What's Hot: Insanely light and thin 13.3" Ultrabook with a Core i5. Just 1.9 lbs! Equally insane 2.9 lb. Core i7 15" model. Lovely screen, good keyboard, decent battery life.
What's Not: No touch screen (that would add weight and thickness).
Reviewed March 30, 2016 (updated April 25 to add 15" model) by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)
Remember several years ago when Samsung's crazy thin and light laptops took the world by storm? They looked even more stylish than the MacBook Air and were 30% lighter (or more) than the fledgling Windows Ultrabook competition. Well, the world caught up and there are plenty of good looking 13.3" Ultrabooks on the market now, complete with metal casings and interesting designs. Arguably, Samsung's design is still one of the more attractive and expensive to make with all those flowing lines and curves without a seam out of place. Now Samsung's back and trying to wow us again with a laptop that's once again 30% or more lighter than the competition, great looking and... for once in Samsung PC land, not wildly expensive. In fact, at $999 well equipped, it's actually quite a good deal. Better yet, it's not a slightly underpowered Intel Core M like Samsung's more expensive 2015 ATIV Book 9.
The Samsung Notebook 9 runs Windows 10 on the 6th generation Intel Skylake Core i5-6200U CPU with 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 gig M.2 SSD. It has a 13.3" full HD 1920 x 1080 display that's crisp and vibrant. It weighs 1.85 lbs. (let's just round that up to a still mind-boggling 1.9 lbs.). That's right, it weighs less than two pounds, is clad in aluminum and magnesium alloy and is a full 13.3" laptop, not a diminutive 12" MacBook or a 12.5" (and still heavier) Razer Blade Stealth. It weighs less than the 12" Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Windows 10 tablet with its included keyboard. Unlike that Mac and the TabPro S, it's not stuck with just one port either. It has a decent selection, along with a very good backlit keyboard, large trackpad and enough horsepower to be your main computer. The only thing missing is a touch screen, omitted here because those are thicker, heavier and consume more power. At barely over a half inch thick, something has to give--perhaps battery life. But Samsung surprises us even there.
For those who prefer something larger, there's a 15" model of the Notebook 9 (2.9 lbs.), and it sells for $1,199 with a Core i7, 8 gigs of RAM, a 256 gig SSD and a full HD Display. We'll look at both in our review.
Design and Ergonomics
The Samsung Notebook 9 has the company's signature design--if it's still gorgeous, don't change it. The sides are flat cut and taper to a barely there edge that's thinner than a pencil. Perhaps as a concession to price or weight, the sides aren't highly polished to a stainless look like Samsung's other pricier Ultrabooks, and we miss that classy and eye-catching element. The entire casing is finished in the same light silver that's less inspired than Samsung's usual blue-black finish, but unlike the inky blue-black, it doesn't show fingerprints.
Despite the keen diet, the base has no flex. The only way we could induce flex on the 13.3" modrl was when applying a good deal of pressure to the stiff Phillips head screws that hold the bottom cover on. They're tight fitting screws and require a great deal of downward pressure to unscrew without stripping the heads, and we could see the chassis bend a little bit. That's not a normal use case however, and under normal use it doesn't flex. The 15" model's base doesn't flex if you apply the same near undue pressure. If you grip the display panel and twist, there is some movement, but much less than the carbon fiber lidded Sony Vaio laptops of old and the LG Gram 15. The bottom panel of the laptop is easy enough to remove once you unscrew those snug Phillips head screws, and the panel is wafer thin and light aluminum. The laptop in no way feels delicate, but obviously to achieve the incredible light weight, all panels must be thinner than average. It's not a ThinkPad that can handle many drops to a hardwood floor, nor is it the deadly rigid Katana that is the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Spin. The Notebook 9 13.3" might survive just fine since it can flex a tiny bit without breaking, but I'd treat it with a little respect. The 15" feels even more rigid and solid. Of course, I'd treat most notebooks with respect--they're consumer electronics not lawn mowers.
Despite the very thin design and Core i5 inside the 13" and Core i7 in the 15", the laptop is almost always silent and never got hot on the bottom or top. Nice. That's almost too good to be true for a laptop that weighs as little and is almost as thin as some Windows tablets like Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book clipboard section. The 13.3" Notebook 9's stereo down-firing speakers are as anemic as you'd expect unforunately. Volume is passable but audio sounds thin and tinny. The 15" Notebook 9's speakers are noticably louder and fuller, though they're not among the best in that size class.
