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Home > Laptop Reviews & Ultrabook Reviews > Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus NP940X3G-K01US

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Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

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What's Hot: Stunning as ever, high quality materials, super high resolution display with wide color gamut, good trackpad.

What's Not: Not cheap, QHD+ resolution is lovely but Windows 8 and program support varies.

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Reviewed October 2, 2013 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Those of you who follow our Ultrabook reviews know that we had a serious crush on the Samsung Series 9 full HD model, now renamed ATIV Book 9. Our fondness was well founded: the laptop has one of the most gorgeous industrial designs you'll ever see in an ultraportable, a rigid metal casing that could dent a wall, a stunning full HD display and good performance. How do you make that better? Update it to 4th generation Intel Haswell CPUs, add a touch screen for better Windows 8 usability and further increase the resolution. You might wonder if full HD isn't plenty good enough on a 13.3" panel, and honestly it is. But Apple started the resolution craze with their Retina MacBook Pro models, so PC manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon. Actually Samsung leapfrogged it: instead of matching the 13 or 15" Retina resolution like the Toshiba Kirabook and some upcoming Asus models, Samsung surpassed it with near 4k resolution: 3200 x 1800. Blimey, that's a lot of pixels! Even if you run it at 1920 x 1080, it beats the 13" MacBook Air with Haswell not just for resolution but for color quality.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

Specs at a Glance

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus, not to be confused with the much lower spec-d and priced ATIV Book 9 Lite, weighs 3 lbs., is extremely thin at 0.51" and is clad completely in metal. It has Samsung's usual Mineral Ash Black matte finish, which has a hint of indigo blue and a backlit keyboard. The laptop runs on an Intel Core i5-4200U 1.6GHz dual core Haswell CPU with Intel HD 4400 graphics. It has 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 gig SSD drive. The 9 Plus has dual band Intel WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and a webcam. The Series 9 / ATIV Book 9 is Samsung's top of the line (despite the confusing addition of the middling 9 Lite) Ultrabook, and it's never been cheap. This machine costs $1,399, making it one of the more expensive Core i5 Haswell Ultrabooks on the market.

So How is 3200 x 1800 Resolution?

Given Windows' less than stellar support for high PPI displays on the desktop side, the extremely high resolution is a blessing and a curse. Windows 8.1 most certainly improves things with better desktop scaling that enlarges UI elements in addition to text and icons, but not all applications respect Windows scaling settings (Adobe CS does not). Happily, Windows 8.1 is a free downloadable upgrade available this month and in the interim, Samsung devised their own scaling solution, built into Samsung Settings (press Fn + F1 to bring up Samsung Settings). You can choose between the default full HD with large fonts, full resolution QHD+ with small fonts (really tiny fonts!) or QHD+ with large fonts (my choice). The QHD+ large fonts option uses 200% scaling, an option that's not provided by Windows 8 settings unless you manually type in that scaling or zoom level. This option makes for a surprisingly usable desktop and Microsoft programs like IE and Office also scale nicely. Text and icons are actually a little bit larger than 1920 x 1080 full HD set to 100% scaling. Those with weak eyes might still find things a wee bit small, but I suspect eagle-eyed customers are the market behind full HD and QHD+ laptop displays.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

The Metro Live Tile UI, or Modern UI as Microsoft now calls it, is indeed modern, and like Mac OS X handles scaling without tweaking or futzing. It simply looks sharp and stunning, as it should with 100 PPI higher pixel density than a full HD display. Modern UI apps' text is razor sharp and photos (if good quality) look fantastic. While text already looks very sharp at full HD on a good 13" Ultrabook like the Samsung ATIV Book 9 or Sony Vaio Pro 13, photos and videos show improvement at this higher resolution. In our video review, we play a Sony 4k demo video meant for Bravia 4k TVs, and we could see the difference at QHD+ vs. 1080p. That said, unless you have keen eyes, are a photo editor or full HD video editor, moving beyond 1080p brings modest improvements. It's not a game changer, but it sure is a step up for those who work with high res images in Photoshop, where you can actually view images at a reasonable zoom level and have room for palettes.

