Samsung Series 9 £1199
13th Mar 2012 | 15:09
Simply super-looking. But power is sacrificed
When you think of the thinnest and lightest laptops in the world, a few names immediately spring to mind. For most people, the Apple MacBook Air would be the first, and for those in the know, the first Samsung Series 9 900X3A would be second.
Samsung has now released an update, concisely named the Samsung Series 9 900X3B, but the similarities between the two Series 9 codes doesn't really matter. The new 13.3-inch Series 9 will not only supersede its older brother as the flagship Samsung model, it also takes the crown of the world's thinnest laptop.
Wow factor and desirability are key to what Ultrabooks stand for, and this is also the ethos that has driven the Samsung Series 9's design. When closed, the laptop is just 14mm thick, and sits like a folded piece of paper on the desk.
At first the Samsung Series 9 900X3B intrigues onlookers, but the real appreciation is saved for when it's picked up. The Series 9 weighs just 1.2kg, making it lighter than the MacBook Air, and thinner too.
It's impossibly strong, and there's zero flex in any part of the lid and keyboard, something that the Toshiba Portégé R830 suffers from.
Any Windows laptop released at the moment will be immediately categorized as an Ultrabook, but Samsung has opted not to allow Intel to brand the Series 9 900X3B with its new category.
The Samsung Series 5 is the company's official Ultrabook, and while it's a solid performer, uninspiring looks and bland design only make the Series 9 more appealing.
Samsung wouldn't be cowed on why it rejected the Ultrabook moniker for its flagship product, but the company takes pride in its Series 9, which extends across TVs and other consumer electronics. With Samsung trying to carve out a brand identity, it wouldn't want the Series 9 to be diluted with third-party labels.
Naming conventions aside, the Samsung Series 9 900X3B shares all of the same technology with the Ultrabook crowd, which is growing on a weekly basis. There's a low voltage 1.6GHz Sandy Bridge processor with Turbo Boost, fast resume from sleep, long battery life and decent graphical power.
Read on for a deep dive into what the Samsung Series 9 has to offer.
Head-turning looks is one thing, but if you're paying out £1,200 for a laptop, it needs power. The Intel Core i5 2467M processor in the Samsung Series 9 900X3B is a middle-of-the-road offering that matches most of the Ultrabooks on the market.
For this top dollar price we'd have liked to see a top-of-the-range Intel Core i7, which is available on the £999 Asus Zenbook UX31. The problem for Samsung is that adding extra power means more heat, and that requires more cooling, which in turn adds bulk.
There are faster Ultrabooks on the market, such as the Asus Zenbook and Acer Aspire S3, but the Samsung Series 9 900X3B is more than capable of doing some light image editing and HD movie watching.
Our 3D graphics tests produced a lower score than a lot of its rivals, so it's certainly not the right choice for those who need buckets of power.
The decent processor is backed up by 4GB of RAM, which is standard for Ultrabooks and ultra-portable laptops. Intel's built-in HD graphics do the job nicely for basic tasks, and there's also an SSD drive, which massively boosts performance.
The Samsung Series 9 900X3B wakes from sleep in a blink of an eye, and is genuinely impressive.
We do have some issues with the Samsung Series 9 900X3B, which unfortunately spoil a blotless copybook. First up is the trackpad. We highlighted the problem on the first generation of the Series 9, and it's here again.
The multi-touch trackpad is super sensitive, and until you're used to it, it can have a mind of its own. We found that ignoring the physical button altogether is best, which diminished mis-presses and chaotic moments. But that habit can be hard to kick after a decade of laptop use.
The keyboard itself is a great size and very easy to use, with the right amount of travel, and good cushioning. It's not as comfortable to use as the superb keypad on the MacBook Air, but we were able to work for long periods, and made very few mistakes.
The keyboard is also backlit, and is clever enough to know when it's dark so there's no wasted power.
