handful of very thin Windows laptops looking to duplicate the aesthetic and commercial appeal of Apple's MacBook Air, but without the help of a new category name (or R&D fund) from Intel. Of those, the most eye-catching was the Samsung Series 9, a 13-inch thin laptop that had a lightweight duralumin case. At the time, we said it was as close to a MacBook Air as Windows users were likely to get.

What a difference a year makes. Now, ultrabooks are lurking around every corner, and the Series 9 is back to reclaim the mantle of the hottest-looking superslim laptop. The original Series 9 fell a bit short on a few fronts--its trackpad wasn't as good as a MacBook, it didn't boot or resume as quickly as we had hoped, and the original price, around $1,650, was way out of line with what consumers were looking to spend.

This new second-generation Series 9 is even smaller. Samsung says it's 37 percent thinner and 0.4 pound lighter, and after playing around with a preproduction unit, the new body feels more like Apple's unibody style. The curved design of the original has been toned down a bit, so it doesn't look quite as exotic. Note that Samsung calls the system ultraslim, but never uses Intel's official ultrabook terminology.

More important, is the new 1,600x900-pixel resolution display, which will be available in both 13.3- and 15.6-inch models (the original Series 9 came in 13-inch and 11-inch variants). Samsung says the 15-inch version is squeezed into the equivalent of a 14-inch laptop chassis, making it the "world's thinnest and most compact 15-inch premium notebook."

Unlike some ultrabooks that have been announced but are waiting on some combination of next-gen Intel CPUs and Windows 8, the new Series 9 systems will be available starting February 27, using the current line of Intel Core i-series processors. The 13-inch Series 9 NP900X3B-A01US will be $1,399, while the 15-inch NP900X4B-A02US will be $1,499. These are still premium prices for non-Apple laptops, and with increased competition from $799 ultrabooks, the new Series 9 may still be deemed too expensive by the laptop-buying public.