The Samsung-branded panel has wide viewing angles and very good color gamut by even high end laptop standards. It matches the excellent Sony Vaio Pro 13 and Sony Vaio Duo 13 and easily surpasses the Acer Aspire S7 and Dell XPS 13 Full HD. The panel achieves 95% of sRGB and 74% of Adobe RGB and our Spyder calibrator measured near 550:1 contrast ratio with very good black levels. Samsung claims the display has 350 nits of brightness, though even with several layers of display panel power management turned off, our colorimeter measured it at a not wildly impressive 280 nits. In any case, it's a bright enough display that's still usable at 50% brightness, though I prefer to keep it cranked up to 75% with auto-brightness disabled. Samsung provides several different color profiles, and we found Standard to be the closest to color neutral. The display's slightly cool color balance is easily corrected using a calibrator like our Spyder Pro, but we noted that yellows look more like mustard when the laptop wasn't plugged into power. When plugged into the AC adapter, yellows appear perfectly yellow. Update: Nov. 2013: Samsung has a patch you can download here and install that will correct yellows. I highly recommend it.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

Those who are accustomed to older Series 9 models and their matte displays will lament the glossy finish on the ATIV Book 9 Plus: that's the price you pay for a touch screen. Fortunately the display is bright enough to combat reflections under even bright indoor lighting, but outdoor use is hit or miss.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

 

Deals and Shopping:

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Video Review

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus vs. Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Comparison Smackdown

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus vs. Asus Zenbook UX301 Comparison Smackdown

Design and Ergonomics

Nothing has changed here from the ATIV Book 9 and Series 9 full HD models, and that's a good thing. This is one of the best looking Ultrabooks on the market, and attention to detail from machining to seams to the silky smooth hinge are all fitting of a high end machine with a price tag to match. Clearly you're paying extra for three things here: design, manufacturing quality and the high DPI display. You do get what you pay for. The all metal body (with not a hint of plastic anywhere except the keyboard keys), the rigid casing, the super slim design are all perfect. The teardrop side taper and complex curves are unique and I find it more compelling than the MacBook Air. It's incredibly thin yet built like a tank; seriously it could dent wallboard. What's different from the older models? Previous 13" Series 9 and ATIV Book 9 models weigh an impossibly light 2.55 lbs. while the 9 Plus weighs 3.06 pounds. The display can be laid flat on a desk via a 180 degree hinge that has a detent point at the commonly used 110 degree angle.

The ATIV Book 9 Plus has 2 USB 3.0 ports (one on each side), micro HDMI, mini VGA (adapter to full size VGA sold separately for $40), wired Gigabit Ethernet (via included dongle adapter that doesn't use a USB port) and 3.5mm combo audio. The SD card slot lives under a spring-loaded metal door on the side under the curve, and the card sticks out a few millimeters.

Given the ultra-slim design, keyboard travel is shallow and can feel punishing on the fingertips and joints when typing several pages of text. As with other Samsung Ultrabook keyboards, I found I typed with decent accuracy despite the keyboard's feel, but it can't compete with the better keyboards on the market like the Dell XPS 12, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and even the Asus Zenbook UX301LA. The trackpad on the other hand is brilliant. The roomy glass trackpad never misbehaves and it supports gestures and multi-touch well.

Despite the thin metal body, the Book 9 Plus doesn't get uncomfortably hot when working on MS Office documents or streaming 1080p video. The internal twin fan cooling with copper heat pipes effectively keeps heat under control. Air vents on the bottom and near the back edge get the job done nicely and the machine was silent or near silent unless installing copious Windows updates or playing a demanding 3D game. Our CPU ran at a safe 41 degrees Centigrade with moderate demand (100 degrees is max allowable), while the bottom surface rarely got hotter than human body temperature except when playing 3D games like The SIMS 3 and Civ V.
You can remove the bottom cover by unscrewing 10 Phillips head 0 screws, but the only upgradable parts are the wireless card and the M.2 SSD drive. Removing the bottom cover does provide access to the nominally "sealed inside" battery should you need to replace it. The laptop has two 2.0 watt stereo speakers that fire downward from grilles on each side near the front. They deliver pleasing audio that's much louder and richer than most Ultrabooks. Samsung does a fantastic job with audio here, and the 9 Plus outperforms many larger notebooks.

