Samsung 13.3" Series 9: Better In 2012
The problem we've had with Intel's Ultrabook initiative is one of consistency. We've seen Ultrabooks we'd be happy to carry around, and others that bore more bulk than we expected. Because those more rotund models employed larger displays, though, they were still able to skate by with Ultrabook branding. That's watering down the concept, we think.
Samsung circumvents the controversy entirely with its 13.3" Series 9, updated for 2012, though. Nowhere on its product page does the company even mention Ultrabook. It boasts about half-inch thickness, of course, but also lets the SuperBright display, solid-state storage, and exceptional battery life enjoy time under the spotlight.
We put each of those highlights to the test and discovered that the new Series 9 excels in each case. It's both thinner and lighter than a MacBook Air, its screen is almost as vibrant as the vaunted third-gen iPad, its battery out-lasts competing compact notebooks, and its Ivy Bridge-based CPU and SATA 6Gb/s-capable SSD deliver snappy performance. By all accounts, this is what we were expecting when Intel first discussed Ultrabooks with us three generations ago. Finally, Samsung delivers with its 13.3" Series 9 (NP900X3C-A04US).
There's very little we don't like about this platform. Its keyboard and touchpad could use some refinement, we think, as they're both difficult to switch to from a desktop environment. But by far the hardest pill to swallow is this Ultrabook's price tag. This is no value-oriented contender. It's a flagship, and it sells for a hefty $1700 (yes, even without discrete graphics). That's $200 more than the most comparable MacBook Air. Fortunately, the fully decked-out SKU we're reviewing is but one option from the Series 9 family. If you're willing to step back to a 128 GB SSD and a Core i5-3317U, you shave a full $400 off the price tag and retain the 13.3" form factor, a great display, exceptional battery performance, and performance that does not disappoint.
Although it would have done bad things to pricing, it would have been nice to see Thunderbolt support from the Series 9. Maybe we're just amped up about the technology after hooking up a discrete graphics card via Thunderbolt in Echo Express Pro: Desktop Graphics In A Thunderbolt Chassis. Think about it though; the use of HD Graphics 4000 wouldn't matter all that much if you could hook up a desktop Radeon HD 7850 or GeForce GTX 660 whenever you were docked at home. We can dream, right?
Until then, Samsung's refreshed 13.3" Series 9 serves as a stellar example of what an Ultrabook should be, without being self-congratulatory about it. The company quietly refines its chassis, improves performance, and value-adds extras like a gigabit Ethernet dongle. We took notice, though, and we like what we see.