Samsung Series 7 Ultra vs. Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook Comparison Smackdown
Either way Samsung wins in this smackdown: we're pitting the Samsung Series 7 Ultra against the refreshed Samsung Series 9 with a full HD display. Both are Ultrabooks, both have 1920 x 1080 displays and Intel ULV Ivy Bridge CPUs. They feature metal casings, good looks and excellent fit and finish, so how do you decide?
To use a car analogy, the Samsung Series 7 Ultra is a tuner: a cool starting chassis that you can modify it to suit your needs (at least by Ultrabook standards). It has upgradable RAM with 2 slots, a standard mSATA SSD drive connector and is even available overseas with low-mid range Nvidia dedicated graphics. It's also part mini-van with all the creature comforts you'd expect from something larger: an RJ45 Ethernet port, full size HDMI, mini VGA, a full size SD card slot and 3 USB ports (though only 1 is USB 3.0). At 3.6 pounds it's not the lightest of the crop, but we'll forgive it because the weight and 0.74" thickness make room for these ports, standard RAM sockets and a beefy battery. It's a clean looking machine that speaks of solid quality but it's not stunning or unique.
The Samsung Series 7 Ultra
The Samsung Series 9 is a Euro sports car: it stands out in the crowd and says "look at me, I'm small, expensive and gorgeous". It's not the kind of thing you take apart yourself, and in fact only the SSD drive is upgradable (happily it's actually not hard to remove the bottom cover to access it). It has two USB ports, micro HDMI, mini VGA and Ethernet via an included dongle adapter. The design is stunning and it's impossibly thin at 0.51" and absurdly light at 2.55 pounds. The model we look at with a 2GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 gig SSD lists for $1,399 and you'll easily find it for $1,299 on Amazon and at Best Buy. The Series 7 Ultra is more affordable at $1,099 list and $999 average retail (though you lose the Core i7). The 7 Ultra is exclusive to Best Buy in the US with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 gig SSD. You can pick up the Series 9 NP900X3E from a variety of retailers.
The Samsung Series 9
To Touch or Not to Touch
The most important difference beyond design and appearance is the presence or absence of a touch screen. The Samsung Series 7 Ultra has a 1920 x 1080 gloss display with 10 points of multi-touch. The Samsung Series 9 has a matte 1920 x 1080 display with no touch. Touch is an important feature in Windows 8: some of you love it while others still loath touching the display and spend most of your time in the traditional desktop UI. Why doesn't the Series 9 have a touch screen? There's just no way to make it excruciatingly thin and light since touch screens are thicker and heavier.
Both displays have near 180 degree viewing angles, pleasing contrast, good color gamut and are quite bright. The Series 7 Ultra's brightness is hard to discover because you have to disable auto-brightness in several places to let it shine. With the Series 9, you can turn auto-brightness off in a single location and it won't be a problem again (Samsung and Windows 8 both love to run displays too dim when on auto-brightness). The Series 9's display hands down looks better because there's no glare and color gamut is slightly larger. It's one of the best full HD panels you'll find on an Ultrabook or any notebook. It's easy to view in any lighting, doesn't tire the eyes and you can't use it as a mirror to check your teeth. But you can't touch it either... well you could, but nothing will happen.
Keyboard and Creature Comforts
The Samsung Series 9 proves that Samsung does know how to do it right; you just have to pay for it. Honestly, the same is true for many kinds of products: you get the best a company has to offer when your purchase their top of the line model. In the case of the Series 9, everything just seems to work without fiddling with settings (display brightness for example), the keyboard is a sane black with white letter masking and the SSD is faster (though it's a LiteOn rather than Samsung brand SSD in the Series 7 Ultra).
The 7 Ultra is a wonderful machine and a great value, but the keyboard is irritating, and this is a constant theme with Samsung Series 7 machines. The silver keys with dark gray masking are visible in very good light, but in middling light (like the average home) it's very difficult to see the key masking. The backlight can actually make it even harder to see, unless you're in a truly dark room. Ouch. And the keyboard backlight sensor beside the webcam is overly sensitive so backlighting often turns off if you happen to have an overhead light behind you in the next room. The Samsung Series 9 keyboard is easy to see in all ambient light settings and the sensor performs perfectly. Both keyboards have low travel, typical of Ultrabooks and no trampolining. They don't feel like a typist's dream, but we found ourselves typing at maximum rate with no increase in error rate.
There are quite a few more points to cover, so watch our Samsung Series 9 vs. Samsung Series 7 Ultra Comparison Smackdown to catch them all.