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Samsung's Series 9 13.3" Ultrabook For 2012: Thinner And Lighter

Samsung's Series 9 13.3" Ultrabook For 2012: Thinner And Lighter
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Last generation's Samsung Series 9 was a great example of Intel's Ultrabook initiative. The revamped Series 9, new for 2012, is even better. Forget about Apple's MacBook Air. Samsung's latest effort stands on its own merits as a great notebook.

Samsung doesn't use the term Ultrabook anywhere on its Series 9 product page. Instead, the company repeatedly evangelizes the quality of its display, the performance of its hardware, and the speed with which it's able to boot up. It's thinner than its predecessor, it's lighter than its predecessor, and it's faster than its predecessor. The 13.3" Series 9, refreshed in 2012, is everything an Ultrabook should be, and yet Intel's branding isn't shoved up in your face with a, "Look, we can do it too, Apple," indignance.

Maybe that's because Samsung figured out that calling something an Ultrabook isn't as specific as Intel might have once envisioned. With a range of specs covering different-sized screens, it's getting harder to see the brand's cachet.

What we do know is that the Series 9's .5" thickness is less than the MacBook Air's .68", and its 2.55 pounds is less than Apple's 2.96. A higher-res 1600x900 display favors Samsung, as does the inclusion of a wired gigabit Ethernet dongle. Those specs mean something. Unfortunately, so does the 13.3" Series 9's $1700 price tag, which is a couple hundred bucks higher than the system that really established this segment (albeit with a 1.8 GHz Core i7, rather than Samsung's 1.9 GHz chip).

Price gap aside, after one week of constant use, we can confidently state that Samsung has, for the most part, nailed its design. We like the enclosure's matte finish, which doesn't attract that greasy film you see on more polished chassis. 

Further attention to detail is seen in the Series 9's SD card slot, which is covered by a door that tucks in when you have flash media inserted. The door closes neatly with nothing inserted, maintaining the notebook's clean lines. Beats the heck out of some of the systems we've seen with easily-lost dummy cards plugging up media access interfaces.

Although the rest of Samsung's physical implementation is great, we aren't as bullish on the keyboard or touchpad. The chiclet-style keys are nice-looking, but they don't convey the feeling of authority you get from banging away on a desktop keyboard. Very little pressure is needed to activate a keystroke, so it's easy to mistype with more frequency. If you make this your primary system (rather than switching back and forth between a desktop), you might find it easier to adapt.

The touchpad, on the other hand, is more difficult to excuse. Its right and left mouse buttons are built into the surface of the pad, which is supposed to give you more room for cursor movement and multi-finger gestures. The mechanism is confusing, though, because the bottom 80% of the touchpad depresses. However, only the lower 20% generates a right- or left-click action. We've seen this from Apple's MacBook Pro, but in OS X, you're really only dealing with a single right-click. Windows, on the other hand, involves regular use of both mouse buttons. It doesn't help that the click is pretty shallow, making the touchpad even more ornery.

Samsung Series 9 (2012) Ultrabook Model Comparison

13.3"
15"
Display
13.3"
15"
Speakers
3 W (1.5 W x 2)
4 W (2 W x 2)
Battery
44 Wh (four-cell)
63 Wh (eight-cell)
Weight
2.55 pounds
3.63 pounds
Size
12.3" (W) x 8.6" (D) x 0.50" (H)
14.0" (W) x 9.3" (D) x 0.58" (H)


Today's review focuses on the 13.3" Series 9 NP900X3C-A04US. The larger 15" model shares the same keyboard and touchpad. As far as appearances go, the larger system boasts bigger speakers on each side of the keyboard, while the 13.3" model relocates them to the bottom of notebook.

A larger chassis and beefier battery contribute to the 15" versions higher weight. However, its dimensions still qualify it as an Ultrabook, according to Intel's spec.


