Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus review

Pros

  • Amazing 3,200 x 1,800 display
  • Slim lightweight design
  • Premium materials
  • Speedy performance
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Limited storage capacity

With few exceptions, the current crop of premium Ultrabooks are all about the three Ps: Portability, Performance, and Pixels. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus delivers on all three counts. The design is carried over from Samsung's proto-Ultrabook, the Samsung Series 9, which helped define the new thin and light category, and it's bolstered by one of Intel's high performance fourth-generation Core i5 processors and a speedy SSD. And when it comes to pixels, the Book 9 Plus wins hands down, thanks to an impressive QHD+ 3200 x 1800 display that tops everything else in the premium Ultrabook category.

Design

The obvious place to start discussing the Book 9 Plus is the display, since it so easily grabs your attention the moment you power on the laptop. The 13.3in display boasts a whopping 3,200 x 1,800 Quad HD+ touchscreen. This high resolution display isn't just better than HD, it's better than just about anything. The most immediate comparison that comes to mind is the Apple MacBook Pro 13in with its Retina Display, but there have also been a couple of premium laptops we’ve reviewed fairly recently with higher than 1080p displays, like the Toshiba KIRAbook, which ramped its display up to 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. Unlike Apple's Retina Display, the ATIV Book 9 Plus also has 10-point touch, an essential feature for Windows 8.

While the display is comparable to the MacBook Pro with Retina, the more apt comparison for this svelte ultraportable is the Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid 2013). Both share a similar sliver-thin design, a minimalist aesthetic, and an aluminium all-metal chassis; though Samsung largely eschews the bare metal look with a dark coat of paint and only a glint of metal along the edges of the chassis. This slim ultraportable measures 320 x 225 x 14mm (WxDxH), which is about the same size as the Apple MacBook Air 13in, but it’s a tad heavier, weighing just a touch under 1.4kg.

The ATIV Book 9 Plus has a full-size chiclet keyboard complete with backlight. Joining the keyboard is a fairly large touchpad, measuring 4in wide by 2.7in high. The buttons are incorporated into the touch surface, and the touchpad also supports Windows 8 gestures.

To provide a firm backing for the touchscreen, the laptop hinge opens smoothly to just past 90 degrees, and then requires more force to open further, similar to the dual-friction hinge seen on the Acer Aspire S7. The result is a touchscreen that holds firm against all of your poking and prodding while still opening and closing without issue. The one oddity of the ATIV Book 9 is the decision to use a 180 degree hinge. This lets you open up the ultraportable to a flat 180 degrees, but I can't for the life of me think of any circumstance in which you would actually want to do so.

Features

The narrow edges of the Book 9 Plus don't leave a lot of room for ports, but there's still a pretty good selection. On either side of the laptop is a full-size USB 3.0 port for use with external drives and peripherals like mice and keyboards.

On the right is a combination headphone and microphone jack, and a tiny connector that converts to full-size VGA with an accessory dongle (not included).

On the left, a microHDMI port lets you connect to a second monitor or HDTV, and a minuscule LAN port offers Gigabit Ethernet when using a different adapter dongle (which is included with the laptop). Also on the left is an SD card slot, which is concealed by a spring loaded cover. However, unlike most port covers used on laptops, this one doesn't pull out, but instead swings in, revealing the card slot when in use and automatically protecting it as soon as the card is removed.

There are also a number of wireless options, with dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi providing 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz connectivity, the latter of which performs better in crowded areas. There’s also Bluetooth 4.0 + HS for use with smartphones and wireless peripherals. Finally, when you want to skip the dongles and cables, WiDi 4.1 lets you stream HD content wirelessly to a WiDi-equipped TV or WiDi adapter.

The ATIV Book 9 Plus is equipped with a 128GB SSD, which helps keep the performance speedy and the boot times short, but doesn't provide a lot of local storage. If you tend to save images and video, you'll definitely want to pick up an external hard drive, preferably something that takes advantage of the USB 3.0 connections on this laptop.

Several programs and applications are preinstalled, but two unique offerings from Samsung stand out. The first is Samsung SideSync, which lets you automatically sync files between the Book 9 Plus and several current Samsung Android smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4. When docked, files sync automatically and can be easily transferred back and forth from phone to PC, but the real magic comes in with goodies like the Virtual Phone, which puts your phone's screen on your laptop and lets you access the phone's functions (like text messaging) without leaving the desktop. It also lets you use your mouse and keyboard with the phone.

Samsung also includes HomeSync Lite, which lets you use the PC as the central hub of a personal cloud, syncing files between multiple devices. While it skips the fees associated with paid cloud storage, it’s limited by the fact that it's tied to the laptop's local storage, which is fairly small.

Other apps preinstalled on the ATIV Book 9 Plus include Skype, Netflix, Plants vs. Zombies, a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security, and a free copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11. Samsung covers the Book 9 Plus with a one year warranty.

Performance

The Book 9 Plus is outfitted with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U processor, the same fourth-generation processor seen in the Acer Aspire S7 and the Sony Vaio Pro 13. As a result, the Book 9 Plus produced a strong performance in tests like PCMark 7 (4,907 points) and Cinebench (2.50 points), where it fell right in line with the similarly equipped Aspire S7 and the Vaio Pro 13. In multimedia tests, the Book 9 Plus finished Handbrake in 1 minute and 23 seconds, and cranked through Photoshop in 5 minutes and 51 seconds, edging ahead of the Aspire S7’s Photoshop time (6:01) and topping the MacBook Air 13in (which hit 3:15 in Handbrake, 7:07 in Photoshop).

The Book 9 Plus makes the most of Intel's integrated graphics solution (Intel HD Graphics 4400), squeezing out 3DMark 11 scores of 1,655 points (Entry) and 271 points (Extreme), just behind the Acer Aspire S7 and just ahead of the Sony Vaio Pro 13. While the performance in gaming tests doesn't indicate any sort of gaming aptitude – the Book 9 Plus couldn't manage playable results at any settings – this is still an improvement over third-generation Intel integrated graphics.

With a 55Wh battery sealed in the chassis, the Book 9 Plus lasted 8 hours and 15 minutes in our battery rundown test. This puts it right alongside the Acer Aspire S7, which lasted only 7 minutes longer (8:22), and well ahead of the Sony Vaio Pro 13 (6:23). However, none of these can hold a candle to the Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2013), which nearly doubled the competition with 15 hours and 30 minutes of battery life. Regardless, the Book 9 Plus still holds its own against other super-slim Windows ultraportables.

Verdict

In terms of performance and battery life, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus is in line with other premium Ultrabooks. What the Book 9 Plus offers that others do not, however, is a higher-than-HD screen that rivals Apple's Retina Display.

The downsides of the Book 9 Plus are its limited storage, the use of ports that require dongles (which isn’t uncommon on thinner Ultrabooks), and it is also a touch pricey compared to the competition over in the UK. Nonetheless, this is an excellent notebook which offers the sort of resolution you'll really appreciate when working with photos or enjoying movies, and its slim design and quality build mean that the purchase price will be money well spent.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

Processor

Intel Core i5-4200U

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 8

Weight

1.4kg

Graphics

Intel HD Graphics 4400

Screen Type

10-point Touchscreen

Type

Ultraportable, Ultrabook

RAM

4GB

Networking Options

802.11n (2.4 & 5GHz dual-band)

Processor Speed

1.6GHz

Primary Optical Drive

External

Screen Size

13.3in

Storage Capacity

128GB SSD

Screen Resolution

3,200 x 1,800

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