While Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro set the standard for slim, stylish and powerful multimedia notebooks, its starting price of $2,199 can be a stretch. At nearly half the price, the $1,199 Samsung ATIV Book 6 packs a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and an AMD GPU along with a gorgeous 1080p touch screen, all in a sleek industrial design. Is the Book 6 the best Retina alternative? Read on.
The ATIV Book 6 comes in what Samsung calls Mineral Ash Black, but it looks more like a svelte cobalt blue. The lid and deck are made of aluminum, but only the lid has a brushed finish. All surfaces are prone to smudges, but smudges on its lid were far more persistent.
The underside of the ATIV Book 6 is matte plastic, but it matches well with the keyboard deck. Samsung accents the notebook with a chrome logo on the lid, the lining around the touchpad and the power button.
Measuring 14.75 x 9.8 x 0.9 inches, the ATIV Book 6 is thinner and smaller than the $999 Acer Aspire V5-571PG (15.4 x 9.96 x 0.88~0.96) and $1,099 Sony VAIO T Series 15 (14.92 x 10.04 X 0.9). While the 5.4-pound Book 6 is lighter than the Aspire V5 (5.6 pounds), the T Series 15 weighs 5 pounds even. Apple's 15-inch, $2,199 MacBook Pro with Retina Display is slimmer and lighter than all three, at 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.71 inches and 4.46 pounds.
With its 15.6-inch glossy 1080p touch screen, the ATIV Book 6 offers a rich viewing experience. In everyday tasks such as browsing the Web, text looked very sharp. Images and text remained perfectly legible as we zoomed in on Samsung's SuperBright display.
While watching a trailer for "The Wolverine" at 1080p resolution, the ATIV Book 6 impressed with deep contrast during darker scenes of Hugh Jackman and his character's love interest. We could even make out the deep reds from a gash through Wolverine's white tank top.
At 246 lux, the ATIV Book 6 bested the mainstream average of 209 lux as well as the Aspire V5 (209 lux) and the Retina MacBook Pro (223 lux). However, this rating pales in comparison to the VAIO T Series 15's 319 lux display.
Touch gestures and scrolling worked swimmingly on this display. The Windows 8 Charms menu flicked outward as we whipped our index finger in from the right side. If we dragged our finger in from that direction, the menu would slowly follow. Better yet, we were hard-pressed to find any distracting smudges on the screen after we were through with it.
Despite placing the JBL speakers on the underside of the ATIV Book 6, this notebook pumps out impressive volume and range. While playing The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," we could hear George, Paul and John loud and clear during the chorus, though the three-part harmony caused some noticeable feedback likely due to the speakers' diminutive size. Playing Daft Punk's "One More Time" produced thumping bass that could easily fill a large living room for a house party.
Samsung's SoundAlive tool makes an appearance on the Book 6, but it's rather difficult to access being deep within the Windows sound settings. At any rate, this tool offers a series of visual equalizers to optimize sound output as well as a number a preset profiles, including 3D sound.
Keyboard and touchpad
Featuring a full number pad, the chiclet-style keyboard on the ATIV Book 6 comes well-spaced over a glossy plastic base. As any premium-priced notebook should, this one sports backlighting that shines through each matte plastic key. Thanks to its snappy travel and excellent ergonomics, this keyboard served us well. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we averaged 51 words per minute with an error percentage of zero.
The ATIV Book 6 sports a roomy 4.25 x 3-inch clickpad, which is lined in a thin, stylish band of chrome. However, under all the chic is yet another finicky Elantech touchpad. That said, its quirks are less pronounced than most.
Touch gestures, such as summoning the Charms menu, were only consistent when performed deliberately. We had the best results when starting on the very right edge of the pad, as opposed to just outside of the pad. What was worse was how often the trackpad mistook scrolling for pinching. However, there is a fairly extensive control panel that lets you tweak a number of settings, complete with short videos of how to perform each gesture.
