It's tough being a slim, light premium 15" laptop--the competition is top notch with the Dell XPS 15 and the (aging) 15" Retina MacBook Pro at the high priced end and the very reasonably priced $1,500 Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 grabbing the lower end of the top tier market. Samsung's generally played only in the high end range, and their prices used to be a few hundred dollars higher than other brands. This time they've undercut the value-priced Asus (surprise!) while offering their usual perfectionist product. The Notebook 9 Pro has a unibody metal casing that's supremely rigid and it has perfect seams, a metal bottom that mates so cleanly it doesn't need plastic clips, dedicated NVIDIA graphics, nearly every internal part is signed by a QA tester, and the specs are excellent. You want an SSD, 4K display with good color gamut, touch screen, backlit keyboard and a healthy dose of classy design and style? It's all here for $1,399. When Samsung first released it a few months back, they priced it at $1,599, but quickly dropped the price to $1,499 (Samsung's apparently not afraid to start high and drop a price fast with their laptops). Now it's $1,399 on their site and is often priced the same at Best Buy, the largest US retailer offering the laptop.
Of course, not every spec matches the equivalently equipped Dell XPS 15, which is $1,999; you're paying more for the Dell and you should get more. The $1,999 XPS 15 has 16 gigs of RAM vs. the Samsung's 8 gigs, and the Dell uses even faster PCIe SSDs vs. the Samsung's SATA3. Dell gives you a 4K touch screen, 256 gig SSD and backlit keyboard just like the Samsung, but it has the next step up in graphics cards, the GTX 960M vs. Samsung's GTX 950M. Apple's 15" Retina MacBook Pro with AMD dedicated graphics is $2,500. For those who want a 15.6" quad core powerhouse that's highly portable and packs dedicated graphics for video editing, decent gaming and general pro apps prowess, but don't want to drop two grand on a laptop, the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is worth a serious look.
Samsung initially marketed this laptop as the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Pro, but they quickly switched branding to the Notebook 9 Pro. They are the same product, it's simply a confusing marketing move.
Design and Ergonomics
I confess I love Samsung's design language, even though it hasn't changed much over the years. The curves (expensive to make), distinctive teardrop sides that other companies have copied, the matte black unibody aluminum alloy casing contrasted with straight cut stainless steel finished sides--it's lovely stuff. At 0.7" it's one of the thinnest quad core 15.6" laptops on the market and its proportions are more Ultrabook than powerhouse. It weighs 4.5 lbs. like the also very lightweight Dell XPS 15 (similarly configured) and 15" Retina MacBook Pro. It's lighter than the Asus ZenBook Pro by a half pound.
The laptop is extremely rigid, as are its named competitors. It's like a sheet of slate. Fit and finish are typical of Samsung, which is to say very, very good. All edges are perfectly smooth and machined (even the blunt cut shiny sides that only look sharp), QA seems very consistent across sampled units and there's no flex in the display lid or keyboard deck.
The bottom panel is easy enough to remove with the help of a Phillips #1 screwdriver. There are no annoying fragile plastic clips holding the bottom cover on. Remove the screws and you can lift up the cover for service and upgrades. The laptop has down-firing quad stereo speakers-- 4 speakers rated at 2 watts each, 2 on each side. Audio is indeed excellent, and it's richer and louder than most slim 15" laptops.
The laptop has a good selection of ports: 3 USB 3.0 (the Mac and XPS 15 have two), a USB-C 3.1 Gen. 2 10Gbps port (not listed as supporting Thunderbolt 3, though we suspect it's using the required Alpine Ridge controller to get Gen. 2 status), full size HDMI, an SD card slot and 3.5mm audio. If you need Ethernet or a DisplayPort, you'll need to get a USB-C adapter or multiport adapter for those (or a USB Ethernet adapter). Dell does one better with Thunderbolt 3, while we're still waiting to see what Apple will do since their current model is still on Thunderbolt 2.
Keyboard and Trackpad
Though Samsung's laptops are exceptionally thin, they manage to overcome the limitations of space and make keyboards that are a pleasure to type on. Yes, travel is short compared to a thicker Lenovo ThinkPad, but if you're already accustomed to slim laptop keyboards like the Mac's and some of Dell's offerings, then I think you'll find the beveled keys comfortable, ergonomic and well damped. Required force to depress a key feels just right and the keys are uniform in feel. The keyboard deck is extremely firm and multistage backlighting along with high contrast keys make it easy to type in low light and darkness. I've thoroughly enjoyed typing long reviews such as this one with the Notebook 9 Pro's keyboard.