Ports and Upgrading Internals
The good news is that this is a typical Ultrabook with a removable bottom panel. It might be as thin and light as a non-seriveable tablet, but you can do repairs and upgrades. Should the battery need replacement a few years down the road, it can be done. RAM is soldered on board and isn't upgradable, which is typical of Ultrabooks. The SSD is in an M.2 slot and can be upgraded. The Intel 8260 WiFi 802.11AC dual band WiFi card with Bluetooth 4.1 is integrated into the tiny motherboard on both models rather than being socketed, so you can't upgrade it (but it's a good wireless card and is the latest generation from Intel, so there's no need).
Ports are hearty for a 13.3" laptop this thin and light, though some of them are micro versions. There's a micro HDMI port (no room for a full size port), a micro VGA port (adapter not included), a special Ethernet port (adapter is included in the box), 3.5mm combo audio, two USB 3.0 ports and surprisingly, a full size SD card slot under a door on the right side/underside. That's a sufficient collection of ports to make this a main laptop or computer.
The 15" Samsung Notebook 9 has 2 USB 3.0 ports, and a USB-C 3.1 Gen. 1 port that can drive monitors (HDMI 1.4 for 4K @30Hz and DisplayPort 1.2 for 4K @ 60Hz), Ethernet and even charging. It has a full size HDMI port, 3.5mm combo audio, the same proprietary Gigabit Ethernet port with included dongle adapter and a microSD card slot (that's right, the bigger model has a smaller card slot).
Sorry, there's no touch screen here since that adds thickness, weight and expense. The good news is that the 1920 x 1080 full HD PLS panel on each model is excellent. Samsung says the 13.3" is a 400 nit panel, which is extremely bright and well above average, though we measured it at a still very good 350 nits (Samsung's adaptive display modes may affect this reading). The 15" model likewise measured 350 nits. They represents 99% of sRGB and 76% of Adobe RGB, making it a good fit for graphics and video professionals and competitive with other $1,000 and higher laptops. We couldn't detect any PWM flickering at lower brightness levels. They have a native white point of 7300K, which is above the ideal 6600K, but is also typical of laptops and isn't too far off to be corrected with calibration using a colorimeter. Gamma is perfect at 2.2. Contrast on the 13.3" Notebook 9 is very good at 900:1 with a black level of 0.39 at max brightness. The 15" model had slightly higher 0.41 black levels for a contrast ratio of 860:1. We're pleased with the contrast ratios since some PLS panels can be weak on contrast. PLS is similar to IPS in terms of viewing angles, which are excellent.
Though the display is glossy, reflections are nearly absent. That's rare and a pleasure here since we get the benefit of a glossy panel's perceptual contrast and color improvements without glare or unwanted reflections. Good job, Samsung!
Deals and Shopping:
Samsung Notebook 9 13.3" Video Review
Samsung Notebook 9 15" Video Review
Horsepower and Performance
Though you might expect a laptop this thin and light to also be light on performance, the 13.3" has an Intel Skylake 6th generation Core i5 clocked at 2.3 GHz with Turbo Boost to 2.8 GHz, same as any thicker and heavier Ultrabook. That's a definite improvement over the Intel Core m5 in the late fall Samsung ATIV Book 9. The Core i5 is a mainstream CPU that's perfectly capable of handling average workloads for school and work like MS Office, Photoshop, software development for small to medium size programs, streaming video and occasional full HD video editing. Though the 15.6" Notebook 9 comes with a Core i7-6500U, there's no i7 option for the 13.3" model. That said, they're both dual core 15 watt CPUs with the same architecture and Intel HD 520 graphics, so the performance difference is small.
Above: the 13.3" Notebook 9 internals.
Below: the 15" Samsung Notebook 9 internals.
The machines have 8 gigs of RAM soldered on board, so it's not upgradeable. Samsung sells the 13.3" model with a 256 gig M.2 SSD (Liteon rather than Samsung's own brand), and our 15" shipped with a 256 gig Samsung Drive. Both use the SATA3 rather than the newer and faster PCIe interface. There is currently just one 13.3" and one 15" configuration available, as described above. Though specs mavens might wish for a PCIe SSD, in actual real life use, it's hard to notice the difference between SATA-3 and PCIe, and this is a $999 laptop rather than a more expensive one, so we're fine with Samsung's choice. The M.2 slot is readily accessible once you remove the bottom cover, should you wish to upgrade to a larger SSD later.
