There’s been a lot of talk lately about ultrabooks—a new category of laptops that’s supposed to be slimmer than 0.8″ and cost less than $1,000. The problem is, those systems are still nowhere to be found. Intel indicated that ultrabooks would be out in time for the holiday shopping rush, and while some manufacturers have promised machines later this month, none are available quite yet.
So, what does one buy if on the market for an ultra-slim laptop right now?
One could turn to the dark side, put on a coat, hat, and sunglasses, and head to a local Apple store to purchase a MacBook Air. Of course, that would mean having to either deal with Mac OS X or shell out additional cash for a copy of Windows 7 and installing it via Boot Camp. The Air has no optical drive, so that Windows installer would need to be on a USB stick. And then there’s the danger of feeling slightly dirty for having joined Apple’s empire of glass, aluminum, and white plastic. That all sounds like a lot of trouble.
There is another way. Samsung currently offers the Series 9, a notebook very much like the 13″ MacBook Air, minus the fruit logo and feline-themed operating system. The Series 9 starts at the same price as the 13″ Air ($1299 at Newegg), and it’s about as light and as slender. The internal specs are similar, too, at least for the base model, which features a low-voltage Sandy Bridge processor with Intel HD 3000 graphics, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB solid-state drive.
The Series 9 even looks rather good, at least for a machine that didn’t come out of Jony Ive’s design studio. Like many upscale Windows laptops, this one features a combination of plastic and metal: plastic for the underbelly and metal for the display lid and palm rest. Instead of plain aluminum, Samsung used duralumin, an aluminum alloy hardened with copper, manganese, and magnesium. Samsung boasts that duralumin is “twice the strength of aluminum, despite being light in weight.” TR’s Editor in Chief tells me I’m not allowed to file an expense report for a MacBook Air, a second Series 9, and a sledgehammer, so that claim will unfortunately not be tested in this review.
Tougher or not, the Series 9 compares well to the MacBook Air in terms of slenderness and portability. The Samsung’s chassis doesn’t have a tapered front edge like the Air’s, but it’s actually thinner at its thickest point (0.65″ vs. 0.68″ for the Air). The Series 9 also tips the scales at slightly less than the Air’s 2.96 lbs, although of course, both systems are considerably lighter than typical 13″ laptops. Heck, a lot of 10″ netbooks weigh more than three pounds, and the 13″ MacBook Pro is a comparatively elephantine 4.5 lbs.
Naturally, the slim form factor involves some compromises, particularly when it comes to hardware capabilities and connectivity. The Series 9 uses a low-voltage Sandy Bridge processor that runs at just 1.4GHz, and there are only two USB ports available on the sides of the machine. One of those ports is of the SuperSpeed variety, though.
|Processor||Intel Core i5-2537M 1.4GHz|
|Memory||8GB DDR3-1333 (2 DIMMs)|
|Chipset||Intel HM65 Express|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 3000|
|Display||13.3″ TFT with 1366×768 resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||Samsung MZ8PA256HMDR 256GB solid-state drive|
|Audio||HD audio via Realtek codec|
|Ports||1 USB 3.0
1 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek controller
1 analog headphone/microphone output
|Expansion slots||1 microSD|
|Communications||802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230
|Input devices||Chiclet keyboard
|Dimensions||12.9″ x 8.9″ x 0.62-0.64″ (328 x 226 x 16 mm)|
|Weight||2.88 lbs (1.3 kg)|
|Battery||6-cell Li-ion 6300 mAh|
This is as good a time as any to mention that the Series 9 we received in our labs is a bit different from the base, $1299 model. Both offerings have nearly identical specifications, but our sample has 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, while its sibling features exactly half as much memory and storage capacity. Our benchmarks are almost all bound by CPU and graphics performance, so the numbers you see in the next few pages should provide a reasonably reliable (albeit inexact) indication of the base model’s performance.
Now for caveat number two: the particular model we have is, as far as we can tell, only available in Canada. Its closest U.S. relative seems to be this variant, which serves up 6GB of RAM with a 256GB SSD and will set you back $2049.99. Again, the extra RAM shouldn’t really make a difference in our tests. The only truly palpable distinction is the funky bilingual keyboard that ships with the Canadian laptop. You’ll see what we mean on the next page.
Now that the boring stuff’s out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the Series 9—and see if it has brains to match its good looks.