Cinebench 10: 7,265
3D Mark 06: 3,577
Battery Eater 05: 172 mins
In our lab tests, the Samsung Series 9 900X3B offered mixed results, and whichever way you look at it, this is a portable PC that will appeal more to style-conscious web surfers than power users.
The processor tests revealed a good score for the Intel Core i5 processor, which is in line with other Ultrabooks, and the Apple MacBook Air. There's more than enough power to edit pictures and multitask your favourite programs without testing the limits of the chip.
However, the graphic benchmarks left a lot to be desired. As with most Ultrabooks, the Samsung relies on the built-in Intel HD 3000 graphics core, which delivers mediocre performance.
You can forget gaming, but there's enough power there to keep an HD movie smooth and seamless, and use programs such as Photoshop Elements.
We can forgive the poor graphical performance of the Samsung Series 9 900X3B, just because of its waif-like size. It's not designed to take on the might of the Apple MacBook Pro, and it's an achievement that a laptop this slim can still have enough power to be used as a primary machine.
On such a portable laptop, battery life is key, but this fell short of our expectations when tested in our labs.
We use a highly demanding testing process that involves looping HD video and performing an automated writing task until the battery dies. The Samsung Series 9 900X3B lasted 172 minutes - a little under three hours - which equates to five hours of light use.
To put these results in context, the Asus Zenbook UX31 lasted 234 minutes, and the MacBook Air 205 minutes under the same conditions.
One huge selling point of the Samsung Series 9 900X3B is its excellent screen, which is one of the best matt displays you'll find. It's pin-sharp and really bright, making it great for creative types and media lovers. But by dispensing with the visually enhancing glossy TFT coating, it won't be rendered useless in direct sunlight.
High definition movies looked superb, with vibrant colours punching out from the panel, and we would highly recommend it for anyone looking to pass the time on long commutes, or just catch up on TV shows in bed.
Despite the lack of graphical power and the mediocre battery and processor scores, using the Samsung Series 9 is extremely pleasurable, thanks to the responsiveness of the system.
The 128GB SSD hard drive does a lot of this work, enabling the Samsung Series 9 900X3B to start up in around 10 seconds.
The SDD and Sandy Bridge processor also combine for some scarily fast system resumption times. You can open the lid and have a responsive desktop in about two seconds, which is a big sell for anyone looking for the immediacy of a tablet, but functionality of a Windows PC.
The Samsung Series 9 900X3B is a fantastic-looking laptop that doesn't sacrifice usability like many ultra-portable laptops. Yes, there's a lack of power here, battery life is uninspiring and the price is colossal. Those things usually equate to a bad review, but the Series 9 commands a certain respect.
The engineering and vision that's gone into making something beautiful and unique goes beyond benchmark scores and gripes over price. We made excuses for the original Apple MacBook Air, which wasn't usable as a main machine.
The look and feel of the Samsung Series 9 900X3B is almost unrivalled. But aside form the design, we loved the speed and responsiveness of the system, thanks to the SSD drive.
The speedy resume from sleep, and the ability to be in a fully functional version of Windows in just 10 seconds makes the Series 9 as usable as a tablet, but infinitely more versatile.
While we got used to the trackpad, we still found it to be a hindrance rather than an enabler. The input features - namely the trackpad and keyboard - can't touch the MacBook Air for quality, and that's a big issue.
Windows isn't really that gesture-friendly either, while OS X Lion is, so the only time we really noticed the amount of gestures on offer was when we'd accidentally zoomed Internet Explorer to the size of a postage stamp.
While five hours of light us is acceptable on any laptop, we were slightly underwhelmed by its poor score in our lab test. It was outstripped by many existing Ultrabooks, and for a laptop with the emphasis on portability, we'd like to have seen more longevity.
The Samsung Series 9 900X3B is one of the best looking Windows laptops we've ever seen, and one of the most covetable, too.
There are performance issues, arising from its waif-like size, but it's still more than capable of serving most people's needs, while offering head-turning style that few competitors can offer.
Indeed, for anyone who wants portable style, the only decision is this or the MacBook Air - but you won't be choosing this on price.