The Microsoft precision trackpad is also good, it has reliable tracking, supports two-finger gestures like pinch zooming and two-finger right-clicking. It hasn't made me pine for the Mac, and I find it a little bit better than the Dell XPS 15 trackpad (in part because the XPS 15's trackpad's response deteriorates as it picks up finger oils--clean it often!) and it's significantly better than the just OK trackpad on the Asus ZenBook Pro UX 501.
The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro has a 15.6" 4K UHD 3840 x 2160 display, which is considerably higher resolution than the non-Pro Notebook 9 15" Ultrabook with a 1920 x 1080 display. This is a Samsung PLS panel with viewing angles and display characteristics that are similar to IPS. It's a fairly wide gamut display that represents 85% of Adobe RGB, beating the average 75% for much of the competition in this price range, and it covers the full sRGB gamut. The Dell XPS 15's 4K display beats it by a bit at 95% of Adobe RGB, but the Samsung fights back with a better white point. Contrast is decent but not class-leading at 500:1 (the XPS 15 is much higher, the Asus is not). Brightness is very good at a claimed 350 nits (335 measured via our colorimeter using Samsung's Photo Editing color profile preset) and it can hit 500 nits if you enable outdoor brightness mode. The black level at max brightness (again using the Photo Editing preset) isn't good at 0.7, and that's what drags contrast down. Samsung offers color profiles that are similar to their high end Galaxy smartphone profiles, and the auto mode can increase contrast and saturation dynamically. I recommend using it because it works well for videos and you'd swear that contrast is significantly higher than our measured numbers using the Photo Editing preset. Why don't we test using auto mode? Because it's too variable and not always fast enough to keep pace with our colorimeter's quickly changing test screens. A static setting is better when collecting metrics.
Experientially, the 4K touch screen is very bright, vibrant and looks wonderful when viewing movies and it can be calibrated well for professional photo and video editing. The 7,000K hardware white point is typical for high end laptops, and it's above the ideal 6600K, but well below the XPS 15's 4K display with a much too high white point. Gamma veers off to 2.3 at middle brightness settings on the Samsung, likely to improve black levels and contrast, but calibration can help with this. That said, we'd prefer a perfect 2.2 gamma across all brightness levels.
Some will no doubt prefer the striking Dell XPS 15 4K display for higher contrast, but I've found it difficult to work with for pro photo and video editing due to the very high white point (it's absolutely fantastic looking for those who don't focus on content creation though). Asus' ZenBook Pro UX501 last gen used an older Samsung PLS display that doesn't match the Notebook 9 Pro's for color gamut, saturation and contrast, and the newer model still falls behind. The 15" MacBook Pro has near perfect factory color calibration, good brightness of 300 nits and pleasing contrast, but is lower resolution (though still plenty high).
Though this is a glossy touch screen, Samsung works some magic here, as they do with all their 2015-2016 laptops. Glare is greatly reduced and it has noticeably less glare than the otherwise excellent Microsoft Surface Book and the Dell XPS 15. It's similar to the MacBook Pro, and perhaps still a little bit lower. The display angles back around 140 degrees, and I didn't feel the need to drop it back further to avoid glare. The hinges are firm, yet not impossible to move with one hand.
Deals and Shopping:
Samsung Notebook 9 Pro Video Review
Samsung Notebook 9 Pro vs. Dell XPS 15 Comparison Video
Horsepower and Performance
This is a quad core, 45 watt CPU that's in a different league from typical dual core Ultrabooks that it resembles. It's much better suited to heavy workloads than the Samsung Notebook 9 non-Pro or the HP Spectre x360 15". If you need to compile large programs, edit video often, work Adobe Lightroom filters or crunch huge spreadsheets in Excel, an Intel quad core laptop is your best choice. The notebook runs Windows 10 on the 2.6 GHz (Turbo Boost to 3.5 GHz) Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU with Intel HD 530 graphics that dynamically switches with the dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950M 2GB DDR5 graphics card, depending on the running application (or you can specify the GPU you want used). There is only one configuration with that Core i7 CPU, 8 gigs of dual channel RAM and a 256 gig SSD.
The NVIDIA GTX 950M is the at the lower end of NVIDIA's high end line of graphics cards and it's strong enough for gaming with current demanding 3D titles at 1080p resolution in a mix of medium and high settings. In contrast, the NVIDIA GTX 960M in the XPS 15 (except the base $999 configuration) and Asus ZenBook Pro can manage mostly high settings in games like Battlefield 4. The GTX 950M in the Samsung nets 5-7 fps lower frame rates compared to those laptops (I suggest dropping some quality settings if you want to match them). The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is hugely faster than an integrated graphics laptop, and is much faster than laptops with the NVIDIA 940M that falls below the GTX family (used in the HP Star Wars laptop).
