By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
It wasn't until a few years ago that Samsung actively competed in the North American notebook space. Their models back then were austere in looks, safe in styling and swathed in glossy plastic, nothing special really. Their Series 9 notebook , however is one of the most impressive Windows 7 thin-and-light notebooks we've seen this year. Offering a perfect balance between portability and power never before seen in this class of notebook.
It is no secret that Samsung's latest aspiration is to outdo Apple in terms of style, thinness and, when possible, functionality. Once the iPad 2 came out and Samsung saw how incredibly thin it was, they immediately shelved its Galaxy Tab 10 (or sold it in the European market) and quickly went back to the drawing board resulting in a model that was a hair thinner and lighter than the iPad 2 (and culminating in a series of unprecedented back-and-forth copyright lawsuits between both companies).
Another iconic Apple design, the MacBook Air, has remained the thinnest and lightest notebook in the market for some time. The aluminum clad ultraportable offers up OS X goodness in a sliver of a machine that easily slips into a Manila envelope. It is also cutting edge in the areas of solid state memory, energy efficient processors and screen technology.
A number of PC manufacturers have tried and failed to out-thin, out-light and outsell the MacBook Air. Sony had the short-lived X-series notebook, Dell had various Adamo ultra-light models and even Lenovo went to bat with the ThinkPad X300.
While reasonably thin and light, a lot of these initial attempts to ape the MBA failed because the pricing was way too high and the market wasn't yet ready for premium, yet somewhat underpowered ultraportables that were too similar to netbooks.
Users wanted the functionality of a full sized notebook in a lighter package at the right price. Was that too much to ask for?
Right place, Right time
Looking at the Samsung Series 9 (900X), it is almost scary to see how good Samsung has gotten at this in so short a time. In terms of design, build quality, feature set and most importantly power and portability, this notebook is tough to beat.
The Series 9 comes at the right place and the right time. Windows 7 is stable and less resource hungry than Vista (remember that?) so it is an ideal OS for a subnotebook of this caliber.
Samsung has also had more experience making LCDs, memory chips, SSD drives and various other parts for other companies (including Apple) and they've upped their design skills considerably. The result is something exceptional.
From the outside, the Samsung Series 9 (SRT of $1649 for the model with 126GB SSD and 4GB of RAM) looks like it was forged out of a single sheet of metal. Duralumin, the aircraft-grade alloy that is supposedly twice as rigid as Aluminium is used for the Series 9, actually covers half the notebook (the top case and the keyboard area) while lightweight plastic makes up the rest of the construction. It still feels solid, at least as solid as Apple's MacBook Air 13 inch which is an all aluminum notebook.
This is a thin, 3 pound notebook that offers a pretty impressive set of specs. Starting with a Sandy Bridge platform Intel Core i5 CPU running at 1.4GHz, a whopping 8GB of RAM and a fast 256GB of fast SSD memory. You also get a 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with a resolution of 1366×768 pixels, 400-nit brightness, 800:1 contrast ratio with 16 million colors, 130 degree wide viewing angle and an ambient light sensor.
The screen, thankfully, is matte and not glossy which means that it will do better under direct sunlight and be less reflective. The keyboard is backlit, a first for Samsung and ironically a feature the current generation of MacBook Airs do not have, even if this is pretty standard on most of Apple's premium portables.
The Series 9 comes with a surprising array of ports for something so thin. You get a microSD card slot, a mic and headphone jack, one high speed USB 3.0, a regular USB 2.0 port and a Ethernet adaptor connector. Due to its thin profile, many of these ports can be accessed by a flip-down mechanism on the side.
We need to laud Samsung's choice of offering a smaller AC adaptor for the Series 9, it isn't much bigger than a smartphone charger and is convenient for travelling. In terms of power and performance, we were quite impressed by the Series 9's speed.
The combination of the second generation Intel Core i5 chipset, the fast SSD and the prodigious memory capacity make most day-to-day computing tasks seem zippier. For connectivity you get WiFi, Bluetooth and DLNA which is great specially if you have compatible devices.
We just wished Samsung had offered the option to add a SIM card for data as all-day ultra-portables of this type are perfect for wireless data connections, something the business class of users would truly appreciate.
Samsung has also enabled a low power sleep mode when you shut the close the clamshell which puts the Series 9 in low-power hibernation mode. Battery life was above average at 6 hours on a full charge with WiFi using various websites and playing back Flash videos via YouTube. We're getting closer to that all-day notebook battery life we're all craving for.
The Series 9 does have an enclosed battery which means that it is not user replaceable. This may be an issue for some users who require transatlantic-length use of their notebooks.
Offering almost desktop-level 64 Bit computing power (more than enough for most applications out there), the Samsung Series 9 is exciting not just for what it offers in the premium ultra-portable space but because it signifies where all future PC notebooks are eventually headed.
Price is still up there but we're crossing our fingers that a lot of these features will trickle down Samsung's notebook line in time.
Yes, there are no doubt cheaper alternatives out there and some with similar specs but nothing in the PC space today crams so many features and such impressive power in something that is barely three pounds and so delightfully thin.
Windows users no longer have to look longingly across the pond at Apple's slimline notebooks and toy around with the idea of running Windows 7 on Boot Camp, Parallels or VMWare Fusion.
When all is said and done, Samsung has really outdone older, more established PC manufacturers by creating a truly remarkable thin-and-light premium notebook in the Series 9 13" inch that is destined to be a classic. Road warriors and CEO's everywhere can now rejoice.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5