The display and controls
Looking at the spec sheet for the Series 9, you’d be be tempted to think there’s nothing remarkable about its 13.3″, 1366×768 display. And you’d be wrong. Upon lifting the machine’s lid, you’ll notice that the display has a matte finish. Yes, this is one of those blessed few screens that doesn’t double as a vanity mirror in the presence of sunlight. Samsung has outfitted the Series 9 with an uncannily powerful backlight, as well, giving the display an impressive 400 cd/m² brightness rating.
Put together, those attributes translate into crisp, bright colors unhindered by pesky reflections. The backlight is so bright that you may want to turn it down a couple notches.
The Series 9’s display has surprisingly good horizontal viewing angles, but tilting it too far back or forward will induce noticeable color shift. That means Samsung has likely used a TN panel—although I’m guessing it’s a cut above the rank and file, if the image quality is any indication.
You’re looking at a bilingual Canadian keyboard, so don’t mind that large enter key. The U.S. version of the Series 9 has a good ol’, down-home, flat enter key, just like George Washington intended. (The left shift key is the right size, too, and everything else is as it should be. Don’t worry.)
Although it’s a little hard to tell in the picture above, the metal used for the palm rest doesn’t extend into the keyboard. Samsung surrounds the keys with a slab of glossy black plastic. Such design decisions never cease to amaze us here at TR. Keyboards are made to be touched, and glossy black plastic is one of the world’s most potent fingerprint magnets. Keyboards with glossy bezels are guaranteed to look disgusting within minutes of use.
The Series 9’s keyboard has backlighting. No matter how you shake it, keyboard backlights are just plain cool—not to mention very handy if you happen to be using the laptop in a dimly lit environment. Touch typists may scoff at the notion, but even the most seasoned might occasionally need help locating, say, the volume up and down keys.
In terms of size, here’s how the Series 9’s keyboard compares to our full-sized reference keyboard, which has traditional, non-chiclet keys:
|Total keyboard area||Alpha keys|
|Size||279 mm||104 mm||29,016 mm²||168 mm||51 mm||8,568 mm²|
|Versus full size||97%||95%||92%||98%||89%||87%|
I believe this is known in computer parlance as a “pretty much normal chiclet keyboard.” For the record, the distance from the left of the A key to the right of the L key is essentially identical between the Series 9’s keyboard and Apple’s desktop chiclet keyboard.
While the Apple keyboard is pretty solid, the one on the Series 9 exhibits quite a bit of flex. The flex gives typing a sort of mushy, rubbery feel, a bit like kneading dough or giving your date a backrub. Neither of those activities are unpleasant per se, but firm, consistent tactile feedback makes long writing sessions much more comfortable. Unfortunately, the Series 9 doesn’t deliver that.
I was more impressed with the touchpad—one of Synaptic’s ClickPad units, which turns the touch-sensitive surface into a button via a hinge at the top. This design’s coefficient of friction feels just right, and the surface area is large enough to allow for swanky multi-touch gestures. Users can scroll with two fingers, flick with three, and even swipe up with four fingers to switch between applications with Aero Flip. As far as PC touchpads go, this might be one of the best. Holding down the button while moving the cursor doesn’t always seem to work reliably, though, so drag-and-drop operations can take a couple of tries. This particular touchpad seems better suited to tap-to-click mode than to traditional clicking.
Connectivity and expansion
The Series 9’s slender frame comes with some trade-offs on the connectivity front. Some ports ended up on the chopping block, and access to the others has been somewhat compromised to safeguard the system’s aesthetic.
Out of the box, the notebook’s sides both look barren, save for the AC power port on the left. Accessing the rest of the Series 9’s ports involves opening flaps on the sides of the machine. If those flaps look familiar, it’s because Apple used them on the original MacBook Air. (The latest Air models have flat sides with ports positioned on them normally, though.)
The left flap plays host to a SuperSpeed USB port, a slim Ethernet port (which requires an adapter to accommodate regular RJ45 connectors), and a mini HDMI port. On the right side, you’ll find a vanilla USB 2.0 port, a dual-function stereo/microphone port, and a microSD card slot. The Ethernet adapter looks like so:
The notebook does feel smooth and sexy with the ports hidden from view. However, the flaps are recessed pretty deep, so opening them with the system sitting on a table can prove difficult. Unless you have particularly thin and agile fingers, or uncannily long fingernails, you may want to lift up the front of the laptop and pull the flaps open from below. That can get annoying when you need to plug in something rapidly.
