Though consumers are likely to draw comparisons between that 2.5-pound 13-incher and the umpteen other ultraportables hitting the market, Samsung isn't positioning the Series 9 laptops as Ultrabooks, but rather, premium, top-tier machines. Still, for something that's not an Ultrabook, the brothers Series 9 certainly look the part: both pack Core i5 processors, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSDs, six-hour batteries and backlit keyboards -- Ultrabook-like specs if ever we've heard them. Even the 15-inch model is missing an optical drive, and isn't much larger than the last-gen Series 9.
What separates them from your garden-variety $900 box, though, is a solid unibody aluminum design and a heartbreakingly beautiful display: a 1600 x 900 panel with a matte finish (!) and 400 nits of brightness. But is that worth shelling out an extra few Benjamins? We've just spent weeks playing with an early, pre-production version of the 13-inch model, and while we're going to withhold final judgment until we review a production-grade system, we already have quite a bit to say about the design. So grab a warm beverage, settle into your comfiest chair and meet us past the break for an in-depth preview.
Look and feel
When we first got hands-on with the new Series 9 laptops, we were joined by two of the execs tasked with overhauling their design. What struck us most -- more than any one spec like resolution or thickness -- was how much the design was apparently decided by user feedback. After culling ideas, in part, from the comments on sites like this one, the designers arrived at two overarching conclusions: the shiny stuff had to go, as did superfluous things, like launch buttons. The design needed to be simpler, cleaner, but just as well-made, with the same attention to detail. (It also needed to be thinner and lighter, but this we would have taken for granted.)
All of which should explain the laptop we have before us. The 2012 model does away with the last generation's brushed metal surfaces and reflective paneling around the keyboard in favor of smooth aluminum. The quintet of LED lights that used to sit above the keyboard is now gone, replaced by a single, more discreet power button. The spacious, buttonless trackpad is back, but because the palm rest isn't decked out in contrasting brushed metal, the pad blends in more than it used to. All told, it's sexy, but in a timeless, sensible sort of way.
This year's 13-inch model is also thinner and lighter than its predecessor, at 2.5 pounds and half an inch thick (down from 2.8 with a 0.64-inch-thick chassis). In addition to whittling the body, though, Samsung managed to shrink the footprint by squeezing a 13-inch display into a chassis whose dimensions more closely match a 12-inch system -- not an uncommon tactic among laptop makers. You know what we're going to say, right? It was insanely thin and light last year, and it's more of the same this go 'round. It's just a shame Samsung's new Ultrabooks look so pudgy by comparison.
We'd be remiss if we didn't point out that Samsung traded duraluminum (the stuff used in airplane construction) for a unibody aluminum chassis. More than anything, you might pine for the last generation's soft finish, but at the same time the bottom now feels as solid as the rest of the laptop -- something we took issue with when we reviewed the first-gen version. Despite the change in materials, the build quality seems to have carried over to the second generation, though we heard some creaking when we picked it up by the palm rest. Right now, though, we're inclined to chalk that up to the fact that this is an early build.
Despite all these changes, the new Series 9 still manages to resemble the last generation, mostly because Samsung kept that unique bulb-shaped profile. Unlike the MacBook Air or ASUS Zenbook UX31, which narrow to a razer-thin sliver, the Series 9 stays mostly uniform throughout, save for the area near the hinge where it widens to accommodate some ports. This time around, none of the ports are hidden behind a drop-down door, though the SD slot is tucked on the left underbelly of the laptop, beneath a mushy flap.
We'll be happy to revisit this when we settle down to write a full review, but our first impression of the keyboard is that it's prettier than it is comfortable. The aquamarine backlit emanating from beneath the keys is funky, unexpected and, in this editor's opinion, a crowning element of the design. Many of the major keys (Enter, Backspace, etc.) are amply sized, and even the ones that have been cropped (Tab, Shift) are still eminently usable. Even the arrow keys, though small, are still more widely spaced than the clusters we've seen on other ultraportables' keyboards.
But all of those wise design choices don't quite make up for the fact that these are some seriously shallow keys. Ladies and gentleman, this laptop that celebrates detail where so many other laptops don't still manages to make the same mistake as a rookie $800 Ultrabook. There's not much travel here, and while that shouldn't preclude you from getting work done, you might well suffer a dropped letter or ten. (This is extra annoying when you're using muscle memory to hammer out a password and you can't tell that letters didn't register since every character shows up as an asterix anyway. But we digress.) What's more, the keys on this early build are a bit loud for our tastes, but we'll see if this is as big an issue in a final, production-grade machine.
As with the first-gen Series 9, Samsung used a matte, 400-nit panel with its SuperBright Plus technology, except this year it bumped the resolution from 1366 x 768 to 1600 x 900. Have you guys settled down yet? Good. Because you'll want to hear how stunning it is. A screen like this is enough to turn anyone into a display snob: it offers a lovely blend of wide viewing angles, bright, arresting colors and fine detail, when you need it. Now why can't every laptop display be this beautiful?
Since this is an early build, we thought it best not to treat this as a full review, complete with our usual benchmark tests. As it happens, we ran them anyway, just for kicks, and although we won't print those numbers, we'll tell you this: its early PCMark scores best even the ASUS Zenbook UX31, and its 3DMark results come close too. As for real-world performance, we've been enjoying 20-second boot times, which puts this on par with the better ultraportables we've tested lately. We'll run all of these tests again on our finely-tuned review unit, of course, but for now, we feel we have reason to expect good things.
