- Review Date: 11/23/2011
- Bottom line:
It's not technically an ultrabook, but the updated, 2.9-pound Samsung Series 9 (NP900X3A-B01UB) is a highly attractive ultraportable.
Elegantly slim design. Bright screen. Backlit keyboard. WiDi.
Access to ports is awkward. Sealed battery.
At $1,199.99 (list), the Samsung Series 9 (NP900X3A-B01UB) lands about $100 south of the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Thunderbolt) ($1,299, 4 stars), with the same size 128GB solid-state drive. The MacBook Air's 1,440 by 900 screen resolution is higher than the NP900X3A-B01UB's 1,366 by 768, but the latter has the USB 3.0 and Ethernet ports the MacBook Air lacks. The MacBook Air has a Thunderbolt port—not that there are scads of Thunderbolt peripherals, and OS X Lion is arguably a more appealing operating system than Windows 7 Home Premium, but by any measure the Series 9 (NP900X3A-B01UB) is much more competitive.
As for its position vis-à-vis the new crop of ultrabooks, the NP900X3A-B01UB's display can't match the 1,600 by 900-pixel panorama of the Editors' Choice Asus Zenbook UX31 ($1,099, 4 stars), but it has a backlit keyboard like the Toshiba Portege Z835-P330 ($799.99, 3.5 stars) and HP Folio 13 business ultrabook. The Series 9's Core i5 CPU outruns the Portege's Core i3, too, though the latter helps make the Toshiba the most affordable as well as the lightest (2.5 pounds) ultrabook.
Spiffy chrome accents on the sides and start button highlight the Series 9 (NP900X3A-B01UB)'s magazine-slim case, made of an aluminum alloy called Duralumin that Samsung claims is twice as strong as plain aluminum. I couldn't detect much, if any, difference between the Duralumin and brushed aluminum laptops, but there was minimal flexing when I grasped the screen corners or pressed a palm to the lid and no wobbling when I lifted the 8.9-by-12.9-by-0.6-inch (HWD) system by one corner.
With 400 nits of brightness and a nice matte finish, the NP900X3A-B01UB's screen is a pleasure to look at. The chiclet-style keyboard is a pleasure to type on, too, with a firm typing feel and adjustable backlight that helps in dim environments. One oops factor: A Fn Lock key frees you from having to hold down the Fn key while pressing F1 through F12 for operations such as setting screen brightness and audio volume, but it also disables the arrow keys in favor of their secondary functions—Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn. The large, buttonless touchpad works well for everyday operations and four-finger flicking through applications on the desktop, though three-finger scrolling proved balky.
As with ultrabooks and most ultraportables (the Toshiba R835-P50X being a notable exception), the Series 9 sacrifices an optical drive for thin design. Sound through the onboard speakers is better and less tinny than I anticipated from such a subcompact, though neither volume nor bass is in abundance.
It's a good thing the Series 9 is so easy to lift, because plugging in peripherals requires lifting the ultrabook and peering at the ports hidden behind tiny drop-down doors on either side, virtually flush with your desk when the laptop's on a desk. On the left are mini Ethernet (adapter included), mini HDMI (adapter not included), and USB 3.0 ports. On the right are a Micro SD card slot—a compromise between the Toshiba Z835-P330 and HP Folio 13, which make room for a full-sized SD slot, and the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s (stay tuned for our review), which has no memory-card slot—along with a USB 2.0 port and headphone/microphone jack. Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless are standard, as is Intel's WiDi for wirelessly beaming the PC's display to an HDTV set an optional adapter, like the Netgear Push2TV ($99 list).
Not bound to Intel's ultrabook specification, the Series 9 doesn't pair its 128GB Samsung solid-state drive with the chipmaker's Rapid Start technology, but its boot and resume-from-sleep times are still fast—about 24 and 3 seconds, respectively, in our stopwatch tests. Indeed, the default choice on the Windows 7 Start menu is "Sleep" rather than "Shut down." The NP900X3A-B01UB's software bundle is led by the scaled-down Word and Excel duo of Microsoft Office 2010 Starter and a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security, plus a utility control panel and some Wild Tangent games.
The Series 9 we tested eight months ago had a low-voltage 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M processor. The processor in the NP900X3A-B01UB has a lower part number—Core i5-2467M—but runs at a quicker 1.6GHz. The dual-core, four-threaded CPU joins 4GB of DDR3 memory and the 128GB SSD to crunch through our Handbrake video-encoding test in 3 minutes and 5 seconds, a big improvement on the original model's 4:45, though still about a minute slower than the Asus UX31 and MacBook Air 13-inch (Thunderbolt) (2:08 and 2:09, respectively).
The NP900X3A-B01UB's 2,958 points in PCMark 7 easily bested the 2,496 of the Toshiba Z835-P330 and 1,899 of the Acer Aspire S3 ($899.99, 3.5 stars), though again the Asus UX31 and Apple Macbook Air were faster still. The NP900X3A-B01UB's graphics performance, however, was disappointing, with a tepid 3DMark 06 score of 2,314 (versus 3,756 for the MacBook Air) and unplayable Crysis and Lost Planet 2 frame rates of 11 and 8.8 frames per second, respectively, at medium settings.
Another disappointment was a drop in battery life—5 hours 14 minutes in our MobileMark 2007 test, compared to 6:04 for the original Series 9 and 6:32 for the Asus UX31. Like its rivals', the NP900X3A-B01UB's battery is sealed inside the system's case instead of swappable, which allows a super-slim profile but spells a service call when it inevitably peters out after several hundred charge/discharge cycles.
The Samsung Series 9 NP900X3A-B01UB is still thoroughly competitive with its ultrabook-come-lately competition. It doesn't topple either the MacBook Air or Asus UX31 in our affections—both of those systems offer higher screen resolution and better benchmark numbers—but it's an appealing contender, from its slim front bezel to its backlit keyboard.