Much like the MacBook Air, the Series 9 doesn’t look like it was designed to be user-serviceable. The machine’s belly features three exposed screws, but the other screws seem to be hidden under the two back feet. This unit is a loaner, and since even insistent tugging failed to unseat the rubber feet, I left the innards of the machine unexplored. Considering even the base model packs 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, I’m guessing most folks won’t feel the upgrade itch. Some may lament the lack of a user-swappable battery, though.
Speaking of power delivery, the Series 9’s power adapter is also worthy of note. Instead of the usual arrangement—a power-supply brick with a length of cable on either side—the Series 9’s adapter takes after the Apple design, with only one length of cable on one side and and a detachable plug on the other. The detachable plug latches onto the adapter with the same type of three-pin connector as typical laptop AC power cables, so nothing stops you from grabbing one of those and using it to extend the Series 9’s wired roaming area. Samsung doesn’t bundle a cable of that type with the machine, though—an odd choice, since Apple does provide an extra length of cable with its MagSafe power adapters.
Mercifully, though, the Series 9’s power brick is small and light. Our postal scale reported a weight of exactly six ounces, or 169 grams. As you can tell from the size of the adapter relative to the power plug in the photo above, the thing’s easy to stow away.
Laptops that come pre-loaded with oodles of useful and not-so-useful software are, unfortunately, a fact of life these days. As part of our refreshed laptop test suite, we’re taking a closer look at just how much bloatware comes with each system. The boot time measurements later in this review will help highlight the performance impact of some of that bloat, too. For now, let’s see what this laptop comes with fresh out of the box.
At first boot, the Samsung Series 9 doesn’t look too intimidating. You might get a Norton Internet Security pop-up, but the desktop isn’t packed with icons. There are just four along with the recycle bin: an interactive video reel that showcases the system, a shortcut to the Samsung Supper Center, and links to the notebook’s user guide and a feedback page.
Don’t let that clean desktop fool you, though. Opening the Uninstall control panel shows plenty of trialware and miscellaneous pre-installed applications to go around, from the Bing Bar and Skype to an Office 2010 trial and, of course, the infamous Norton Internet Security.
Some of the pre-installed software is worth keeping around. For example, Samsung’s Update Plus application lets users keep the system’s software and drivers up to date with a single interface. Not all laptops ship with auto-update software, and those that do don’t always come with applications that are this well designed.
Hitting FN+F1 brings up the Control Center, a handy little applet that allows users to quickly enable or disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, adjust the keyboard’s backlight, and… well, the functions are perfectly legible in the screenshot above. You get the idea.
Our testing methods
We’ve run a great many laptops through our test suite, so for the sake of informativeness (and entertainment), we’ve included all the results in the graphs on the following pages. To make things readable, we’ve greyed out the results for everything but the Series 9. None of the notebooks we’ve tested are direct competitors for the Samsung system, so rather than forcing a false comparison, we thought we’d include the other data merely to provide a frame of reference.
We tested the Series 9 using Samsung’s default “optimized” battery profile, which limits the CPU to 50% of its maximum speed when unplugged. Because that setting is sure to affect performance, we also benchmarked the Series 9 running at full speed while drawing power from a wall socket.
Before we go forward, we should talk about the other machines we tested in more than one state. The N82Jv, U33Jc, Eee PC 1015PN, and T235D were all tested using special “battery-saving” profiles, and the N82Jv, U33Jc, and 1015PN were run in “high-performance” mode, too. With the N82Jv, we recorded our battery-saving results with Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine on, which dropped the CPU clock speed from 2.4GHz to 0.9-1GHz depending on the load. The U33Jc also has a Super Hybrid Engine mode, but we didn’t enable it for testing. On the U33Jc, the high-performance profile included by Asus raises the maximum CPU clock speed from 2.4 to 2.57GHz. On the N82Jv, the same profile leaves the CPU running at default speeds, i.e. up to 2.66GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in. Finally, with the Eee PC, the low-power profile limits the CPU to about 1GHz and disables the Nvidia GPU, while the high-performance profile raises the CPU speed by a whole 25MHz.
