Computing

Samsung Series 9 2012 Review: Who Said Samsung Can't Do Cool?

The Samsung Series 9 was one of the best Windows ultraportable laptops last year. Even though it didn’t quite keep up on specs or benchmarks with some of the top-end machines, it was the most usable of the bunch. This year, as ultrabooks have made massive improvements over the past generation, the Series 9 remains one of the best.

What Is It?

One of the top MacBook Air competitors, and a reminder that beautiful, well-built machines aren’t exclusive to Apple.

Who’s It For?

Windows users who care about design as much as performance.

Design

A slim profile, brushed aluminium body, and extremely strong build quality make it look and feel like a 15-inch, black MacBook Air. That would be totally fine, actually. But it’s also got functional little flourishes, like a really thin bezel and a matte screen. Why don’t all of Samsung’s products look like this? (Minus the awful chrome ring around the trackpad.)

Best Part

The trackpad. Scrolling, clicking, zooming — it smoothly does what it’s supposed to do. That’s rare on a Windows machine, and especially on an ultrabook.

Tragic Flaw

The keyboard. The keys don’t feel as cheap as the ones on last year’s model, but they also don’t have a very deep throw and travel — a strength of last year’s model — so keystrokes can sometimes feel unsure. Typing on it feels like using last year’s Zenbook or a Vaio Z, and that’s not a good thing.

This is Weird…

For whatever reason, the brushed metal finish is waaaaay more smudgable than it is on a MacBook, or even products by Lenovo or Dell.

Test Notes

  • The 1600×900 display is impressively bright — more so than the MacBook Air and its 1440×900 display. And it’s matte! (Swoon.) But like most Windows 7 displays, the colour palette is washed out compared to Mac OS X.
  • As a whole, the screen is pretty great with a lot more real estate that you’re used to on a laptop this portable.
  • The standard 128GB SSD is unusually cramped with upwards of 30GB worth of recovery and hibernation partitions out of the box.
  • The Series 9 never felt hot to the touch, and no heat escaped through the keyboard, which is how some ultrabooks have been (uncomfortably) dispersing heat to avoid MacBook-like temperatures.
  • In terms of build quality, the Series 9 is shockingly solid. Everyone who touches the thing comments about how light and sturdy it feels.
  • Graphics performance (Diablo III) was on par with other Ivy Bridge ultrabooks, with no slowdown after prolonged use.
  • The keyboard backlight is so dim that it takes a while to even realise the keyboard is backlit.
  • Samsung insists on loading stock junk onto this beautiful machine — “Software Launcher” is the most half-arsed, bootleg version of the Mac OS X dock you could imagine.

Should You Buy It?

Yes. The Series 9 starts at $1599 (RRP) in Australia, which places it right in the middle of MacBook Air and other premium ultrabook pricing. Performance and design are solid enough to make it a strong alternative to the MacBook Air.

And that was a serious question about why all your stuff doesn’t look like this, Samsung. This machine is beautiful. It does nearly everything right and improves on some of Apple’s features. All things equal, the MacBook Air and the new Asus Zenbook still edge ahead, but for Windows users this is a damn good fallback.

Samsung Series 9 (specs as reviewed)

• Processor: 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 17w dual-core Ivy Bridge
• RAM: 8GB
• Storage: 128GB SSD
• Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000
• Display: 15-inch 1600×900
• Ports: microHDMI, 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, Mini VGA, SD card
• Dimensions: 14 x 9.3 x .58 inches
• Weight: 1.64kg
• Price (Australian RRP): 13.3-inch $1599; 15-inch $1899

Samsung Series 9 Gallery