Samsung ATIV Book 5 Laptop Review
Great processor, lots of storage—but it could be cheaper.
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As a matter of fact, it does. The ATIV Book 5 retails for $949.99, but typically sells for about $800. Those eight Benjamins get you a speedy Intel Core i5 1.8GHz processor (dual-core), 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and Windows 8—all wrapped in a 14-inch touch-friendly display.
There are some noticeable flaws, though. A slow 5400 RPM hard drive and a low-res screen kick this sub-$1,000 laptop out of consideration.
Design & Screen
Why reinvent the wheel when it rolls just fine?
With laptops, you often get what you pay for—as far as design is concerned, at least. Take a look at the ATIV Book 5: For under a grand, you get pretty decent specs in a boring frame. Neither excessively large nor super-slim, the Book 5 is the ultimate compromise in laptop design. But if razor-thin is what you're after, plan on spending $500 more.
At least Samsung packaged this workhorse with a fantastic keyboard. The chiclet-style keys offer a perfect amount of travel, plus they emit a satisfying click when pressed. Samsung's touchpad deserves equal praise, with its smooth, responsive surface. Sadly, there are a lack of touchpad options, meaning I had to live with an inverted two-finger scroll. First world problems.
I can't heap much praise on the Book 5's screen. Sure, it's touch-friendly, but it also has a resolution of 1366 x 768—technically HD, but lower-res than I'd prefer. Compared to a full 1080p screen, the difference is noticeable. Color gradations are visible to the naked eye, giving a not-so-sharp appearance.
Even worse is how reflective the screen is. If you're battling sunlight, prepare to admit defeat: The Book 5's screen isn't very bright. In fact, I placed this model next to the most recent MacBook Air and tested the white levels on both. Apple's laptop gets twice as bright. Moral of the story? Avoid the sun at all costs with this one.
A slow hard drive stalls an otherwise admirable performance.
The ATIV Book 5 employs a third-gen Intel Core i5 processor, clocked at 1.8GHz. What this means for the average consumer is ample performance during many common tasks. Complex websites load quickly, as do Excel spreadsheets filled with crazy formulas. On top of that, programs launch swiftly. What could possibly go awry with Samsung's mid-range laptop?
Its slow hard drive.
Samsung's ATIV Book 5 uses a 500GB hard drive, which is excellent for media junkies who won't commit to the cloud. With that much space comes some cost-cutting, though. Disk-based hard drives like this come in two speeds: 5400 and 7200 RPM. The higher the RPM (rotations per minute), the faster the read/write speeds. The Book 5 uses the former speed, which slows down performance when reading and writing large amounts of data. Take Photoshop, for example. If you're editing a large photo, applying filters and saving will take a considerably longer amount of time.
Graphics processing is also a weak area on the Book 5. Since there is no dedicated graphics card, video games perform poorly. That's not to say that games are completely unplayable on the Book 5—I'd just drop a game's settings as low as they can go before playing.
At least battery life is fairly good. For our battery life test, we drop a laptop's brightness by 50% and reload a webpage every 2 minutes. This resulted in 6 hours and 56 minutes of life, which is really good considering the specs on this laptop. The Book 5's Intel processor is a third-generation model, and laptops with those don't typically achieve battery life this long.
Some bundled apps and a great software updater
Samsung's most important app on the ATIV Book 5 is called SW Update, which is the company's proprietary software updater. Ignoring this app is foolish, which is precisely what I did until I encountered some glaring issues.
After updating the operating system from Windows 8 to 8.1 (Microsoft's big, free update), the screen brightness adjustment stopped working. After opening up SW Update, there was a patch available to fix this issue. Also, there were plenty of other updates to install like touchpad, graphics, and wireless drivers. Pro tip: Don't rely on your laptop to come fully updated out of the box.
Other apps bundled on the Book 5 include Netflix, Evernote, and the Norton suite of anti-virus software. Samsung includes its own media player and photo viewer, which are definitely overkill—the software provided on Windows is much more intuitive than Samsung's contributions.
There's also the Windows app store, which pales in comparison to iTunes, but is head-and-shoulders better than Intel's AppUp store. Seriously, why is this weak app store included? There appears to be little else than the same substandard, redundant apps and games you can find in the Windows app store.
Lastly, Samsung includes a 90-day trial for Photoshop Elements 11, which is great for budding designers. It would be even better with the full version, which Toshiba packs on its KIRAbook.
Tough competition ruins the Book 5's fun.
Samsung's mid-range ATIV Book 5 is no slouch. With an MSRP of $949.99, you get a great processor, plenty of storage space, and a terrific keyboard. You even get a touchscreen—you know, for when you want to truly interact with your laptop. Or you could just use the excellent touchpad.
With websites currently selling this ultrabook for $800, you'd think it's a steal, even with a lackluster screen and slow hard drive. But it's not—especially when you consider the competition. Asus' respectable Vivobook V550CA-DB71T also sells for $800, but it trounces the Book 5 in most performance tests, plus it has twice the hard drive space.
The ATIV Book 5 is a good performer, but unless you find it on a fire sale, stick with the competition.