Review: Series 9 900X3C (13")

 
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Published: July 20, 2012 9:00 AM
By Pierre-Jean Alzieu / Eric Piedallu / Pierre Anzil
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
Like Sony with the Vaio X505, Samsung has already attempted to launch a brand new type of device, the ultra-thin laptop (Samsung X1). That was some time ago, and that's where the industry remained until Apple took the torch. Since then, the market for super-flat computers has only continued to grow. As expected, Samsung went back to the drawing board in 2011 with the excellent Series 9, and has returned now in 2012 with the new Series 9. Ready to review the "thinnest, most compact laptop in the world?"

Design4/5



This 13-inch laptop is quite an exploit. Holding it closed in your hands, the light weight and quality finishing of the new Series 9 are remarkable. The "fingerprint-resistant" surface is, however, a slight oversell, though a minor one, due mainly to the dark colour used for the material.

Samsung Series 9 Side

Our initial impression of quality held up during use. The keyboard has all the makings of a good tool, as long as you like shortly elevated keys. The keyboard's backlighting turns on and off automatically according to the ambient lighting, which is highly practical when moving from well-lit to dark rooms.

Samsung Series 9 Keyboard
 
And the touchpad is just as good, with smooth movements and a nice feel. This is a touchpad to rival the MacBook Air's, a reference for anyone who knows touchpads. It recognises numerous multitouch commands of up to four fingers. As on the previous Series 9, the Mac-style right-click is still featured and still practical. The only (minor) issue one could have with this touchpad is that it isn't clickable on the entirety of its surface (a 1 cm strip at the top is unclickable).

Samsung Series 9 Ports
                          Mini-VGA, headphone/mic jack and USB 2.0                          Power, USB 3.0, micro-HDMI & Ethernet adapter

Consider yourselves warned: Samsung apparently had to make a choice between mobility and connectivity on the Series 9 and, as you can see, mobility won out. The resulting miniaturised ports mean you'll likely be adding VGA and/or HDMI adapters to the overall price tag. We were surprised to see that the retractable trays covering the ports in last year's edition are no more. There are two USB ports, but only one is USB 3.0, whereas the Series 9's biggest competitors, the Zenbook Prime UX31A and 2012 MacBook Air, have two. You can't see it in the photos above, but the new Series 9 also has an SD card reader located on the right-hand side next to the mini-VGA, audio and USB 2.0 ports.


Samsung Series 9 Heat
Heat readings for the Samsung 13" Series 9 (900X3C) with the components under stress.
Images captured with a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera.

The new Series 9 is quieter than most ultrabooks. The fan stays as silent as a mouse, even when running processor-intensive programmes. However, the chassis tends to heat up more than its competitors. On average, under the same conditions the UX31A was 5° C cooler. But during basic tasks, such as web browsing and word processing, the heat levels stay reasonable.

The air enters through the bottom of the computer and is ventilated out through the back, so you'll have to make sure you don't block the airway when it's sitting on your lap.

Samsung Series 9 Delta E

The biggest change this year is a new matte PLS display with 1600 x 900 resolution that greatly reduces reflections, has wide open viewing angles and nicely homogeneous colours (unlike the TN screens found on most ultrabooks).

We detected a Delta E of 5.7. Delta E measures the difference between the original, intended colours and the colours displayed onscreen. This is an honourable figure for a notebook. The contrast ratio is 800:1, which makes it one of the most highest-quality laptop screens in town.

Audio3/5



The Series 9's audio performance is fairly standard for a high-end ultrabook. The headphone signal is good quality, with linear behaviour and great dynamics. The stereo rendering is also good, and the maximum volume on the line out is perfectly suited to a headphone or PC speaker system. However, it's worth noting that there are no separate microphone and headphone jacks, just a combo jack.

Samsung Series 9 freq resp
Frequency response: lows to the left, highs to the right. The hike at 20 Hz is a measurement artefact.


As you can see in the curve, you shouldn't expect any miracles from these speakers, and a slight saturation becomes audible at high volumes. However, the chassis never vibrates, which is usually proof of good design and manufacturing.


Our Review Model:

The model we were sent to review (900X3C-A01FR) contains an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 4000 graphics card and a 128 GB SSD. Our comments so far have applied to all versions of the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A, but what follows applies only to the model we tested, as each version has different specs (see above inset).

Processing Power5/5



The Core i5-3317U is one Intel's new Ivy Bridge processors. Out of all the tests we ran on the new Series 9, the performances we got were on average 25% higher than the 2011 range. This isn't the most powerful CPU on the market, but it enables the computer to attack any task, from 3D modelling to video encoding.

The 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSD make this a fast, responsive device. Start-up time is a mere 20 seconds (including Wi-Fi connecting time) and it takes 2 seconds to wake the computer from sleep mode.

Gaming2/5



The Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset may be a step up from the HD 3000, but it's still a chipset. As such, it is far from ideal for gaming. Older games will run without a hitch, but to play any bigger, more recent games you'll have to make some huge concessions with the quality settings.

While the Series 9 clearly doesn't work wonders with video games, it decodes 1080p video effortlessly.

Battery Life4/5



This ultrabook's Achilles' heel is actually its battery. With just 4 hours and 30 minutes of video playback (with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off, the screen at 100 cd/m² and the headphones plugged in), this is the lower end of the scale as ultrabooks go.

Its thin dimensions (31.3 x 21.8 x 1.3 cm) and feather weight (1.18 kg) make the new Samsung Series 9 officially the lightest and thinnest ultrabook on the market.
5/5 Samsung Series 9 900X3C (13") DigitalVersus 2012-07-20 10:00:00

Pros

  • Good design
  • As thin & lightweight as it gets
  • Quiet
  • Matte PLS display
  • Great performance

Cons

  • Limited connectivity, will require VGA & Ethernet adapters
  • Battery life
  • Excessive heating during processor-intensive tasks

Conclusion

Samsung can be proud of its new Series 9. The company has optimised the space available without sacrificing sturdiness or performance. We were pleased to see that the screen also got an upgrade and provides high-quality images.

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