So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Samsung Series 9 laptop review (15in)
The Series 9 is the type of laptop you should consider if you want something functional, yet stylish
- Thin and light
- Sturdy build quality
- Bright screen
- Good performance
- Vertical viewing angles
- Storage capacity
- Can get noticeably warm
Samsung's 15in version of the Series 9 is strongly built, thin, light, and stylish. Despite being so slight, it still harbours a good configuration and useful connectivity options (albeit via a dongle for some ports). It's aimed at those of you who want a laptop that's far from ordinary.
Price$ 1,899.00 (AUD)
It's thin, it's strong, it's stylish and it's quite fast. It's the Series 9 notebook from Samsung (the NP900X4C-A01AU to be exact) and it's designed for those of you who want to make an impression. We've seen the 13in version of this notebook before, which we loved, but this is the first time we're taking a look at the 15in model, and it doesn't really feel like a 15in model at all thanks to its clever design.
The metal chassis and lid of the Series 9 make it feel sturdier than most laptops of this size on the Australian market and they also give it that premium look and feel. The design and shape of the 15in Series 9 is the same as the 13in model, except that it's scaled up a little, but not too much. A lot of screen size has been packed into a relatively small chassis that's only about 40mm wider than the 13.3in Series 9 model, and it's about 10mm wider than a typical 14in notebook. Where most notebooks tend to have a noticeable frame around their screen, the Series 9's is only 11mm and this makes the viewing area look vast.
It is very much a luxurious computer that's aimed at executives and other users who want to make an impression with their hardware, but it's still a regular computer after all, with mostly regular ports. However, the port selection along the sides is limited, and this has to do with the fact that the chassis is so thin — at 8mm (not counting the rubber feet on the base) the chassis is only slightly thicker than the USB ports it houses, and it's only 15mm thick with the lid closed. For all intents and purposes, this is an Ultrabook, even though Samsung doesn't market it as such (it resides under Samsung's 'Thin & Light' category on its Web site, rather than 'Ultrabook').
On the right side there are two USB 3.0 ports, a micro port for a VGA dongle, and an almost-stealth SD card slot that blends in with the curve of the chassis. On the left side there is a little more: one USB 2.0 port, a combination headphone and microphone port, a micro HDMI port, a micro port for an Ethernet dongle, and a built-in microphone. All of these ports are located at the rear half of the chassis, which has the thickest edging, while the front half houses the stereo speakers. These speakers are located on the underside of the chassis, where it tapers inwards, and this makes them easy to muffle when you're not using the laptop on a flat surface. You also get Bluetooth, and there is dual-band Wi-Fi in the form of an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 module.
Because it's such a light laptop considering its 15in size (it's only 1.7kg), you can use it easily on your lap for long typing sessions. Be warned though, if you do use this laptop for tasks that make a lot of use of the CPU (streaming Flash-based video, for example), then the base will get noticeably warm. The chassis acts as a heat sink of sorts and heat can be felt on the topside of the chassis near the edges, too.
There are vents on the base that facilitate cool air intake, so you won't want to block them when using the notebook for CPU-intensive tasks. Air is exhausted via two vents at the rear, which should also be left clear. Some noise is made by the internal cooling fan when the workloads are tough, but overall it's not a loud computer.
One thing that's interesting about this notebook's design is just how difficult it can be to lift the lid. The way the screen meets the chassis, there is only a small lip available where you can place your finger to get some leverage. Furthermore, the hinge is strong, which means you'll need to hold the base down as you lift the lid — when the laptop is sitting flat on a desk, you can't just lift the lid with one hand.
The screen, keyboard and touchpad
The screen has a native resolution of 1600x900 pixels, so it's not quite a premium panel, but it's still wide enough to facilitate Windows' Aero Snap feature, which can re-size windows to half the screen, and we had no problems using two windows side-by-side. The quality of the screen isn't as high-quality as were expecting, with viewing angles being a little narrow. We had to adjust the tilt of the screen to view some graphics properly, depending on the angle at which we were sitting. This is in contrast to the 13.3in model's screen, which we thought was beautiful. On the plus side, the screen on the 15in model has a matte finish and it is very bright, which means that light sources behind you won't cause distracting reflections.
