In Samsung-speak, all of the company's Windows 8 devices are now called "Ativ". You can say goodbye to "Series 9" and the like, because now it's all just "Ativ". This incarnation is the Ativ Book 9 Lite, meaning that it has an AMD processor, which gives it a lower price tag and, yes, lower performance.
To keep the weight down Samsung used an all-plastic body. That said, it's good quality plastic that doesn't come off cheap, even on the white version we tested. The lid is glossy but doesn't smudge easily, and the chassis consists of a single piece of matte plastic. The finish is satisfactory, but it's not the kind of body that makes you go, "Wow, look at that!"
The keyboard is comfortable to type on. The chiclet keys have fairly long travel and a good rebound, making for an enjoyable typing experience—although backlighting would have been nice. The keyboard has all the classic Fn shortcuts for the battery, network, volume, airplane mode, screen mode and brightness, but no playback controls.
The touchpad has a nice surface and plenty of space (10.2 x 6.7 cm). It recognises two-finger commands such as zooming and horizontal/vertical scrolling, as well as all the Windows 8 touch gestures. The lower left and right corners are clickable for the left- and right-clicks.
The ultra-thin chassis didn't stop Samsung from giving the Ativ Book 9 Lite micro-HDMI and mini-VGA ports, but you have to buy the adapters separately (a mini-Ethernet adapter does come in the box). Filling out the connectivity are one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port, a microphone/headphone combo jack and an SD card reader.
One thing that's different about the Ativ Book 9 Lite is that the hinges allow the screen to fold back 180 degrees, as shown above. The model we were sent to review was the non-touchscreen version, so this position wasn't particularly useful for us. But it could indeed come in handy on the touchscreen model. Unfortunately, the TN display's viewing angles are so narrow that you would pretty much have to be looking at the screen directly from above in order to see anything. The Ativ Book 9 Lite takes up a lot more space when laid down flat then the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, which folds back a full 360 degrees.
Heat readings with the components under stress (°C)
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
The heat and fan noise are both low, peaking at just 38°C and 35 dB(A), respectively.
Through the headphone output, the audio holds its own against competing ultrabooks. It's high in quality with a linear performance and excellent dynamics. The stereo image and high volume make it great for headphones or an external speaker system.
However, the built-in speakers are unsurprisingly awful. With no low-end and no high-end—just an adulterated vocal range—they're hardly even listenable. And don't think about the turning the volume all the way up, because the heavy saturation turns everything into gobbledygook.
Configuration:The model we were sent to review features an AMD A6-1450 processor, 4 GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon HD 8250 GPU, a non-touch screen with 1366 x 768 pixels and a 128 GB solid-state drive. The comments above refer to all configurations of the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite, whereas the Display Quality, Processor Power, Gaming and Battery Life sections below apply only to the model we tested (see inset below).
The screen clearly isn't one of this model's strong points. The screen is matte, which is great because it doesn't reflect much or give off much glare, but it's low in brightness (280 cd/m² max). The TN panel provides narrow viewing angles, a fact made even worse by the 300:1 contrast ratio.
Grey colour temperature
The colours aren't very faithful, with a Delta E of 6.6. This means that when you're looking at a photograph or web page, the colours won't look exactly the way they're supposed to. For perfect fidelity, the Delta E would have to be below three. At 6.6, it's basically the same as the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air (2013). The colours are a tad cold, with a temperature of 7800 K. This is certainly no Samsung Series 7 Ultra.
The Ativ Book 9 Lite has a humble AMD A6-1450 processor inside, which in our in-house rating system obtained a score of just 43. (The last processor that got that score was the AMD Athlon II X2 240e, and that was in... 2009! Talk about a blast from the past!)
The AMD A6 clearly can't compete with an Intel Core i3. The Sony Vaio Fit 15E, for example, has an Intel Core i3-3217U and takes, on average, half the amount of time the Ativ Book 9 Lite and its A6-1450 take to complete the same tasks. In detail: the Vaio Fit took 455 seconds to export a batch of photos that the Ativ Book took 992 seconds to export; the Vaio Fit took 570 seconds to convert a video that the Ativ Book took 1,081 seconds to encode; and the Vaio Fit took just 292 seconds to compress files that the Ativ Book took 717 seconds to compress.
Thanks in part to the SSD, the system starts up in 10 seconds and shuts down in 12 seconds. But that hardly compensates for the rest.
The AMD Radeon HD 8250 GPU (3DMark06: 2810) underperforms the puny Intel HD Graphics 4000 (so we won't even mention the 4400 and up). Only non-demanding games such as FIFA 13 will play smoothly in the screen's native resolution. Don't even bother trying to run games like StarCraft II, Medal of Honor: Warfighter or BioShock Infinite on this computer; even with all the settings turned all the way down you won't get fluid gameplay.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
Considering the measly specs the battery has to power, one might think the Ativ Book 9 Lite would have amazing battery life. Such is not the case. The Ativ Book 9 Lite gives up after just four hours of video playback (in airplane mode with the screen brightness at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in), which is a good hour less than the laptops with the best battery lives on the market, even though they have heftier specs to contend with—and it's ten hours less than the latest 13-inch MacBook Air...
One of this laptop's (only) advantages is that it weighs an ultra-light 1.44 kg.