Once upon a time, you expected this kind of experience only from Sony or Apple. A unique and distinctive design, an all-metal casing and perfect fit and finish. Good performance and specs. I'm talking about the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook; striking yet understated in Mineral Ash Black. The design hasn't changed from the previous generation 13.3" Series 9 (though it's wildly improved from the first generation), but it still turns heads. This 2.55 pound machine is just 0.51" thick, with straight cut bright aluminum sides that contrast with the matte black top, bottom and inner surfaces. For those of you who follow Samsung's Galaxy Android smartphones, Samsung's penchant for metal casings in their notebooks might come as a shock. Yes, the Samsung Series 9 is the manufacturer's high line of Ultrabooks, so it should look good and use high end materials. That said, the styling exceeds expectations, so it's worth a mention.
Today we look at the April-May 2013 refresh with updated Intel CPUs and a full HD 1920 x 1080 display. The rest of the specs are similar to slightly older models available several months ago, and the design is untouched (we won't complain about that since it's stunning). Of course, a $1,399 list price laptop ($1,299 on Amazon) needs more than good looks to impress us, and Samsung does a fairly decent job with their jaw-dropping full HD matte display, updated 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-3537U ULV CPU with Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz, 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a very fast 128 gig SSD. Yes, we'd like to see an 8 gig option, but Samsung seems to shy away from offering this in their 13" Series 9, and to be honest, I rarely exceed 4 gigs of usage unless running VMs (virtual machines) or editing full HD video. 128 gigs of storage isn't exactly capacious, but 256 gig models will have an even higher price tag. The 20 gig recovery partition, Windows 8 64 bit and associated apps take up plenty of space, so you're left with 68 gigs available on first boot on the Core i7 model with 128 gig SSD that's most commonly available in the US (NP900X3E-A02US).
The machine has dual band Intel Advanced-N 6235 WiFi with WiDi wireless display, and we had no problems with performance or range. It has Bluetooth 4.0, an SD card slot, 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 port, 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 port selection, other than 10/100/1000 Ethernet, is par for the course among Ultrabooks, but for a notebook this exquisitely thin and light, we're satisfied. If you need a more general purpose aluminum-clad workhorse with built-in Ethernet and a full size HDMI port (plus upgradable RAM), then Samsung's Series 7 is more appropriate. The 13.3" Series 7 Ultra is nearly a pound heavier, which is average rather than stunningly light like the Series 9.
The full HD 1920 x 1080 display is simply gorgeous and very bright (Samsung is still arguing with itself whether this is a 300 or 400 nit display). I honestly never loved the 1600 x 900 PLS display on the previous Series 9 because the colors weren't very accurate. The 1080p 900X3E is a different story: it has a wide color gamut, no glare and wide viewing angles. It surpasses the venerable and twice as expensive Sony Vaio Z3 thanks to vastly superior viewing angles while maintaining a wide color gamut and avoiding glare. This is one of the best displays on a laptop, and only the Sony and Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A (non-touch) can compare. Speaking of touch, there's no touch screen option here, likely because touch screens are heavier and thicker, and that would ruin the Series 9's super-thin and light reputation. Samsung's more affordable Series 7 Ultra does have a 1080p glossy touch screen, for those who like the Samsung experience but want touch with Windows 8.
Here's our Samsung Series 9 Full HD Ultrabook video review. Our full written review will follow.