Horsepower and Performance

Samsung starts with just one 9 Plus model, though we have hope that higher end configurations will follow. The machine runs on the 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U fourth generation CPU with Intel HD 4400 graphics. It has 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM soldered on the motherboard and a 128 gig SSD drive. Our SSD was made by Toshiba and it uses the M.2 gum stick format with a SATA3 interface (sorry, not the even faster PCIe). It benchmarks very well, though Sony's PCIe Vaio Pro 13 is even quicker, as is the Acer Aspire S7's RAID0 SSD. Will you be able to tell the difference? No. According to CPUz and SiSoftware Sandra, RAM is dual channel, though the Windows Experience Index score of 5.9 is typical of single channel RAM. We reached out to Samsung and they state that it's single channel. I respectfully disagree. Memory is listed as two 2 gig modules in BIOS, and I really think it's dual channel from benchmarks and system utility reporting. Why does dual channel matter? Integrated graphics use system memory (RAM) as video memory, so faster RAM speeds up graphics a bit. That's even more appealing when driving an extremely high resolution display.

Some of you lament 4 gigs of RAM, and for some power users that use VMs, do heavy software development or edit full HD video professionally, that's warranted. For the rest of you who use MS Office, a web browser with 10 tabs, email, Photoshop and edit HD video occasionally for work or play, 4 gigs is fine. I routinely have IE with 10 tabs open (Chrome is nice but its touch support is weak and each tab grabs lots of RAM), Photoshop CS, Dreamweaver, Word, email and social networking. I have never exceeded 4 gigs of RAM even when running at 3200 x 1800 resolution. Most games are 32 bit and thus don't use more than 4 gigs of RAM (Civ V uses 1.5 gigs at full HD), and this isn't really a gaming notebook anyhow.

The Intel Wireless-N 7260 + Bluetooth 4.0 card is socketed and upgradable, as is the SSD drive. Note that the SSD drive uses the newer and less common M.2 format, so a standard mSATA SSD won't fit. The drive uses a SATA3 interface (M.2 is a form factor, not an interface), and you'll find just a few M.2 SSD drives available aftermarket if you want to increase storage capacity. The 128 gig drive has the usual recovery partition, though you can use Samsung's excellent Recovery program to migrate the contents of the partition to a 32 gig USB flash drive, if you wish to recover that space. After Windows updates, the drive has the usual 65 gigs free (add 20 gigs if you do remove the recovery partition).

Benchmarks

(Core i5-4200U, 4 gigs RAM and 128 gig SSD)

PCMark 7: 5050

3DMark 11: P877

wPrime: 22.8 sec.

Windows Experience Index:
Processor: 6.9
RAM: 5.9
Graphics (for desktop): 5.9
Gaming Graphics: 6.5
HDD: 8.1

PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 5050
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite (AMD A6) 2218
Asus Zenbook UX301 5828
Acer Aspire S7 (Core i7-4500U) 5075
HP Spectre 13 (Core i5) 4826
Sony Vaio Pro 13 (Core i5 Haswell) 4549
Sony Vaio Flip 13 (Core i5 Haswell) 4434
Sony Vaio Duo 13 (Haswell Core i7) 4800
Asus Transformer Book TX300 4495
Acer Aspire R7 3981
Samsung Series 7 Ultra 4469
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch (Core i5) 4670
Dell XPS 12 (Core i5, Haswell) 4889
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro 4737
Asus Taichi 21 (Core i7) 4952
Acer Aspire S7 (Core i5, 11.6") 4728
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 4905

CrystalDiskMark SSD Scores

crystaldiskmark results

 

WiFi

We don't generally dedicate a section to wireless anymore. But it's become an issue with laptops lately, in part due to ever decreasing power use from notebook wireless modules, but also due to the myriad routers, network protocols (b, g, n and now ac) and bands in use. It's a compatibly nightmare. Intel's new WiFi ac module, found in the Vaio Pro 13 and MacBook Air with Haswell, had growing pains, but even Sony's Broadcom 802.11n in the Duo 13 has some folks complaining. Older Samsung Series 9 models with 802.11n earned their share of complaints, but Samsung addressed that with an improved antenna design. The good news? In our tests the ATIV Book 9 Plus has excellent WiFi with good range, good throughput and no drops. It occasionally fails to reconnect after 10 sleep/wake cycles but toggling flight mode revives the connection. We test using a dual band 802.11n network, and test both 2.4 and 5GHz. The Intel 7260N supports Intel WiDi wireless display. Bluetooth 4.0 is built-in.

