The Samsung Series 9, now rechristened as the ATIV Book 9, is Samsung's top of the line series of Ultrabooks. These machines are incredibly light and thin, with finely honed aluminum casings and great attention to detail. The higher end models have full HD to an even higher 3200 x 1800 resolution displays and backlit keyboards. So Samsung changed things up with the 13.3" ATIV Book 9 Lite, an affordable (relative to Samsung ATIV and Series 9 prices) Ultrabook. Since the company has lower end models like the (formerly "Series") ATIV Book 3, ATIV Book 5 and ATIV Book 7, we were surprised. But Samsung told us that they believe some frugal buyers want the ATIV Book 9 experience, particularly the good looks and light design, and so the ATIV Book 9 Lite was born. From a branding and marketing perspective, I suspect that Samsung has muddied the ATIV Book 9 line. From a consumer perspective, for $799 you get a very attractive, slim Ultrabook with an SSD drive and stylish lines. But is that enough to make it an ATIV Book 9?
The 9 Lite makes some concessions to drop the price tag relative to the $1,399 ATIV Book 9 Plus. In fact, unlike the ATIV Book 7 and ATIV Book 5, it has a gloss plastic lid rather than metal, and the bottom cover is also plastic. The Intel Core CPUs have been replaced by a 1GHz quad core AMD A6 APU (AMD's name for their CPU + integrated GPU) and the display resolution is lower at 1366 x 768. The laptop has 4 gigs of RAM (not upgradable), a Samsung SSD, single rather than dual band WiFi 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0.
The laptop's lid loves fingerprints, though we admit it's a nice looking piece despite the gloss and resulting sludge. It by no means looks cheap, and fit and finish are excellent. The keyboard deck is matte plastic with the signature wave where the wrist rest raises above keyboard height. The deck could pass for metal unless you look closely. The bottom cover is removable via screws, but like most Ultrabooks, there's not a lot to upgrade inside. Thanks to the low power CPU, the machine runs quiet and cool, and as per usual with Samsung ATIV Book laptops, the stereo audio is louder and fuller than average. The laptop is available in your choice of mineral ash black or marble white.
Ports and Keyboard
The 3.17 lb. Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite has two USB ports, with one on each side so big peripherals won't collide. One is USB 3.0 and the other is USB 2.0. It has a tiny proprietary port for RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet (dongle included), so you won't tie up a USB port with a USB Ethernet adapter. There's a micro HDMI port and 3.5mm combo audio jack and an SD card slot under a door (the card sticks out a few millimeters). For those who need VGA, there's another proprietary port for that, but the dongle isn't included.
The keyboard is surprisingly good: Samsung has a way of making a low travel keyboard work well, even if the keys feel a bit harsh thanks to short travel. I had no trouble typing this review at my usual quick clip; though I wished the keyboard were backlit. The Elan trackpad behaves well with no errant cursor jumps and multi-finger and swipe gestures are reliable.
Deals and Shopping:
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite Video Review
Sorry folks, this is another let down. Again, Samsung shouldn't have marketed this as an ATIV Book 9, which sets the bar high. This is no full HD or higher resolution display, in fact it's not even PLS or IPS but rather a pedestrian TN panel that you'd find on any budget to midrange laptop. If you look at this minus the ATIV Book 9 expectations, it's a decent display for the money, but not a great one. Viewing angles are limited, which is typical of a TN panel, but they're wider than competing budget laptop displays. Contrast isn't a strong point (though it's better than some $600 Lenovo Ultrabooks) and color gamut is average for a $500 to $700 laptop with 60% of sRGB and 45% of Adobe RGB covered. Brightness maxes out at 202 nits and our Spyder 4 Pro colorimeter measured an impossibly low 80:1 contrast ratio, though contrast doesn't look as poor as you'd expect from that figure. The 13.3", 1366 x 768 display supports 10 points of multi-touch, and touchscreen response is good.
Performance and Horsepower
That AMD A6 is a meek performer, better suited to netbooks and budget laptops. There's a reason Samsung was coy about the 9 Lite's CPU, simply marketing it as a "quad core" without revealing the CPU model. This is a 1GHz (boost to 1.4GHz) AMD Jaguar-based Kabini architecture CPU that competes with the dual core Intel Atom Clover Trail CPU used in 2013 Windows budget tablets and netbooks. It combines the lowe power AMD Radeon HD8250 graphics with the A6 to form the APU. With the ATIV Book 9 Lite, Samsung targets those who place stylish looks over performance. It looks great in the boardroom but can't compete with Samsung's Intel Core i5 Ultrabooks. If you simply do web browsing, email and MS Office work, it's certainly adequate. 720p video playback is smooth and casual games (we mean very casual games like Solitaire and Plants vs. Zombies) run smoothly. This isn't the machine for HD video editing, frequent extended Photoshop sessions, software development with IDEs or CAD work. Honestly, for a machine in this price range, performance is disappointing. Even relatively simple tasks like launching Samsung's own Support Center takes several minutes, and more complex Photoshop filters are downright slow. Internet Explorer sometimes lags and don't keep several tabs open if you want to stream video.
The machine has 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a good Samsung SSD drive. The SSD drive is a standard mSATA drive and RAM is soldered on board.
You'd think a laptop with such modest processing power and a low resolution display that's not particularly bright would run forever on a charge. Alas, AMD's A6 isn't the power-frugal CPU we'd hoped for, and Samsung kept the weight down by using a lower capacity 30 Whr Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside. That means the laptop averaged 5 hours of use, but on the upside battery life didn't drop much with heavy use. Rather, unlike Intel Haswell CPUs that use incredibly little power at idle, the A6 is a heavy consumer at idle. So for those of you who don't leave the machine idling many times throughout the day while you catch bio-breaks or are contemplating your next great sentence at length, battery life will be decent though by no means stellar.
We really want to love the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite, it's supposed to be the machine for the rest of us who can't afford the superb Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus but want high styling, a light load and good performance. The 9 Lite indeed keeps the load light and it's not a bad looking machine, even if you won't confuse it with the 9 Plus. But the performance is substandard for a laptop at this price and the screen is decent but nothing that warrants the Book 9 name. It's not a bad Ultrabook and in fact it's one of the more stylish models you'll find under $1,000, it just doesn't live up to our expectations for the price.
Display:13.3", 1366 x 768 LED backlit display. AMD Radeon HD8250 graphics (part of the AMD APU package, similar to integrated graphics in terms of technology). Micro HDMI and VGA port via optional adapter.
Battery:2 cell, 30 Whr, 5880 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable, sealed inside.
Performance:1 GHz AMD A6 quad core APU with boost to 1.4 GHz. 4 gigs 1066MHz DDR3L RAM and 128 gig SATA3 SSD drive.
Size:12.76 x 8.82 x 0.67 inches. Weight: 3.17 pounds.
Camera:720p webcam with mic.
Audio:Built-in stereo speakers (3 watts total), mic and 3.5mm standard stereo combo audio
Networking:Integrated single band Atheros AR956x
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. RealTek PCIe Gigabit RJ45 Ethernet via included adapter.
Software:Windows 8. Samsung SideSync, Samsung HomeSync Lite, S Player+, S PhotoStudio and S Camera+.
Expansion and Ports:1 USB 3.0 port, 1 USB 2.0 port, micro HDMI, proprietary Ethernet port (dongle included), proprietary VGA port (dongle not included), 3.5mm audio and
SD card slot.