For typing, the 15in Series 9's keyboard is very good. it has full-sized keys that are well spaced, and despite the chassis being so thin, the keys are afforded an acceptable amount of travel and are soft to hit. They feel a tad shallow, but we think they are keys that you can easily get used to after a while. Overall, the keyboard feels a little similar to the keyboard on other thin laptops such as the Toshiba Portege, but the keys here provide more of a responsive feel. The keyboard has a backlight that is green and very easy on the eyes. It's controlled automatically by the ambient light sensor on the chassis (which also controls the screen brightness), and it worked properly during our tests (you can also control it manually if you wish).
A large palm rest of 98mm houses a huge touchpad that is 117x77mm. Its left and right buttons are located underneath the pad, which means the area that physical buttons would have taken up can instead be used for navigation. We had no problems using this pad during our tests; we found it to be smooth and responsive and gestures for two-finger scrolling and three-finger flicking worked accurately. Our test laptop came with Windows 7 pre-installed rather than Windows 8 (some of you may consider that a good thing), but we imagine the large pad would be great for using Windows 8 swipe-in gestures. (The NP900X4C-A06AU and the NP900X4C-A05AU are the models that come with Windows 8.)
Specs and performance
As for the Series 9's performance, its engine room contains an Intel Core i7-3517U dual-core CPU that runs at 1.9GHz, so it's quite fast. Graphics are also handled by the CPU (Intel HD 4000), and there is 8GB of DDR3 SDRAM installed, as well as a 128GB solid state drive (SSD). The CPU recorded a time of 42sec in our Blender 3D rendering test (exactly what we expected), and it recorded 50sec our the iTunes MP3 encoding test, which is only a couple of seconds off what we expected. Video encoding tasks can be undertaken on this laptop, too; our AutoGordianKnot DVD-to-Xvid conversion test took 51min to complete, while our Handbrake DVD-to-MP4 conversion test took 18min 14sec. A laptop with a regular voltage CPU can get these tasks done much quicker, but if you need to use the Series 9 in a pinch for media encoding, then it will be able to handle it.
Importantly, the Series 9 felt very swift during everyday usage. Programs were quick to load, system settings were quick to appear and multitasking was a breeze. We put part of that down to the mSATA SSD, which recorded a fast read rate of 456 megabytes per second (MBps) in CrystalDiskMark, along with a write rate of 258MBps. In our own file duplication tests, a rate of 202MBps was recorded, which is among the fastest rates ever recorded in this test. The drive's capacity could become an issue though. It's formatted capacity, as configured by Samsung, leaves you with only 90GB to play with.
3DMark06 was used to gauge the graphics performance of this laptop, and its score of 5655 is very good for this benchmark. It doesn't mean you'll be able to run highly complex 3D games (don't try to play Battlefield 3 on it, for example), but you will be able to run many simple games without any problems, especially if you use Windows 8 and grab games from the Windows Store.
Because the Series 9 has a highly integrated design, an 8-cell, 62 Watt-hour, non-removable battery that can take up as much space as possible within the confines of the chassis has been installed. In our rundown tests, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video file, the battery lasted 4hr 34min. This is a great result for a 15in laptop, and especially one that has as bright a screen as the Series 9. You could get a couple more hours out of it, too, with a proper power management plan and lower screen brightness and, of course, if you close the lid and put the laptop to sleep when you know it's going to be idle for more than a few minutes.
Much like the 13in version, the 15in version of the Series 9 is a little marvel. The thin profile and relatively light weight make it feel like a much smaller laptop than it is, and it's easy to carry to and from the office on a regular basis. It's stylish, it's quite comfortable to use, it runs quietly, and its performance is good for most typical office software, and even media-centric tasks. We just wish that it had a screen with slightly better vertical viewing angles and that its lid was a little easier to lift. We think it could also benefit from a fingerprint reader to expedite Windows and Web site log-ins. Overall though, if you want a laptop that's not boring and one that will make other people take notice, the Series 9 is for you.
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