With the exception of battery life, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those runs.
|System||AMD A8-3500M test system||Acer Aspire 1810TZ||Acer Aspire 1830TZ||Acer Aspire One 522||Asus Eee PC 1015PN||Asus N82Jv||Asus U33Jc||HP Pavilion dm1z||HP ProBook 6460b||Intel Core i7-2820QM 17″ review notebook||Samsung Series 9 (900X3A)||Toshiba Satellite T235D-S1435|
|Processor||AMD A8-3500M APU 1.5GHz||Intel Pentium SU4100 1.3GHz||Intel Pentium U5400 1.2GHz||AMD C-50 1.0GHz||Intel Atom N550 1.5GHz||Intel Core i5-450M 2.4GHz||Intel Core i3-370M 2.4GHz||AMD E-350 1.6GHz||Intel Core i5-2410M 2.3GHz||Intel Core i7-2820QM 2.3GHz||Intel Core i5-2537M 1.4GHz||AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz|
|North bridge||AMD A70M FCH||Intel GS45 Express||Intel HM55 Express||AMD Hudson FCH||Intel NM10||Intel HM55 Express||Intel HM55 Express||AMD Hudson FCH||Intel HM65||Intel HM67 Express||Intel HM65 Express||AMD M880G|
|South bridge||Intel ICH9||AMD SB820|
|Memory size||4GB||3GB (2 DIMMs)||3GB (2 DIMMs)||1GB (1 DIMM)||1GB (1 DIMM)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||3GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB||4GB (2 DIMMs)||8GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||DDR3 SDRAM||DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz|
|Audio||IDT codec||Realtek codec with 220.127.116.119 drivers||Realtek codec with 18.104.22.16843 drivers||Conexant codec with 22.214.171.124 drivers||Realtek codec with 126.96.36.19986 drivers||Realtek codec with 188.8.131.5224 drivers||Realtek codec with 184.108.40.20629 drivers||IDT codec with 6.10.6302.0 drivers||IDT codec with 6.10.6328.0 drivers||Conexant codec with 220.127.116.11 drivers||Realtek codec with 18.104.22.16871 drivers||Realtek codec with 22.214.171.12472 drivers|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6620G + AMD Radeon HD 6630M
with Catalyst 8.862 RC1 drivers
|Intel GMA 4500MHD with 126.96.36.1992 drivers||Intel HD Graphics with 188.8.131.527 drivers||AMD Radeon HD 6250||Intel GMA 3150 with 184.108.40.2067 drivers
Nvidia Ion with 220.127.116.1112 drivers
|Intel HD Graphics with 18.104.22.1689 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 335M with 22.214.171.12496 drivers
|Intel HD Graphics with 126.96.36.1999 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 310M with 188.8.131.5221 drivers
|AMD Radeon HD 6310 with 8.821.0.0 drivers||Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 184.108.40.2061 drivers||Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 220.127.116.116 drivers||Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 18.104.22.1686 drivers||AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 8.723.2.1000 drivers|
|Hard drive||Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 250GB 7,200 RPM||Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM||Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM||Toshiba MK2565GSX 250GB 5,400 RPM||Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5,400-RPM||Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7,200-RPM||Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400-RPM||Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 320GB 7,200-RPM hard drive||Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 320GB 7,200 RPM||Intel X25-M G2 160GB solid-state drive||256GB Samsung MZ8PA256HMDR solid-state drive||Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Starter x86||Windows 7 Starter x86||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64 SP1||Windows 7 Professional x64||Windows 7 Ultimate x64||Windows 7 Professional x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64|
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- Firefox 3.6.9
- Adobe Flash 10.1.82.76
- x264 HD Benchmark 3.19
- 7-Zip 4.65 x64
- TrueCrypt 7.0a
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 1.7
- Far Cry 2 1.03
- CPU-Z 1.56
All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
We realize this is an old version of Firefox. However, the point of this benchmark is to compare web browsing performance across multiple systems, and we can do a good job of that now that we’ve accumulated a reasonable data set. Updating our test suite to the latest Firefox release might lower numbers across the board, but we’re not convinced it would alter the relative differences between systems. Also, the update would make competitive comparisons more difficult. We’ve had to return almost all of the laptops we’ve reviewed so far, so we can’t test them again.
The Series 9’s low processor clock speed doesn’t prove to be much of a handicap in this web browsing test. However, we see some some serious performance degradation when using the system’s “optimized” battery profile, which limits the CPU speed to 50% of its maximum.