Samsung 13.3" Series 9 NP900X3C-A04US
CPU
Core i7-3517U (Ivy Bridge), 1.9 GHz, 4 MB Shared L3 Cache, 2C/4T, 17 W TDP, 22 nm
Screen
13.3" SuperBright Plus (1600x900)
Memory
4 GB DDR3-800 SO-DIMM
System Drive
Lite-On LMT256M3M SSD
Graphics
Intel HD 4000 Graphics, 350 MHz Base Frequency, 1.15 MHz Max. Dynamic Frequency
Operating System
Windows 7 Professional
Wireless
802.11b/g/n
Display 33 Comments.
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  • -2 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , September 26, 2012 5:30 AM
    Is the QS balance between quality/speed determined by any OEM customised driver ?

    Because this samsung notebook takes more time than other i7's in 'quality' setting, but lesser time in 'performance' settings.
  • 0 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , September 26, 2012 5:33 AM
    in the screen quality/brightness benchmark, why u no compare with the new rMBP ?
  • -4 Hide
    esrever , September 26, 2012 5:38 AM
    Don't samsung ultra books overheat a lot?
  • 3 Hide
    joytech22 , September 26, 2012 5:57 AM
    esreverDon't samsung ultra books overheat a lot?

    What..? No. That's the dell's and I'm not even joking.

    I was watching a demo and their Dell XPS ultrabooks with GT640's in them continuously overheated during the demos and lowered the FPS catastrophically low.

    They have these ultrabooks at my local Jb HiFi (Well.. the i5 version at least) and it was cool to the touch and very solid (I've noticed even Acer's ultrabooks don't feel flimsy as sh*t like their notebooks).
  • 3 Hide
    Yargnit , September 26, 2012 6:07 AM
    Looks awesome, but unfortunately the 'ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A' simply trounces it on a price/performance ratio. If there was a base model out for under $1200, preferably at $1000 like the Asus it'd be a very solid option. But the Asus for $1000 is just such a better value that it kind of make this look like a weak effort, which is too bad because it actually looks like a solid system.
  • 4 Hide
    ojas , September 26, 2012 6:23 AM
    Yo Tom's, why you no review Lenovo's Carbon X? :( 
  • -1 Hide
    ojas , September 26, 2012 6:32 AM
    BTW i wish you'd have included a desktop processor's QuickSync benchmark for reference...
  • 2 Hide
    ojas , September 26, 2012 6:47 AM
    Hmmm...interesting, one of the most positive review's i've seen of an ultrabook-class notebook...i just have two questions:

    1)Is the touchpad annoying? Compared to Apple's touchpads, for example.
    2)Can you keep it in your lap, sitting or lying down slightly (you know, with the notebook against your knees)? Or does it get too warm?

    These two are deal breakers for me, personally. So is the keyboard, but you've clearly stated what's wrong with that (touchpad too, but just wanted to know if it's a noticeable annoyance).
  • 1 Hide
    veroxious , September 26, 2012 7:34 AM
    BTW why was the Asus UX31A not used in the comparative benchmarks? We have the same form factor, Ivy Bridge i7 processor, 256GB SSD BUT the Asus sports a Full HD IPS panel that really impressed me for less money.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , September 26, 2012 9:24 AM
    mayankleoboy1in the screen quality/brightness benchmark, why u no compare with the new rMBP ?

    I haven't gone out to buy one yet :) 
  • 7 Hide
    cangelini , September 26, 2012 9:26 AM
    ojasYo Tom's, why you no review Lenovo's Carbon X?

    I have it here in the lab, and it'll be the next Ultrabook we look at (I have something special planned for it ;-)
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , September 26, 2012 9:26 AM
    ojasHmmm...interesting, one of the most positive review's i've seen of an ultrabook-class notebook...i just have two questions:1)Is the touchpad annoying? Compared to Apple's touchpads, for example.2)Can you keep it in your lap, sitting or lying down slightly (you know, with the notebook against your knees)? Or does it get too warm?These two are deal breakers for me, personally. So is the keyboard, but you've clearly stated what's wrong with that (touchpad too, but just wanted to know if it's a noticeable annoyance).

    I can't speak to the Samsung, but on the X1, the touchpad (which everyone seems to rave about) is sooo not good compared to the MBA's. It does not get too warm, though. Again, this is specific to the X1.
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , September 26, 2012 9:28 AM
    veroxiousBTW why was the Asus UX31A not used in the comparative benchmarks? We have the same form factor, Ivy Bridge i7 processor, 256GB SSD BUT the Asus sports a Full HD IPS panel that really impressed me for less money.