RAM is soldered on board and isn't upgradable. If you know you need more than 8 gigs of RAM, this isn't your notebook. 8 gigs is fine for video editing (it's worked well for me), software development and general heavy duty computing. If you run several VMs (virtual machines) or need to fluently multitask with Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop and more without hitting virtual memory, then consider a machine with more memory. If your workflow consists of streaming video, working in MS office, Photoshop and video editing, then the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is much more than capable.
The laptop has an M.2 slot for SATA3 SSDs. It doesn't do the faster PCIe protocol, though unless you typically transfer many, many files daily, you won't notice the difference. We suspect that Samsung went with the standard SATA3 because it generates less heat, as does the NVIDIA GTX 950M vs. the 960M. Heat is a significant design constraint for very thin laptops, and the Notebook 9 Pro does run cooler and quieter than the Dell XPS 15 with a PCIe SSD and NVIDIA 960M. The Asus is thicker and heavier, so it's a bit easier to manage heat there.
Powerful quad core laptops with dedicated graphics aren't known for their incredible runtimes. Happily, Intel has focused on improving battery life and reducing heat for the past several CPU and chipset generations, and even NVIDIA has brought down power consumption and heat markedly over the years. That means we're no longer limited to 2 hours with these powerful laptops, even extremely thin and light ones like the Notebook 9 Pro that don't have room for big batteries.
The Samsung's 4 cell, 57 WHr battery is nominally sealed inside, which is the trend on slim and even not so slim laptops. You can access it for service by removing the bottom cover, but you can't quickly swap in a spare on the road. Samsung includes a 90 watt charger with a typical two-cord, one brick design. It's smaller than MSI, Acer, Alienware and Asus chargers bundled with laptops of similar horsepower, but not as thin as the Dell XPS 15's curvy and svelte charger. It's a 90 watt charger rather than the 120 to 130 watt charger required for laptops with quad cores and GTX 960M graphics, hence it's smaller and lighter than some of the competition.
Samsung claims 6.5 hours of web browsing time (actual use time, not sleep or hibernate time), and for once with a PC manufacturer, that's fairly accurate. At 40% brightness with WiFi on, we've averaged 6 hours of use time when using MS Office, browsing the web, streaming video and editing a few RAW files in Photoshop. As always, runtimes will be shorter if you're editing video or playing games. In comparison, the Asus ZenBook Pro ran an hour less, the HP Omen 15 1.5 hours less and the Dell XPS 15 with 4K display had the same runtimes. The 15" Retina MacBook Pro is still the runtime champ, managing 9 hours.
When WiFi is unremarkable, we don't include a section on it. But the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro manages unusually good reception and throughput with the Intel 8260 AC dual band WiFi 802.11AC card with companion Bluetooth. For a laptop that's completely encased in metal, we're extremely impressed with the Pro's wireless performance that's on par with Killer WiFi in a partially plastic body laptop like MSI's gaming portables. Other laptops use the same WiFi card and 2 x 2 antenna, but Samsung's outdone themselves engineering antennas for excellent reception.
The WiFi card is mounted to a daughterboard rather than being the usual socketed card. That means you could replace it if it dies (though WiFi cards rarely die), but there's no upgrade path. Since this is Intel's latest and best WiFi card, this doesn't bother me.
There's a lot to like here: a pleasing 4K touch screen with low glare, the fast quad core Intel i7 CPU, NVIDIA GTX 950M dedicated graphics, SSD, adequate though not class leading battery runtimes and a very comfy backlit keyboard. The price is nice too--the Samsung is currently one of the least expensive in this premium powerhouse laptop tier. The unibody aluminum alloy casing with matte black finish and contrasting stainless steel sides is stunning, slim and uniquely Samsung. It's light and it doesn't get hot or loud with average to moderately aggressive use. The display, weight and keyboard beat the ZenBook Pro, and the price significantly undercuts the Dell XPS 15. It's not perfect: those who need 16 gigs of RAM are out of luck, and the GTX 950M may run cooler but it doesn't have quite the oomph of the GTX 960M. Still, it's a strong performer with an elegant design, forward looking USB-C port (faster than average too with Gen. 2) and it can handle most any task you throw at it for school, business and leisure use.