Samsung Notebook 9 13-Inch Laptop Review
Powerful, light, thin...Samsung's Notebook 9 ticks all the boxes.
Though Samsung's known for just about every other kind of gadget, the company's laptops have been pretty awesome for a while. It might be hard to find a Samsung laptop in a store alongside the more common Lenovos, HPs, Dells, and even Microsoft's Surface tablets, but they're usually competitive and well-styled at the very least.
The company's latest ultrabook, the Samsung Notebook 9 13-inch (MSRP $999.00), is absolutely worth seeking out. This thin-and-light laptop doesn't do anything special, except for providing a satisfying, no-frills computing experience. It's the only Windows computer we've tested recently that really gives Dell's awesome XPS 13 a run for its money.
Between a great trackpad and keyboard, its vivid display, and impossibly lightweight chassis, the Notebook 9 provides a supremely solid Windows experience. If we were to point out one weak spot it's that the battery isn't quite up to the standard of the XPS 13 and the MacBook Air as far as runtime is concerned. All things considered, if you need a super portable notebook that you'll practically forget is in your bag, the Notebook 9 is your ticket.
To keep things simple, Samsung only offers a single version of this notebook in the US:
•Intel 6th Generation Core i5-6200U Processor
•8 GB RAM
•Intel HD Graphics 520
•256 GB SSD (SATA)
•13.3-inch 1080p IPS Display
For the computer's price, we couldn't ask for a whole lot more. Compare that to the MSRP of a competing MacBook Air, and you're looking at a savings of $200, all for a notebook that has a way better screen and that's almost a pound lighter.
What We Liked
This is one thin and light notebook
Samsung's thin laptops have always been among the most attractive thanks to an eye-catching style all their own. The teardrop profile of the Notebook 9 is uniquely gorgeous, but not overly ostentatious. The little taper allows for just enough ports to grace the sides of the computer, but also keeps the profile slim.
As if that wasn't impressive enough, the Notebook 9 weighs very little. Tipping the scales at only 1.9 lbs, this laptop doesn't feel like it's quite real at first. You'd be forgiven for assuming that it was some kind of plastic mockup instead of the real deal. Made from a mix of magnesium alloy and aluminum parts, it feels rigid enough to make us not worry about it being fragile.
You get a great typing experience, with a smooth, responsive trackpad
It's a tall order to expect an awesome keyboard from an thin-and-light design like the Samsung Notebook 9 13, but Samsung's shown many others how it's done here. This keyboard is comfortable, responsive, backlit, and just comfy to use for long periods of time. Using it during the course of this review and switching around to other laptops just proved to me how nicely executed this keyboard is. The trackpad uses Microsoft's excellent Precision Trackpad drivers and it is accurate, fast, and quick to respond to gestures and swipes.
One of the prettiest HD screens we've seen recently
While so many computer makers strive for the most eye-popping resolution, Samsung has given the Notebook 9 13 a leg up on its competition. While you won't get retina-quality sharpness, the panel that the Notebook 9 13 has is a really pretty 1920 x 1080 display that has nice contrast. We noticed right away how colorful this screen looks, and it puts the dowdy, 1440 x 900, 2011-vintage screen in the MacBook Air to shame.
What We Didn't Like
Too many teeny tiny ports on this laptop
The thin, stylish profile of the Notebook 13 has one drawback: there's little space for ports. Though you get two full-sized USB 3.0 ports and a standard headphone jack, the rest of the ports must have been sent to Wayne Szalinski because honey, they shrunk the ports. Micro-HDMI stands in for a full-sized HDMI or DisplayPort, and there's also a mini-VGA plug. There's also a dinky proprietary port that uses the included adapter to convert into full-sized ethernet.
You'll only get average battery life
We think we figured out how Samsung kept the weight of the Notebook 9 13 down, and it's probably by shrinking the battery's capacity. Intel's i5 processor is plenty efficient, but the Notebook 9 scored three hours in our intensive PCMark 8 Home battery test. That's not too bad, but it's definitely going to be a tradeoff if you like to work away from a power outlet for long periods of time. Even a decked-out version of Dell's XPS 13 got 30 extra minutes compared to the Samsung. Though the XPS is heavier, it's still our pick for battery life, especially if you spec out a version with a Core i5 processor and the 1080p anti-glare display option.
It comes with less-than-cutting-edge flash storage
If we're gonna pick a nit, it's that Samsung, one of the biggest flash storage manufacturers, cheaped out on the SSD you get in the Notebook 9. The 256 GB M.2 SSD you that comes in this model is a slower SATA SSD. We love that Samsung skipped over a smaller 128 GB capacity like you'd get with the entry-level MacBook Airs, but we'd prefer to get speed along with the extra room to grow.
A perfectly good Windows 10 installation ruined by Symantec Norton
We'd be remiss in our duties if we didn't mention how Samsung loads up the Notebook 9 with unnecessary bloatware. Thankfully, they've done a decent enough job with the basics, and the general experience is pretty great out of the box were it not for the annoying Symantec Norton antivirus software butting its head in at inopportune times. This bundled trial won't quit annoying you until you just uninstall the software in favor of the lightweight, free Windows Defender so just do it as soon as you open up the box. On the other hand, Samsung's setting and driver update software worked pretty well, so if we ignore the Symantec issue then the rest is just peachy.
We started our review of this notebook with some trepidation, but Samsung won us over. There are no bells or whistles here, just an honest computer at an honest price. There were remarkably few sore spots we encountered when we used the Samsung Notebook 9, which is one of the best things that can happen when we assess a product. It didn't score the highest in our tests, but we'd gladly recommend this to someone who has around a thousand dollars to spend on a new notebook.
If you need something with a longer battery, we also love Dell's XPS 13. The Dell has a big advantage in that you can configure these models with a number of options that aren't available on the love-it-or-leave-it single version of the Notebook 9. With the Dell, you can get a sharp QHD+ touchscreen, or even with more RAM or a higher-powered Intel Core i7 with Iris graphics. But, if you're looking for a lightweight all-rounder without having to suffer analysis paralysis over tech specs or newfangled transforming hinges, the Samsung is an easy buy.
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