As always, we're going to put off judgment until we can test a production-quality system and see how its solid-state drive and six-hour battery fare against the competition. In the meantime, though, that question of competition is a troubling one: what else would you consider in addition to this, if not an Ultrabook, or a MacBook Air? We'd have to agree with Samsung that the design, particularly that stunner of a display, is superior to what you'll get on most $900 machines. But the rated battery life is shorter than what other laptops promise, and we already have a sinking feeling this isn't going to have our favorite keyboard (even if it does have the best backlighting scheme we've ever seen this side of a gaming rig). Given these early concerns, we have to wonder: how many trade-offs can one tolerate before that $1,400 starting price starts to seem unreasonable?
SAMSUNG RELEASES NEXT GENERATION SERIES 9 LAPTOP FEATURING AN ULTRASLIM, ALUMINUM SINGLE SHELL BODY
Craftsmanship and Usability take center stage as the new Series 9 debuts
LAS VEGAS, January 9, 2012 – Samsung Electronics America Inc., a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd, today announced the second generation Samsung Series 9 notebook at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Following the former model's premier at the CES 2011, the new Series 9 represents Samsung's best-in-class innovation and craftsmanship in the premium notebook segment.
Featuring one of the thinnest, lightest laptop form factors ever introduced, the Series 9 is designed to turn heads everywhere. Its unique design and innovative engineering breaks all common perceptions of premium notebook PCs. Super-slim components were tailor-made to fit into the innovative single shell body, making the second generation Series 9 an ideal choice for power business users and discerning consumers alike. The second generation Series 9 will be on display at the Samsung CES booth, #12004 in Central Hall, from January 10-13, 2012.
"When designing the new Series 9, we focused on improving key elements that our customers loved in the original award winning Series 9, including the sophisticated, lightweight design," said Todd Bouman, vice president of product marketing at Samsung Enterprise Business Division. "Our engineers worked very hard to develop the amazingly thin form factor and one of the most compact chassis in the world, which allowed us to house a 15-inch display in a 14-inch chassis. We also made changes to the new model based on customer feedback, such as the inclusion of a 1600x900 high resolution screen, to truly make this a top-of-the line, irresistible laptop that represents the ultimate in Samsung precision engineering and premium design."
Weighing as light as 2.5 pounds and measuring just a half inch thin, the second generation Samsung Series 9 can be effortlessly carried anywhere. Artfully crafted by Samsung's team with over 33,000 hours in research, design and development, the end result is a laptop that is 37 percent thinner and 0.4 pounds lighter than the original Series 9, as well as more visually striking. The build is nearly seamless, using an aluminum single shell body and featuring a more pronounced Series 9 hallmark polished edge. Key components such as the LCD panel, keyboard, motherboard, cables, fans and battery have been customized with precision to fit into the Series 9's extra flat single shell body. Additionally, the Series 9 has been sand-blasted for fingerprint resistance, keeping the Mineral Ash Black colored body and natural matte aluminum sides pristine at all times.
Unrivaled Screen Quality
The second generation Series 9 display is astonishingly thin thanks to Samsung's engineers, who carefully thinned the layers of the LCD screen without sacrificing quality. Featuring 1600x900 resolution and Samsung's SuperBright Plus technology (400 nit), the 13.3-inch or 15-inch screen is perfect for viewing everything from photos and movies to work documents. The display is housed in one of the thinnest and most compact chassis ever, enabling Samsung to fit a 15-inch screen in a 14-inch chassis, reducing the product's overall size. The wide viewing angle and matte nature of the display makes for easy use both inside and out, while the backlit keyboard lets you remain productive even in low lighting.
A Larger Screen Size Option
For the first time, the new Samsung Series 9 will offer the world's thinnest and most compact 15-inch premium notebook. The Series 9 15-inch features a vivid SuperBright Plus display that fits into a compact 14-inch chassis. With a stunningly slim profile measuring just 0.58 inches and weighing just 3.5 lbs, makes this 15-inch Series 9 almost 50 percent more compact than any existing 15-inch thin & light notebooks.
Cutting Edge Performance and Signature Samsung Technology
For powerful performance on-the-go, the second generation Samsung Series 9 will include a 128 GB SSD and Intel® Core™ i5-2467M processor at launch. Accessible connectivity was also highlights major improvements, moving everything to the corners without any impedance; users can easily access video, audio and data connectivity including USB 3.0 and a multi-card reader.
Thanks to Samsung's Fast Solutions technology, the new Series 9 boots in as little as 9.8 seconds and wakes up in 1.4 seconds and offers web browsing speeds that are up to twice as fast.
Perfect for road warriors, Samsung's exclusive Easy Settings make it effortless to connect the Series 9 to wireless networks, projectors and more by providing easy access to commonly used PC settings, resulting in stress-free business travel and presentations. With Samsung Easy Migration, users can seamlessly transfer existing files to the new laptop by connecting their old PC to the new one and simply launching and starting Easy Migration.
For ultimate mobility, the Series 9 offers up to ten hours of real-time battery life for the 15-inch and up to seven hours on the 13.3-inch, keeping users connected to both their professional and personal lives all day. Additionally, the inclusion of Samsung Battery Life Plus technology means that the battery will retain 80 percent of its original capacity for up to 1,500 charges – giving users a battery that can last up to five times longer than other notebooks and works whenever and wherever they need it, even after three years of use.
Samsung's Support Center ensures all content stays safe and can help troubleshoot any particular problem. Accessible with a keyboard shortcut, the Support Center helps users manage their system settings or arrange for a tech-support web chat. Samsung's Back-up & Recovery Solution also allows users to create and restore back-ups of system data on the device, or on a network or removable storage device.
The second generation Samsung Series 9 will be available starting February 27, 2012. It will retail for $1,399.99 for the 13.3-inch and $1,499.99 for the 15-inch. All Samsung mobile PC products are available through Samsung resellers and distribution channels. For a full list of retailers, call 1-800-SAMSUNG or visit www.samsung.com.
Full details, video content and product images are available at the Samsung microsite at: http://www.samsungces.com.