Samsung Series 9 Ultra Portable Notebook

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Pre-installed Software: Despite being a premium product, the NP900X3A ships with a familiar level of third party or unwanted applications — Cyberlink's YouCam webcam utility, Office 2010 Starter edition, Skype, and a bunch of WildTangent games. Samsung's own utilities are numerous, and many duplicate functionality native in Windows-like file sharing settings, network settings, and the Easy Transfer application, with arguably better UI and simpler language. There is also the usual fare of recovery, support, and update applications. Uninstalling them is naturally a pain, but with an SSD and plenty of RAM, you're not likely to get much of a tangible performance benefit.

Build Quality: The duralumin lid and palm rest are absolutely solid as is the bottom and the bezel running around the outside of the display. We can't imagine it suffering any major damage from the usual bumps and bruises that a notebook encounters over its lifetime. There is some keyboard flex, and while this is normal for your run-of-the-mill laptop, it's disappointing to see in this high end machine. particularly when the rest of it is so solidly built.

LCD: The display is superb with good color balance, contrast, and an unusually radiant maximum brightness. It also has a coveted matte finish, not the ridiculous high gloss, reflective shine on most consumer models that make it next to impossible to use outdoors. The viewing angles are decent; there is about a 30 degree vertical range outside which the brightness/contrast begins to noticeably distort but the horizontal angles are much better. It is probably the very best notbook screen we've ever encountered.

Webcam: If you're used too the grainy and blurry picture quality of the 0.3 mp webcams that ship with most budget laptops, the 1.3 mp model of the NP900X3A is a treat. The picture is much clearer, with little if any motion blur. The only caveat is that the color balance is a bit cool. In low light conditions, most notebook webcams compensate for the lack of sensor data by increasing the ISO; the resulting pixelated image is not pretty but you can make everything out. The NP900X3A webcam doesn't do this, so if you're sitting in the dark, it presents a ghostly silhouette.

Speakers: As one might expect given the small speakers, the audio quality is nothing special. It isn't as tinny as some of the cheaper laptops we've come across but it still has an unsatisfying flat sound. It has a surprisingly high maximum volume level.

Keyboard: The full-sized keyboard is very comfortable to type on. Keystrokes are soft-sounding but not silent and the springs provide a pleasing level of resistance. The backlight is a nice addition, though at typical use angles you can see the lighting beneath the keys, which can be glaring at higher brightness.

Touchpad: After getting used to the single-piece touchpad, we have to say we're quite taken with it. It's got a nice smooth surface with a low level of resistance. Depressing the left/right corner buttons takes little effort and you can perform soft taps over the entire area, which is quite large.

WiFi: Though equipped with an Intel WiFi chipset (which tend to solid in our experience), the NP900X3A's wireless performance was surprisingly poor. The signal strength was fine and we didn't suffer connection dropouts but the speed was very poor. Transferring a 1.4 GB file over our 802.11n network to the notebook took almost 13 minutes for an average speed of 14.8 mbps which is slow even for 802.11g.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product at various states. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

Comparable System sound files:

FINAL THOUGHTS

Though Apple was not the first to create an ultra slim notebook, the popularity of the Macbook Air did not go unnoticed. PC makers have been clamoring to produce a suitable rival and Samsung seems to be the first to succeed in its endeavor. The NP900X3A is a beautiful machine with a slim chassis, pleasant contours, a distinctive shine emanating from its chrome lips, and cleverly stealthed ports. Not only does it look great, its slender 3 lb, 16 mm thick form, reinforced duralumin exterior, and slimmed down AC power adapter make it a great traveling companion.

Not only is it small and elegant, the Series 9 is a beauty in actual use as well. The stunning bright matte display produces (subjectively) excellent color balance, high contrast, crisp text without the high-gloss reflection found on mainstream notebook screens. The one-piece trackpad is luxuriously large with a smooth surface and the perfect amount of resistance, the backlit keyboard has soft sounding keys that have just the right amount back pressure, and the 1.3 megapixel webcam puts to shame the more common 0.3 megapixel VGA models. For a high class notebook, the peripherals lack in only two areas: the keyboard has some flex to it, and the screen has the common 1366x768 resolution, instead of the higher 1440x900 found on the MacBook Air's 13.3" screen.