    I haven't gone out to buy one of those, either :) 
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , September 26, 2012 9:29 AM
    techcuriousAndrew, on the third page in the PCMARK 7 table of scores, you say that the Samsung wins every sub category. And I believe bold font is normally used to highlight the best score in each test. However, the numbers themselves tell a different tale.Video Playback and Transcoding-Downscaling: 26.61853 MB/s vs 43.79059 MB/s (Lenovo Wins)andImage Manipulation: 9.51 Mpx/s vs 9.56 Mpx/s (Lenovo Wins again).

    Usually, that's the case. I think Andrew highlighted all one column to indicate it's the Samsung. I just went back and made sure that the *winning* numbers are in bold!
  • 3 Hide
    techcurious , September 26, 2012 9:54 AM
    It was about 3 months ago when I had the pleasure of acquiring this same ultrabook with these same exact specs for a client. I have to admit I was surprised and disappointed to find that Samsung didn't use their own SSD in it. But I was blown away by the 12 second boot up time (all the way to desktop)! And this was after I loaded it with antivirus and MS Office and many other programs! (On my desktop, my SSD has to wait for about 15 seconds of BIOS POST). Oddly enough though, within the first 24 hours of use while I was still setting it up for my client and removing the recovery partition, the SSD simply failed. So, I went back to the store and swapped it out for another (the ultrabook, not the SSD). New one has been working flawlessly since.
    I did not find the "right click" confusing at all. It's not that hard to keep in mind that to activate the right click I need to move to the lower end of the touchpad. All you need to do is dedicate 2 minutes to test, practice and familiarize yourself with the boundaries of the touchpad. I love Macbook touchpads, and this is the closest any Windows PC touchpad has ever come as far as I have tried. I loved it.
    @ ojas.. No, it never got too warm while I used it for 48 hours. However, I did not use it to encode videos nor did I do something silly like play "Battlefield 3" on it. So I can't say it will remain cool while doing that. But during regular use (including many software installations), it stayed cool!
    This is my favorite Ultrabook and my only recommendation to clients and friends.
    Oh, and it really does feel incredibly light and it has a very high quality premium feel overall, justifying the price tag.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 26, 2012 10:59 AM
    this is purely out of curiosity, appreciate it if someone can fill me in. why would samsung be using a lite-on ssd instead of one of their own? especially considering samsung ssds are not too shabby at all.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , September 26, 2012 11:06 AM
    Where's my 16:10 display? Why is this so fucking impossible when MBP's have it?
  • 1 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , September 26, 2012 1:34 PM
    cangeliniI haven't gone out to buy one yet


    i thought Apple would have sent a review sample to you. A positive review from Toms is a big thing...
  • 1 Hide
    jaquith , September 26, 2012 1:47 PM
    Well a few things, first the Samsung has a horrible keyboard, the SSD (mSATA) is slow, everything requires a dongle, WiFi dropouts, and mixed bag performance so you have to question why some of these common issues are lacking in this article. I've tried one. Comparisons - You're comparing performance to an iPad?! What about the MacBook Air/Pro (MBA/MBP)?? Why not compare NB's with the same CPU and similar specs - none of this made any sense to me. Examples: Geekbench and SSD

    My office I use an HP EliteBook Mobile Workstation and some of us use others including ASUS, but for home, travel or even work it's still tough to ignore the MBA or MBP which is one of Samsung's major competitors in this category. None of these notebooks are really any good for gaming.

    Now if all you're doing is smurfing the web, checking your email, Facebook, documents, and a slew of other typical tasks then any of the notebooks or tablets are 'good enough.'
  • 1 Hide
    Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer , September 26, 2012 4:40 PM
    nxdnkWhere's my 16:10 display? Why is this so fucking impossible when MBP's have it?

    Normally, I'd agree with you...but my two exceptions are 1600x900 (why wouldn't you take that over 1440x900) and 1920x1080 as a replacement for 1680x1050 (though it's bull$#!+ that manufacturers are using it in place of 1920x1200).
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