7-Zip has a handy built-in benchmark that lets us test both compression and decompression performance.
x264 video encoding
The x264 video encoding benchmark doesn’t call on GPU resources to accelerate the encoding process, leaving us with a good look at how the various mobile CPUs stack up.
In these more CPU-intensive tests, the Series 9 falls in the middle of the pack, sandwiched between faster Sandy Bridge notebooks and smaller ultraportables. Again, the “optimized” battery profile hurts performance quite a bit.
This latest version of TrueCrypt makes use of the AES-NI instructions built into Intel’s Westmere and Sandy Bridge CPUs.
The Series 9 fares a little better in TrueCrypt than in the other tests. Only higher-voltage Sandy Bridge chips pull ahead.
Startup and wake times
For this round of tests, we busted out a stopwatch and timed how long it took for the notebooks to boot up. We started timing as soon as the power button was hit and stopped when the Windows 7 hourglass cursor went away.
And this, folks, is why solid-state drives are awesome. In spite of all the trialware and pre-installed tools residing on its system drive, the Series 9 boots faster than the rest of the bunch. (All of the other systems we tested were outfitted with mechanical hard drives.)
We normally conduct another test to measure how long each system takes to wake from hibernation. However, as far as we can see, the Series 9 has no manual hibernation setting—just sleep, shut down, and reboot. There are command-line workarounds for such an omission, but hibernation isn’t recommended with solid-state drives.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
We tested the original Modern Warfare by running a custom timedemo, first at 800×600 with the lowest detail options, then again at 1366×768 with everything cranked up except for v-sync, antialiasing, and anisotropic filtering, which were all left disabled. With the Eee PC and Aspire One 522, we opted for respective native resolutions of 1024×600 and 1280×720 instead of 1366×768.
Far Cry 2
In Far Cry 2, we selected the “Action” scene from the game’s built-in benchmark and ran it in two configurations; first at 1366×768 in DirectX 10 mode with detail cranked up, then at that same resolution in DX9 mode with the lowest detail preset. Vsync and antialiasing were left disabled in both cases. Again, the Eee PC and Aspire One 522 were run at 1024×600 and 1280×720, respectively.
Although the Series 9 has Intel HD Graphics 3000, the fully enabled version of Sandy Bridge’s integrated graphics processor, the IGP is clocked at just 350MHz because we’re dealing with a low-voltage 17W CPU. Standard Sandy Bridge notebook chips with 35W power ratings run their IGPs at a much quicker 650MHz. Turbo Boost can push the IGP clock higher in both cases, but it’s clear the Series 9 is at a disadvantage versus the Asus K53E, whose Intel HD Graphics 3000 is tied to a 35W CPU. Even when plugged in, the Series 9 churns out unplayable frame rates in three of our four gaming tests.
Off the beaten path
Now that the scientific game testing is out of the way, let’s try to run a few other titles and get a feel for the kinds of settings this notebook lets us use. We’ll be tracking frame rates using Fraps and keeping an eye out for incompatibilities and graphical anomalies, too.
It never hurts to be ambitious—except if you try to play Bulletstorm on the Series 9. Happily, the game ran. No graphical anomalies jumped out at me, but it was slow. Very slow. As in, Fraps reported frame rates in the 11-20 FPS range at 800×600 with everything turned down in the “Hideout” Echo.
We tempered our expectations a little and gave Portal 2 a shot. This game is based on Valve’s aging and relatively undemanding Source engine, so it ought to run well, right? Well, yes and no. At 1366×768 with low detail settings, trilinear texture filtering, and no antialiasing, frame rates oscillated between 18 and 33 FPS in one of the levels from the first part of the game—a large, fairly empty area with a tall ceiling and jump pads. It was playable, but dips below 30 FPS made rapid timing of moves somewhat difficult. You’d probably want to dial back the resolution to have a good experience there.
Last, but not least, we tried a simple indie game. Edge has been a staple of my iPhone gaming regimen for some time now, and the PC version is also a lot of fun. Believe it or not, getting the frame rate past 20 FPS at 1366×768 in this title involved toggling the “effects” setting in the menu. Once that was done, the game looked almost as good as before and ran pleasantly fast, with the FPS counter stuck at around 40. No complaints there.
While the Series 9’s Intel integrated graphics may let you run relatively modern 3D games, having a smooth, playable experience is by no means a given. In fact, you probably shouldn’t count on it. Anyone hoping to use the Series 9 to kill time will probably want to beef up their library of indie titles.
