We liked the look of the original Sandy Bridge-based Samsung Series 9 laptop, so the slimmer, even-more-lightweight Ivy Bridge-powered model had us salivating when we saw it at a preview in Sydney last month. But as always, the question with laptops is: is it as good as it looks?
It does look very good indeed. The new model has all of the stylish elements of the previous airplane-wing inspired design without the extraneous detail. There’s no thin black rim that can be used to cut cheese; the new model is blue-grey magnesium alloy with silver highlights and a low-profile throughout. It’s just a shade under 13mm thick, and weighs 1.16kg.
The screen is a relatively high resolution for its 13 inches at 1600 x 900. Compared to the Acer Aspire M3, it’s packed with pixels.
Unlike the Acer, the screen is matte. This can make colours appear muted, but in the case of the Series 9, the colours are vibrant and rich. The viewing angle isn’t massive, but it’s sufficient, and while the screen on maximum brightness isn’t superbly bright, it will cope with all bar the sunniest days.
The keyboard is a little lacking in travel, which is not unexpected for such a slimline laptop, but it’s comfortable for moderate stretches of typing. The trackpad is a little finicky, but nothing like the Acer Aspire M3’s fussiness.
For such a tiny laptop, our performance expectations were modest, but when it comes to Ultrabooks, the Series 9 performs better than any other we’ve had through our labs so far. Not only did it pip its Sandy Bridge-based predecessor, but it also beat the Sandy Bridge core i5-based MacBook Air and Sandy Bridge Core i7-based HP Envy Spectre. We suspect the newer Ivy Bridge-based MacBook Air will eke out a slight win, but the Series 9 shows off the improvements of Ivy Bridge both in its base grunt and in its additional battery life. Four hours and 47 minutes on our ‘productivity’ battery life test represents a solid day’s work for most people.
But by far the most important development for many users will be the new support for DirectX 11 in the Ivy Bridge’s integrated Intel HD 4000 series GPU. You’ll see improvements in many graphical tasks, and particularly when gaming. It’s not a huge stretch to say that if something this tiny can produce playable results, Ivy Bridge has a little something for everyone.
All this is delivered by a set of components that itself is fairly modest: an Intel Core i5 -3317U processor backed up by 4GB RAM. A speedy 128GB SanDisk SSD offers a decent drive for an ultraportable.
The only disappointment, aside from the fact that you won’t be able to store many of the games you can now play on the little Series 9, comes as a side-effect of the portability. Two USB ports – one USB 3.0 – are barely enough for a spare mouse, and you may well want a low profile USB drive for extra storage capacity. A mini-HDMI port, mini-Ethernet port, mini-DisplayPort connector and a headphone/mic combo port round out the connections. Yes, that’s all you get. There isn’t even an SD card reader. And, as with most Ultrabooks, you won’t get an optical drive.
If you’re in the market for a premium lightweight laptop, the Series 9 is no-brainer: stylish, usable and responsive. But there will be other, cheaper Ivy Bridge products along soon – would you rather spend $2599 now, or wait to see how the Asus Zenbook Prime or HP Envy Spectre XT compare?
Ingram Micro distributes Samsung in New Zealand.
This review was first published in the August issue of New Zealand PC World.