Notebook 9 13.3" Model:
Notebook 9 15" model:
Keyboard and Trackpad
Samsung's a master of the thin and light laptop, and despite the incredibly thin design, the keyboard doesn't suffer. Travel is decent but not deep like a ThinkPad, tactile feel is superb and key damping and actuation force are perfect. I've typed this long review on the laptop, and enjoyed doing so. Good job again, Samsung. The black keys provide good contrast and are easy to see in any light and the 13.3" model's multi-stage blue-green backlighting is easier on the eyes than white. You can set the keyboard backlight timeout in Samsung's setting app. Note that the 3.3" model has a backlit keyboard but the 15" does not. Odd that the bigger model lacks backlighting, as does the LG Gram 15.
The large Microsoft Precision trackpad is likewise excellent, as on other laptops that use this trackpad. It tracks finger movements very well and supports basic gestures like two-finger scrolling and zooming. There are no extended settings however. That said, I'll take a trackpad that works very well over feature overload.
We don't usually include a wireless section unless something is particularly good or bad. In the Samsung Notebook 9's case, we noted WiFi connection speed numbers were lower than average (520-702 Mbps) on our network with Netgear Nighthawk 802.11ac routers. It has the solid Intel 8260 dual band WiFi 802.11ac adapter with a 2 x 2 antenna, and despite the lower connection speeds noted by Windows, throughput was the same as or better than laptops that managed full 866 Mbps speed connections. It didn't drop connections or misbehave either, so we aren't complaining, but rather noting the anomaly.
This is where we expected the diminutive laptop to fall on its razor thin sword. The Samsung Notebook 9 13.3" 30 WHr battery is lower in capacity than we're accustomed to seeing, but the Samsung Notebook 9 delivered typical Ultrabook runtimes of 7 to 7.5 hours with average productivity and streaming video use. We don't know how Samsung managed this with an Intel Core i5 and a very bright display, but it certainly helps that it doesn't have a power hungry super high resolution touch screen. The 15" has a larger 39 WHr battery, which is closer to the 40 WHr average for Ultrabooks. Samsung claims the 15" can run up to 12 hours on a charge, but that's optimistic. With brightness at 50% when doing productivity work and streaming 1080p video, we averaged a respectable 8 hours without changing default power management. For a laptop this thin and light, that's actually very impressive and it outclasses the LG Gram 15.
The laptop ships with a traditionally designed, very compact laptop charger with plenty of cord length to reach outlets. It plugs into very small barrel connector on the laptop's side. The bigger model supports fast charging, a feature that's become common in phones but we rarely see it in laptops other than some Lenovo ThinkPad models.
If you're in the market for the thinnest and lightest Core i5 13" Ultrabook you can get, buy this. Really. That is unless you want a touch screen. The Samsung Notebook 9 is the kind of innovation we like to see--rather than adding a bunch of features that don't improve computing or mobility or are hard to see the difference (4K displays on 12.5" laptops- ha!), we have the perfect storm of super-portability, performance, battery life and classy design and materials. There are enough ports to make this a practical main machine, though some do require dongles or micro cables. Still, the 12" MacBook has just ONE port and the Dell XPS 13 will send you on a sometimes frustrating hunt for just the right USB-C adapters.
The 15" market is mainstream in the US, and there are Ultrabooks, budget laptops with plastic casings and low end CPUs, just a few convertibles and quite a few quad core machines with strong dedicated graphics. Thus I can't say that you should run out and buy the 15" Samsung Notebook 9, because I don't know which of those four types of laptops you're in the market for. If you do want an Ultrabook with a dual core CPU and are looking for the lightest and slimmest laptop you can get, by all means the Notebook 9 15" is a top contender. The price is reasonable for what you get-- the LG Gram 15 similarly configured other than a bigger SSD, is $1,500.
Size:13.3" model: 12.35
x 8.6 x 0.53 inches. Weight: 1.9 pounds. 15" model: 13.64 x 9.32 x 0.57 inches. 2.9 pounds.
Audio:Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
Networking:Integrated Intel 8260AC dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1.
Software:Windows 10 Home 64 bit.
Expansion and Ports:13.3" model: 2 USB 3.0 ports, micro HDMI, Ethernet (via included dongle and proprietary port), mini VGA, 3.5mm audio and
SD card slot. 15" model: 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port, full size HDMI, Ethernet (via dongle), 3.5mm audio and microSD card slot.