Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Review
Design, performance, picture quality—is there anything this laptop doesn't do well?
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Samsung is perfectly capable of designing captivating products—just look at some of the TVs we've reviewed. Even the last Samsung laptop we tested, the ATIV Tab 7, had its moments. But the company's ATIV Book 9 Plus (MSRP $1,399) is a real treat.
If you look beyond its stylish exterior, there's a lot to be excited about: a retina-searing 3200 x 1800 resolution screen, a top-notch keyboard and touchpad, excellent battery life, and consummate performance thanks to its fourth-gen Intel i5 dual-core processor. Coupled with 4GB of RAM, a speedy 128GB solid-state drive, and a touchscreen, this "ultrabook" delivers an experience worthy of the name.
Design & Screen
Small in size, big on style
Samsung utilizes a screen resolution of 3200 x 1800 on this 13.3-inch ultrabook, which is crazy. Asus' Zenbook UX51VZ-XB71 only has a resolution of 2880 x 1620, and the MacBook Pro Retina only has 2880 x 1800. As you can imagine, Samsung's 13.3-inch screen looks impeccable. In fact, it looks so good that you'll be remiss to use its touchscreen.
Outside of its screen, the ATIV Book 9 Plus is a head-turner. Samsung calls this laptop's color "Mineral Ash Black." It sounds like a made-up J.Crew color, but more importantly: It's quite attractive. Depending on your viewpoint, this ultrabook appears navy blue, dark gray, or a mixture of the two. With its incredibly trim profile, the ATIV Book 9 Plus looks totally unique.
On the left side, you'll find its power input, a USB 3.0 slot, a mini-HDMI port, and an input for the included ethernet dongle; slightly underneath is an SD card reader. Over on the right, the Book 9 Plus has another USB 3.0 slot, a headphone/mic input, and an input for a (not included) VGA dongle.
Open up the ATIV Book 9 Plus and you'll find some incredible assets. Its keyboard is rock solid, delivering a comfortable and mistake-free experience. Pressing each key produces a satisfying click with ample travel, and is easily on-par with other great keyboards found on the Asus Zenbook and Sony Pro 13.
Its touchpad, though, is just awesome. Touchpads lately just get better and better. The Asus Vivobook's touchpad really impressed me recently, but this Samsung takes things to a whole new level: Fingers glide effortlessly across this pad's smooth surface, and Windows 8 gestures are a easy to perform. This is easily on par with Apple's touchpad on the Mac Air—suffer no more, Windows fans.
Intel's latest processor is put to good use.
Samsung finally started using Intel's fourth-gen processor, and we're glad it did. While the super-thin ATIV Book 9 Plus isn't a performance tank like a gaming laptop, it's a straight-shooter when it comes to ultra-portables.
Processor-based tests scored very favorably, especially PCMark, which also takes a computer's hard drive into consideration. Samsung must be using a blisteringly fast solid-state drive because it scored higher than similarly-specced laptops like the Toshiba KIRAbook 13, Sony Pro 13, and MacBook Air. Indeed, using this laptop for everyday functions like web browsing and number-crunching is a speedy affair.
I wish I could say the same about its graphics processing capabilities. Using the ATIV Book 9 Plus to play an older game like Portal 2 isn't impossible—on low settings, this Samsung played it quite well. Cranking up the settings produced a much slower experience, and that made the Book 9 Plus heat up way too quickly. If gaming is a requirement for your next laptop, look elsewhere.
If excellent battery life is a requirement for you, though, Samsung's latest has you covered. Our basic battery life test involves leaving a laptop on a webpage with the screen dimmed to 50% brightness. We then use an extension to refresh the page every two minutes. Under these parameters, the ATIV Book 9 Plus had just under 9 hours of battery life—an incredible result. We even left this ultrabook on with Portal 2 running, and it lasted for about 2.5 hours. It doesn't touch the MacBook Air's 13 hours of battery life, but since it packs a much better screen, we can accept that.
Samsung's included apps are either trials or not very useful.
Samsung packages some interesting software on the ATIV Book 9 Plus, although none of it is particularly useful. Two of the most promising apps are called Samsung HomeSync Lite and SideSync. The former is Samsung's version of Dropbox—cloud storage for your personal files—while the latter allows you to wirelessly find files on your smartphone. Unfortunately, you need a Samsung Galaxy device to use these apps.
If you have photos to edit, Samsung offers a couple of options on the Book 9 Plus. There is the company's proprietary software, called S PhotoStudio, which has basic image enhancement options. Crop, rotate, flip, add a weird filter—it's kind of like Instagram, actually. If you want more powerful features, Samsung included the latest edition of Photoshop Elements. Upon opening it, however, I found out it's just a trial version. If Toshiba can offer the full version of Photoshop Elements on its KIRAbook, so can Samsung.
Another tease? Plants vs. Zombies is also included, but again, it's a trial version. That probably worked out for the purpose of writing this review, but it's rather irritating to see trial software on a machine that retails for $1,400.
The ATIV Book 9 Plus packs more than just pixels
With a whopping 3200 x 1800 resolution, it'd be easy to dismiss the ATIV Book 9 Plus as just another ultrabook capitalizing on more pixels. Thankfully, this isn't the case.
Samsung's latest ultraportable is a fully-baked workhorse. It's lightweight, incredibly stylish, and performs splendidly for most tasks. And yes, its screen just happens to look amazing. There aren't many negatives to discuss with this laptop. Even its price is reasonable.
Of course, there's no getting around a comparison to the $1099 Apple's MacBook Air. The ATIV Book 9 Plus, which retails for $300 more, gets you a much better screen, slightly better processor and hard drive performance, and an all-around sexier design. Sure, Apple's ultrabook has better battery life, but if you want a super-slim Windows 8 laptop, this one should be on your short list.