- Review Date: 10/21/2013
- Bottom line: The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus goes toe to toe with the best premium ultrabooks, then tops it off with a jaw-dropping high-resolution display.
- Pros: High-resolution display boasts 3,200-by-1,800 resolution and 10-finger touch. Slim lightweight design. Premium materials. Fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor and 128GB solid-state drive keep things speedy. Long battery life. Dual-band Wi-Fi. Hinge stands up to touch but still opens wide.
- Cons: Limited storage capacity. Marquee software options have limited appeal. Dongles for VGA and HDMI not included.
With few exceptions, the current crop of premium ultrabooks are all about the three Ps: Portability, Performance, and Pixels. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus delivers on all three. The design is carried over from Samsung's proto-ultrabook, the Samsung Series 9, which helped define the new thin and light category, and it's bolstered with one of Intel's high-performance, highly efficient fourth-generation Core i5 processors and a speedy solid-state drive (SSD). And when it comes to pixels, the Book 9 Plus wins hands down, thanks to an impressive QHD+ 3200 by 1800 display that tops everything else in the category, making it our new Editors' Choice for premium ultrabooks.
The obvious place to start discussing the Book 9 Plus is the display, since it so easily grabs your attention the moment you power on the laptop. The 13.3-inch display boasts a whopping 3200 by 1800 Quad HD+ touch screen. The high-resolution display isn't just better than HD, it's better than just about anything. The most immediate comparison to come to mind is the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display), with its Retina display, but there have also been a couple of premium laptops sold in recent months with higher than 1080p displays, like the Toshiba Kirabook, which ramped the display up to 2,560-by-1,440 resolution. Unlike Apple's Retina display, the ATIV Book 9 Plus also has 10-point touch, an essential feature for Windows 8.
While the display is comparable to the MacBook Pro with Retina, the more apt comparison for this svelte ultraportable is the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Mid 2013). Both share a similar sliver-thin design, a minimalist aesthetic, and an aluminum all-metal chassis; though Samsung largely eschews the bare metal look with a dark coat of paint and only a glint of metal along the edges of the chassis. The slim ultraportable measures 0.54 by 12.58 by 8.78 inches (HWD), which is about the same size as the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch, but just a bit heavier, weighing 3.06 pounds.
The ATIV Book 9 Plus has a full-size chiclet keyboard, complete with backlight. Joining the keyboard is a fairly large touchpad, measuring 4 inches wide and 2.7 inches high. The buttons are incorporated into the touch surface, and the touchpad also supports Windows 8 gestures.
To provide a firm backing for the touch screen, the laptop hinge opens smoothly to just past 90-degrees, and then requires more force to open further, similar to the dual-friction hinge used on the Editors' Choice Acer Aspire S7-392-6411. The result is a touch screen that holds firm against all of your poking and prodding while still opening and closing without issue. The one oddity of the ATIV Book 9 Lite is the decision to use a 180-degree hinge. This lets you open up the ultraportable to an extremely flat 180 degrees, but though you can, I can't for the life of me think of any circumstances in which you would actually want to.
The narrow edges of the Book 9 Plus don't leave a lot of room for ports, but there's still a pretty good selection. On either side of the laptop is a full-size USB 3.0 for use with external drives and peripherals like mice and keyboards. On the right is a combination headphone and microphone jack, and a tiny connector that converts to full-size VGA with an accessory dongle ($39.99, not included). On the left, a microHDMI port lets you connect to a second monitor or HDTV, and a minuscule LAN port offers Gigabit Ethernet when using a different adapter dongle (also $39.99, but which is included with the laptop). Also on the left is an SD card slot, which is concealed by a spring loaded cover. However, unlike most port covers used on laptops, this one doesn't pull out, but instead swings in, revealing the card slot when in use and automatically protecting it as soon as the card is removed.
There are also a number of wireless options, with dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi providing 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz Internet connectivity that does better in crowded areas than 2.4GHz alone, and Bluetooth 4.0 + HS for use with smartphones and wireless peripherals. Finally, when you want to skip the dongles and cables, WiDi 4.1 lets you stream HD content wirelessly to WiDi-equipped TV or WiDi adapter.
The ATIV Book 9 Plus is equipped with a 128GB SSD, which helps keep the performance speedy and the boot times short, but doesn't provide a lot of local storage. If you tend to save images and video, you'll definitely want to pick up an external hard drive, preferably something that takes advantage of the USB 3.0 connections on the laptop.
Preinstalled on the hard drive are several programs and applications to accompany Windows 8, but two unique offerings from Samsung stand out. The first is Samsung SideSync, which lets you automatically sync files between the Book 9 Plus and several current Samsung Android smartphones, like the Editors' Choice Samsung Galaxy S4 (Verizon Wireless). When docked, files sync automatically and can be easily transferred back and forth from phone to PC, but the real magic comes in with goodies like the Virtual Phone, which puts your phone's screen on your laptop and lets you access the phone's functions (like text messaging) without leaving the desktop, and also lets you use your mouse and keyboard with the phone. Samsung also includes HomeSync Lite, which lets you use the PC as the central hub of a personal cloud, syncing files between multiple devices. While it skips the fees associated with paid cloud storage, it also is limited by the fact that it's tied to the laptop's local storage, which is still fairly small.
Other apps preinstalled on the ATIV Book 9 Plus include Skype, Netflix, iHeart Radio, Plants vs. Zombies, BitCasa, a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security, and a free copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11. Samsung covers the Book 9 Plus with a one-year warranty.
The Book 9 Plus is outfitted with 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U processor, the same fourth-generation processor seen in the Acer Aspire S7-392-6411 and the Sony VAIO Pro 13. As a result, the Book 9 Plus has strong performance in tests like PCMark 7 (4,907 points) and Cinebench (2.50 points), where it fell right in line with the similarly equipped Acer Aspire S7 and the Sony VAIO Pro 13. In multimedia tests, the Book 9 Plus finished Handbrake in 1 minute 23 seconds, and cranked through Photoshop in 5:51, edging ahead of the Acer Aspire S7 in Photoshop (6:01) and topping the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch, (3:15 Handbrake, 7:07 Photoshop).
The Book 9 Plus makes the most of Intel's integrated graphics solution (Intel HD Graphics 4400), squeezing out 3DMark 11 scores of 1,655 points (Entry) and 271 points (Extreme), just behind the Acer Aspire S7 and just ahead of the Sony VAIO Pro 13. While the performance in gaming tests doesn't indicate any sort of gaming aptitude--the Book 9 Plus couldn't manage playable results at any settings--they do present an improvement over third-generation Intel integrated graphics.
With a 55Wh battery sealed in the chassis, the Book 9 Plus lasted 8 hours 15 minutes in our battery rundown test. This puts it right alongside the Acer Aspire S7, which lasted only 7 minutes longer (8:22), and well ahead of the Sony VAIO Pro 13 (6:23), but none of these hold a candle to the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Mid-2013), which nearly doubled the competition with 15:33 of battery life. Regardless, the Book 9 Plus still holds its own against other super-slim Windows ultraportables.
In terms of performance and battery life, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus is in line with other premium ultrabooks, both in performance scores and pricing. What the Book 9 Plus offers that others do not, however, is a higher-than-HD screen that rivals Apple's Retina Display. About the only thing I can knock the Book 9 Plus for is the use of ports that require dongles, but that's not so uncommon on thinner ultrabooks. For the price, it matches the portability and performance of the Editors' Choice Acer Aspire S7 and offers the sort of resolution you'll prize when working with photos or enjoying movies. Add it all up, and the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus is the new Editors' Choice for premium ultrabooks.