My week with the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite

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The Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite has the aesthetics of a real flagship device for any manufacturer, with its super-sleek coating and wafer-thin form factor immediately catching the eye. So it was a little surprising that its unveiling came alongside nearly ten other products at Samsung’s lavish Earls Court launch event in June; the tidal wave of devices somewhat obscuring the svelte notebook’s emergence.

But having spent a week with the 13in touchscreen Ativ Book 9 Lite, you can understand why Samsung didn’t herald its launch with the same fanfare of its high-end products. Disappointingly here, beauty is largely skin-deep, with attractive design let down by hardware defects that hit the user experience.

In fairness, this reflects the reasonable £499 price tag, as while this may look like a challenger to Apple’s MacBook Air on the surface (the white model especially), it simply isn’t a device in the same premium bracket.

I grabbed the Windows 8-running Ativ Book 9 Lite before flying out to Berlin for IFA 2013, making it my companion for six days of relentless use. I was reassured by its spec-sheet and the first impressions it gave in our hands-on preview, but more importantly I was drawn to its portability. Weighing under 1.6kg and bring just 17mm thick, the Ativ Book 9 Lite was a dream for a frantic conference when my laptop was constantly dipping in and out my bag.

As such, speedy boot-up times are also important for quick bouts of work on-the-go, and the device certainly saw to this need, with its 128GB SSD helping it power up in just two seconds from sleep mode, and eight seconds from cold. The Ativ Book 9 Lite’s quad-core AMD processor and 4GB RAM kept performance at a more than passable level despite some pretty rigorous multi-tasking, and the 6-hour battery life proved ample too.

But as we’ve mentioned, this notebook’s scores best in the look and feel department. The ‘marble white’ model I took to Berlin – as opposed to the ‘mineral ash black’ version – accentuated these strengths. Despite its all-plastic build, the Ativ Book 9 Lite avoids feeling cheap thanks to a smooth matte finish on its inner-body and a robust construction overall. I expected the gleaming white colour scheme to amplify blemishes, but these fears proved unfounded during my week with the device.

So we’ve got a lightweight, solidly-performing, £500 laptop with an attractive design. Where’s Samsung gone wrong? Well, unfortunately, with the fundamentals, as both the trackpad and keyboard proved serious let-downs.

The trackpad was the primary annoyance, being so unresponsive that my hands and fingers genuinely became tired and achy after a full-day of use. Dragging your mouse from one side of the screen to the other felt like a long, arduous journey, often requiring multiple swipes, and its accuracy was poor too.

Just as bad were the in-built mouse buttons, which felt awkward and clunky, and were similarly unresponsive. As we know, these functional gripes often arise simply because you are getting used to a different device, but even after a week of solid use, simple tasks remained inhibited by the trackpad’s poor performance.

On the other hand, the keyboard actually seemed promising at first, with no typing difficulties and the shallow keys giving a satisfying feel. But four days into its use and certain buttons were already feeling worn out; ‘sticking’ after being pressed and making disconcerting creaking and squeaking noises. They were the kind of flaws you expect to notice after a few years of use, not a few days.

As a result, despite initially seducing me with its good looks and silky touch, my one week fling with the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite ended on sour terms. She may have looked the part and fulfilled many of my needs while we were together, but she simply wasn’t in it for the long term. And even for a not-too-pricey £499, neither was I.