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What are the new Series 9’s drawbacks? It’s hard to think of any. Excellent battery life, superb build quality, and a bright, high-resolution (1,600×900-pixel) screen in a 2.6-pound frame make the new Series 9 a perfect portable hybrid, and one of the most impressive ultrabooks of the year.

Price as reviewed $1,299
Processor 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
Memory 4GB, 1,600MHz DDR3
Hard drive 128GB SSD
Chipset Intel HM77
Graphics Intel HD 4000
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.3×8.6 inches
Height 0.5 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.6 pounds / 3.24 pounds
Category ultrabook
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The new Samsung Series 9 (it’s even called “New Series 9” on the laptop itself) feels leaner, tighter, and less physically flexible than its 2011 predecessor. A clean, smooth hinge and an extremely thin, flat form make this 0.5 inch-thin laptop feel smaller than any other 13-incher around, including the 2012 MacBook Air.

And it is. At 2.6 pounds, the Series 9 weighs less and is slightly thinner at its thinnest point than the new Acer Aspire S5, the Dell XPS 13, or the 13-inch Air. It’s not as small or light as an 11-inch Air (2.34 pounds), but it’s close. Only the Sony Vaio Z, at 2.5 pounds, matches it in the 13-inch category based on laptops we’ve seen this year.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The new Series 9 is made out of a solid piece of aluminum, lending it the same rock-solid feel as Apple’s laptops, and avoiding some of the flexible feel of the last-gen Series 9. It’s the same construction concept that went into the new 15-inch version, but on a smaller scale. The profile is blade-thin, with a steely metallic edge that wraps around the sides. The outer surfaces are a matte, dark steel blue, and attract finger smudges way too easily. Keep a cloth handy.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Matching the ultraportable feel of the new Series 9, the included charger is equally slight…except that the narrow plug that jacks into the laptop pokes straight out, and the cable itself is thick.

The 12.3×8.6-inch footprint is smaller than that of the average 13-inch laptop, too, so it’s easier to slip into a smaller bag. That also means a little less palm rest surface area, which I could feel when typing up this review. Any narrower and it would be frustrating.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The shallow raised keyboard has a similar key feel to the MacBook Air and, to some degree, the Sony Vaio T. The typing experience falls in between the two: better than the Vaio T, not as good as the Air. The keyboard is backlit, but the pale-blue lighting is so subtle that you might not notice it’s there except in a very dark room. The upper keys (volume controls, screen brightness) require holding down the Fn key to activate.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The large, wide multitouch clickpad seems responsive at first, with a smooth matte surface conducive to two-finger gestures. However, the built-in Elan software sometimes interacts oddly with the touch pad, resulting in icons or windows being dragged or text being highlighted by accident. This problem has occurred on other Windows laptops for me, especially with tap-to-click turned on. It’s a shame, but not a surprising one. And yes, it knocks the ergonomics of this laptop down a notch.

The 13.3-inch matte display is beautiful and bright: colors and text pop and look wonderfully crisp, more so than on the 15-inch Series 9. Viewing angles are also superb, and text can be read off the screen even at maximum tilt. The screen is higher-res than many 13-inch laptops at 1,600×900 pixels. Some rare 13-inchers are full 1080p, but 1,600×900 feels like a better resolution at this size. The effective desktop area becomes larger, and icons are smaller, but not enough to be annoying.

Stereo speakers are seated below the front edge of the laptop, and while they have crisp definition for music or movies, they’re not particularly loud. In a quiet room, it was still hard to hear some dialogue in a Netflix streaming movie. Headphones are still a better option.

The included Webcam (1,280×1,024-pixel maximum resolution) has decent light sensitivity. The Series 9 comes with CyberLink YouCam 3 software preinstalled.

Samsung Series 9 (13-inch, 2012) Average for category [13-inch]
Video Micro-HDMI, VGA (dongle needed) HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None DVD burner
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that an ultrabook this small lacks many ports. There are only two USB ports (one 3.0, one 2.0), one on the rear of each streamlined side. There’s also an SD card slot, cleverly tucked away on the undercarriage. Then there are a series of micro-ports that require dongles to use: Micro-HDMI, a port for an Ethernet adapter, and a port for a VGA adapter. The Ethernet dongle is included, but you’ll need to buy your specialized HDMI cables and VGA-out dongles separately.

Our $1,299 configuration of the 13-inch Samsung Series 9 (NP900X3C-A01US) comes with a 1.7GHz Inel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) — pretty standard for the ultrabook set, but a little unimpressive at this price. Upgrading to Windows 7 Professional costs an extra $100. The specs match what the 13-inch MacBook Air includes for $1,199, but in the Windows space most manufacturers offer more bang for the buck. For example, the $1,399 Acer Aspire S5 has a slightly faster 1.9GHz Core i5 processor and a larger 256GB SSD. Samsung offers a $1,699 version (the NP900X3X-A04US) that includes Windows 7 Professional, a faster 1.9 GHz Core i7-3517U processor, and a 256GB SSD, but the same 4GB of RAM (which, like the MacBook Air, is non-upgradable). If you want more RAM, consider a larger 15-inch Series 9, which at $1,799 has the 256GB SSD, Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and Windows 7 Professional.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The new 13-inch Series 9 features third-gen Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, not the second-gen parts in the 15-inch Series 9 I reviewed a few months back. The charts tell the tale: performance is improved. Everything from multitasking to video editing and conversion feels zippier. The included third-gen Core i5 CPU (i5-3317U) is the same one that’s been on many 2012 ultrabooks, including the Dell Inspiron 14z, Lenovo IdeaPad U310, and Sony Vaio T. It’s a little slower than the bumped-up 1.9 GHz Core i5 processor found in premium ultrabooks as of late, including the Asus Zenbook UX32VD and Acer Aspire S5. Thanks to the included SSD, bootup and wake-from-sleep times are impressive: a cold boot to Wi-Fi on took 15.9 seconds, and the system woke up in a little over a second when the lid was opened — when it worked. From time to time, opening the lid didn’t trigger waking. Also, this Series 9 is great for everyday computing use, but when running multiple programs or streaming lots of video the bottom of the laptop started to get pretty warm.

I could probably go on for days about this but, my time is limited.  In conclusion, what I will say is that finally someone (Samsung) is giving Apple a run for their money.  I think that the level of competitiveness has risen to new levels which is clearly benefiting the consumer.

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