Video decoding performance was tested using the same Iron Man 2 trailer in multiple formats. Windows Media Player was used for the H.264 QuickTime clips, while Firefox hosted the windowed YouTube test. We tested a bit differently this time. Windows 7’s Performance Monitor was still used to log CPU utilization for the duration of the trailer, but we played each video three times and grabbed the lowest utilization numbers for each. That should provide more representative numbers untarnished by CPU utilization from background processes.
|Iron Man 2 H.264 480p||0-9.5%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 720p||0-6.4%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p||0-9.1%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed
In spite of its low clock speed, the Intel IGP enables silky smooth 1080p video playback on the Series 9. Flash video playback is fine, too. Now, what happens if we unplug the Series 9 and run our two most demanding video tests using the “optimized” battery profile?
|Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p||0-16.9%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed
|24.3-73.1%||Frequent dropped frames|
1080p H.264 playback remains smooth, but Flash can’t handle the battery profile’s clock speed cap. Too bad. Of course, nothing stops you from switching to a different battery profile if you must have smooth Flash video while on the go.
To gauge run times, we conditioned our systems’ batteries by cycling them two times. For the web browsing test, we used TR Browserbench 1.0, which consists of a static version of the TR home page that cycles through different text content, Flash ads, and images, all the while refreshing every 45 seconds. Then, we tested video playback in Windows Media Player by looping an episode of CSI: New York encoded with H.264 at 480p resolution (straight from an HTPC). Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were enabled for the web browsing test and disabled for movie playback.
We attempted to keep the display brightness consistent across all systems, choosing levels corresponding to a readable brightness in indoor lighting. A 40% brightness setting was used on the Acer 1810TZ, Asus K53E, Asus N82Jv, Eee PC 1015PN (in its “Super Performance” mode), HP Pavilion dm1z, Toshiba Satellite T235D. We used a 50% setting on the Aspire One 522, Eee PC 1015PN in “Battery Saving” mode (since disabling the Nvidia GPU seemed to reduce brightness), as well as on the U33Jc. Because of their dim, matte displays, the HP ProBook 6460b and AMD A8-3500M systems were tested with 70% brightness settings. Conversely, because of its high display luminosity, the Series 9 was tested at a 30% brightness (and with its adaptive brightness setting disabled).
You saw the performance impact of the default battery profile on the last few pages. Unfortunately, even when using that profile, the Series 9’s battery life is nothing to write home about—less than five hours of web surfing and just over four hours of video playback. The six-cell battery has a generous 6,300-mAh rating, which is actually better than the 5,200-mAh rating for the Asus K53E’s battery, which keeps that system up and running for longer than the Series 9 (and without a performance-sapping power profile).
We measured temperatures using an infrared thermometer at a distance of 1″ from the system after it had been running TR Browserbench 1.0 for about an hour.
The Series 9 doesn’t pack particularly powerful hardware, so these somewhat low surface temperatures are no surprise. You won’t scald your thighs with this laptop.
By charging $1,299 for the base Series 9 model, and thereby going toe to toe with Apple, Samsung is showing bold confidence in its product. For the most part, I’d say that confidence is warranted. The Series 9 looks great, feels slim and slick, and doesn’t weigh much. The solid-state drive makes it fast and responsive, and the low-voltage Sandy Bridge processor more than holds its own—even catching up to last year’s regular-voltage CPUs in certain tests. I was particularly impressed with the display, which is uncannily bright and has surprisingly good horziontal viewing angles… not to mention a matte finish.
Now, the Series 9 isn’t a home run. The keyboard feels awfully mushy, and the presence of glossy plastic both on the display bezel and around the keyboard makes little sense on such an upscale laptop. Also, getting at the system’s expansion ports involves entirely too much fumbling. It’s too bad Samsung didn’t draw inspiration from the latest MacBook Air models, which have more accessible ports—though they do have fewer of them.
Those are just nitpicks, though. The Series 9’s real weakness is its battery life, which is likely an artifact of the notebook’s slender frame. In a way, the Series 9 seems like a majestic bird of prey with clipped wings. Everything about this laptop’s design compels you to take it outside and use it on the go, but you’ll find yourself hunting for an outlet by the time your mid-afternoon coffee break rolls around—even when using the performance-crippling default battery profile. What a pity.