Samsung Series 9 NP900X3A Notebook Review
Thin is in. From cell phones to tablets, tech companies are hawking ever more freakishly thin wares to a market where device’s portability is of utmost importance. Unlike the ballooning girth of some cell phones, notebooks have begun slimming down in every conceivable way with sales of smaller 13” and 14” products spiking over the last year or so. In order to take advantage of this newfound love for everything ultra mobile, notebook manufacturers like Sony, Apple, Acer and ASUS have focused upon expanding their mid-sized lineups with some interesting products. Many have taken aim at entry level price points but Samsung had something else in mind for their new Series 9 laptops.
Industrial design excellence with no costs spared is the primary focus of the Series 9. In layman’s terms this means Samsung has tried to shoe horn leading edge technology into a beautiful, yet razor thin enclosure without sacrificing performance.
Our particular review unit came with an Intel i5 2537M processor, 8GB of DDR3 memory and a 256GB SSD and a staggering price tag of $2300. If you aren’t in the mood to part with an arm and a leg for this version, slimming things down to 4GB of system memory and a 128GB SSD will knock a good $600(!) off the price tag.
When shopping for a Samsung notebook, be prepared for some confusion. They release different versions in every country, each with its own unique product code. For example, this means a configuration reviewed by a US site may never be found in the EU and vice versa. Some geographic regions and large vendors like Best Buy have specific models tailored to their needs and believe it or not, many of these will never show up on Samsung’s website. The bottom line is that if you are looking at a Samsung notebook, pay very close attention to its specifications before taking the plunge.
For reference purposes, the NP900X3A-B05 (which ironically isn’t even listed on Samsung’s US website) is the US model with the closest specifications to our review unit. It does however come with a faster processor and a price tag of less than $2000.
In notebook reviews, we don’t usually concentrate upon the packaging and accessories but Samsung’s are actually tiny works of art all by themselves. The Series 9 box is finished in a felt-like exterior and has an interior that is both functional and a wonder to behold.
Samsung has worked some miniaturization magic on the power brick we’re all used to seeing. Instead of going with the typical cord plus power supply brick configuration, the conversion hardware has been minimized so it fits within an extended plug casing. This along with a detachable plug makes it infinitely more portable than anything we’ve come across. Unfortunately, the cord is very, very thin and can be chewed through in seconds by any overeager pet.
Due to the Series 9’s thin design, a standard LAN connector just wouldn’t fit into either side profile but instead of ditching it altogether, one was included anyways by using an elegantly simple solution: a break out adaptor which fits into a custom mini jack was designed.
The Series 9 laptop is, well, beautiful. There is no better way to describe it. Sleek lines that would put any other current notebook to shame and a featherweight mass of only 2.86 pounds make it very portable as well. If this is what Intel’s future “Ultrabooks” will look like, we say bring ‘em on!
The exterior is clad in a thin sheet of brushed black “Duralumin” that is actually quite stiff and seems to be nearly impervious to blemishes and dents. This is a Samsung creation which is supposedly stronger than aluminum, lighter than magnesium and easy to recycle. We certainly won’t dispute any of these points since this notebook went through two weeks of hell in our possession without so much as a scratch. However, be ready with a microfiber cloth because the finish is a fingerprint magnet.
The interior of the Series 9 is no less refined with a continuation of Duralumin for the palm rest and a well integrated, discrete power button. There is also a matte screen (huzzah!) which is a welcome addition to any ultra portable but Samsung, in their infinite wisdom, added a highly reflective bezel that continues down around the keyboard.
The design sure looks pretty or at least it does up until you bring this puppy outside and everything BUT the screen blasts sunlight right back into your face. There’s a term for this kind of SNAFU: design taking precedence over common sense.
On the positive side, the interior construction is second to none with a discrete yet secure hinge, an almost bulletproof lid that exhibits zero flex and a lack of perceptible material joints.
According to Samsung this is one of the slimmest notebooks currently available and with a thickness of 0.62”; we’re inclined to believe them. Unfortunately the design doesn’t allow for an integrated disk drive but who needs one when you have a profile like this to look at?
For those of you wondering, the metal edge you see above isn’t tacked on. Rather, it is the Duralumin sheet’s edge which has been polished to a shine and curved for maximum structural rigidity.
In order to maintain the chassis’ elegant curvature, all of the Series 9’s ports are hidden behind clever hinged panels that can be flipped open. The one on the left side reveals the aforementioned mini Ethernet LAN jack, a mini HDMI output and a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port. The other houses a mini SD card reader, a combo headphone / mic 3.5mm jack and a single USB 2.0 connector.
All in all there should be more than enough connection options here to appease most users but there are some significant limitations as well. A mini SD card slot is a huge step back from the 5 in 1 readers nearly every other notebook possesses and demands careful choices be made when shopping for digital camera storage. Even the mini HDMI connector quickly outlives its usefulness once you realize Samsung didn’t include a full size adaptor for it.
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