The CPU performance isn't anywhere near a "standard" laptop but by ultra portable standards it's quite good. For day-to-day tasks, the presence of an SSD makes a much bigger difference than the speed of the CPU. It's a very snappy and responsive system — applications load almost instantly as does waking from sleep, and boot-up is lightning quick. If you're looking to game, gimped mobile version of Intel's HD 3000 GPU just doesn't cut it for anything demanding. From a performance perspective our only real complaint is the terrible WiFi throughput on our network (15 mbps on 802.11n).

In our AC power tests, the machine's power consumption failed to impress, being on par with the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13, driven by a two-generations old Core 2 Duo. As a result, the 6-cell 58 Wh battery gave out a little sooner than we hoped, providing between 4.5 and 5.5 hours of operation. This is excellent for your average notebook, but is a bit lacking for an ultra portable meant for travel (or maybe we're just spoiled by the 8+ hours provided by the Asus UL series). Thankfully it is energy efficient enough for Samsung's cooling system to work almost inaudibly when idle and playing high definition video. When not stressed heavily, the NP900X3A is the quietest laptop we've ever used.

Specifications:
Samsung NP900X3A-A02US vs. Apple Macbook Air 13-inch
Model
Samsung NP900X3A-A02US
Apple Macbook Air 13-inch
CPU
Intel Core i5-2537M (1.40 GHz)
Intel Core i5-2557M (1.70 GHz)
RAM
4GB DDR3
4GB DDR3
LCD
13.3" matte, 1366 x 768
13.3" glossy, 1440 x 900
GPU
Intel GMA HD 3000
Intel GMA HD 3000
Drive
128 GB SSD
128 GB SSD
Ports
1 x USB 2.0
1 x USB 3.0
1 x 3.5 mm headphone
1 x mini HDMI
1 x Mic-in
1 x Micro SD card
1 x RJ45
2 x USB 2.0
1 x 3.5 mm headphone
1 x Thunderbolt (mini DisplayPort)
1 x SD card
WiFi
802.11a/b/g/n
802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth
3.0
4.0
Ethernet
GBLAN
no
Webcam
1.3 mp
0.3 mp (VGA)
Battery
58 Wh
50 Wh
Thickness
7~16 mm
3~17 mm
Weight
1.38 kg (3.03 lb)
1.34 kg (2.96 lb)
Price
~US$1250
US$1299

In an O/S agnostic showdown based on technical merit alone, the Samsung NP900X3A-A02US (the cheapest model available, ~US$1,250) proves itself to be viable alternative to the popular, similarily sized 13-inch Macbook Air. The Air wins in few categories, out-muscling the NP900X3A with a 300 MHz faster CPU and offering 24% higher screen resolution. The Samsung is slightly cheaper with a bit more versatility, with USB 3.0, gigabit ethernet, a higher quality webcam, a bigger battery and the rare non-reflective matte screen.

The CAD$2,300 retail price of our Canadian review unit can probably be ignored; we assume its inflated price is caused by a combination of a price anomaly coupled by the "Canada tax" that causes many products sold above the 49th parallel to be inexplicably more expensive than below. The superior top-of-the-line US model (1.7 GHz, 8GB, 256 GB SSD) is going for ~US$1,900, but on paper doesn't seem to offer as much value. All in all, the Samsung Series 9 is a very appealing ultra light Windows notebook.

Our thanks to Samsung for the NP900X3A-A02CA sample.


The Smasung Series 9 notebook is recommended by SPCR

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Articles of Related Interest

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Asus UL30A & Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 CULV Notebooks
Asus UL80Vt: A CULV Laptop with Hybrid Graphics
Gateway EC1803h: Netbook or Ultra-portable?
Asus Eee PC Seashell 1005HA netbook

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