Samsung SideSync

Samsung's new SideSync and HomeSync Lite are obviously important to the company: they painted the logos for both on the wrist rest area. If you own a Samsung Galaxy or Note smartphone and install Samsung Link (it's pre-installed on the Galaxy Note 3.0), you can share data easily between your ATIV Book and smartphone. Wirelessly. You don't have to be in the same room. Nice. Photos, music, videos and documents are easily shared back and forth once you register your laptop and Samsung phones/tablets (up to 5 devices) with Samsung. You can also mirror your Samsung phone's screen to the ATIV Book 9 Plus. Sorry, this doesn't work with other brand phones.

Of course, Samsung's AllShare is here and if you have a Samsung smart TV you can use AllShare with the TV.

Battery Life

The Series 9 was no slouch for battery life, and things get better with the ATIV Book 9 Plus thanks to Intel's Haswell platform whose strong point is power savings. The large 55 Wh (7300 mAh) battery also helps. The battery is sealed inside, but as noted it's easy to open up the laptop and the battery uses a connector rather than solder, so you could replace it yourself if it dies of old age. Samsung uses the same very compact charger with tiny charging tip as with their other Ultrabooks and Windows tablets. The pin isn't fiddly or stubborn like the Series 7 Ultra / ATIV Book 7, and it's easy to plug in. Not that you'll be plugging it in often: battery life is very good. It falls between the Sony Vaio Pro 13 and Vaio Duo 13 Haswell ultraportables. We managed 7.5 hours of actual use time with brightness at an ample 50%, WiFi turned on and adaptive brightness enabled, all while using Samsung's default power plan. In our test we do a mix of MS Office, email, social networking, HD video streaming from YouTube and Netflix and photo editing in Photoshop CS 6. That's excellent and beats out most Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks and bests the Vaio Pro 13 and Haswell Acer Aspire S7.

Conclusion

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus is one of the best Ultrabooks on the market, and as of this writing, still one of the few with Haswell. From a design perspective, nothing beats the 9 Plus, and it's more visually daring than the aging MacBook Air design yet it's stately enough for business. The crazy 3200 x 1800 resolution will send geeks into fits of exuberance, and the touch panel is indeed a force to be reckoned with, despite Windows 8's and third party programs' uneven handling of high DPI displays. Performance is at the top of the pack among Haswell Ultrabooks, the backlit keyboard is decent despite low travel and the trackpad is one of the better among Windows machines. If you have the money, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus should be on your short list.

Price: Starting at $1,399

Website: www.samsung.com

Related Reviews:

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus vs. Asus Zenbook UX301 Comparison Smackdown

Asus Zenbook UX301 Review (Zenbook Infinity)

HP Spectre 13 Review

Samsung Series 9 / Samsung ATIV Book 9 review

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite review

Samsung ATIV Book 7 review

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Review

Sony Vaio Pro 13 Review

Sony Vaio Flip 13

Acer Aspire S7 (Haswell) review

Sony Vaio Duo 13 review

Dell XPS 13 FHD review

13" MacBook Air review (Haswell)

13" MacBook Air with Retina Display review

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

 

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Specs:

Display: 13.3" Samsung-made QHD+ display, 3200 x 1800 resolution, 276 PPI. Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics. Micro HDMI and Mini VGA ports.

Battery: 4 cell, 55 Wh, 7300 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside.

Performance: 1.6GHz Intel 4th generation Haswell Core i5-4200U dual core CPU. 4 gigs DDR3 RAM (soldered on board). 128 gig SSD (M.2 format, SATA3 interface).

Size: 12.58 x 8.78 x 0.54 inches. Weight: 3.06 pounds.

Camera: 720p webcam.

Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, 2.0 watts each. Dual array mic and 3.5mm standard stereo combo audio jack.

Networking: Integrated Intel Wireless N-7260 dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. Gigabit Ethernet via included dongle adapter.

Software: Windows 8 64 bit. Samsung SideSync and HomeSync Lite, various Samsung apps for multimedia, recovery and settings management. 90 day trial of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11, 60 day Norton trial.

Expansion and Ports: Two USB 3.0 ports (supports USB charging), micro HDMI, mini VGA, proprietary Ethernet with included dongle adapter to RJ45, 3.5mm audio and SDXC card slot.

 

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