Folks concerned with the safety of their laps can rest at ease. After playing an HD episode of "Family Guy" on Hulu for 15 minutes, the ATIV Book 6 reached 94 degrees Fahrenheit between its G and H keys. Other areas, such as its touchpad and underside, reached 81 and 89 degrees, respectively. We find temperatures over 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
Ports and webcam
On the right side of the ATIV Book 6, you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, a security lock slot and a 3-in-1 card reader. Ethernet, VGA and HDMI connections rest on the laptop's left side as well as two USB 3.0 ports and a microphone/headphone combo jack. What you will not find here is an optical drive.
Resting beneath a chrome microphone, the 720p webcam on the ATIV Book 6 offered mediocre images at best. In Samsung's S Camera app, images and video were filled with graininess; using the noise reduction feature made those pictures muddy.
In addition to noise reduction, brightness and contrast, there are a ton of settings for the S Camera app. Many of the options are rather goofy, such as image distortion, frames and other fun effects.
With a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-3635QM chip, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a 1TB, 5400-rpm hard drive, the ATIV Book 6 comes equipped to handle just about anything you could throw at it. With 15 tabs open in Google Chrome -- one of which was streaming high-quality audio -- and Gameloft's physics puzzle game "Shark Dash" running in the background, we watched a 1080p movie trailer with no discernable lag.
Synthetic and real-world benchmarks mirrored our hands-on time with the ATIV Book 6. On PCMark 7, which measures overall performance, the ATIV Book 6's score of 4,357 was well ahead of the category average (2,967). That's much better than the Aspire V5's score of 2,566, but just under the VAIO T Series 15 (4,409) -- both of which come with a 2-GHz Intel Core i7-3537U processor. Running Boot Camp, the Retina MacBook Pro (2.3-GHz Core i7) scored 4,779.
The ATIV Book 6 booted to Windows 8 in 23 seconds, which tops the category average of 37 seconds as well as the Aspire V5 (31 seconds). However, the solid state and Flash storage-equipped VAIO T Series 15 and Retina MacBook Pro bested the Book 6 at 18 and 15 seconds, respectively.
On the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which copies one 4.97GB of multimedia from one folder to another, the Book 6 finished in 3 minutes and 23 seconds for a transfer rate of 25 MBps, well below the category average of 42 MBps. The VAIO T Series 15 edges the ATIV Book 6 out with 29 MBps, but the Aspire V5 registered just 17 MBps. The Retina MacBook Pro's flash storage blows them all away at 196 MBps.
On our OpenOffice Test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses, the ATIV Book 6 finished in 4 minutes and 23 seconds. That's more than a minute faster than the average (5:47), and also bests the VAIO T Series 15 (4:50) and the Aspire V5 (4:47).
The Book 6 also comes with a RAMAccelerator feature, which uses idle RAM as cache memory to open commonly used programs up to 1.5 times faster.
Graphics and gaming
Equipped with an AMD Radeon 8770M mobile graphics chip with 1GB of DDR5 video RAM, the ATIV Book 6 can handle all of your multimedia needs and some light gaming. To optimize battery life, AMD's Catalyst technology allows this laptop to switch between integrated and dedicated graphics depending upon the task.
On the 3DMark 11 graphics benchmark, the ATIV Book 6 scored 2,199, nearly doubling the mainstream notebook average of 1,326. Samsung's laptop came just within range of the Retina MacBook Pro (Nvidia GeForce GT 650M; 2,275), while beating both the integrated graphics-equipped VAIO T Series 15 (629) and the Aspire V5 (1,209), which has an NVIDIA GeForce GT 710M chip.
Playing "World of Warcraft," the ATIV Book 6 notched 55 frames per second at 1920 x 1080 resolution and medium settings. Bumping the settings up to Ultra saw the frame rate plummet to 33 fps, though we still consider that playable. Those scores don't quite compare to the category averages (75 fps/38 fps), but are still respectable for this class of GPU.
At their native resolution and with graphic details set to ultra, both the Retina MacBook Pro (41 fps) and the Aspire V5 fared better (36 fps). The VAIO T Series 15 couldn't keep up, notching just 14 fps.
In the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark, the Book 6 averaged a playable-but-not-blazing 34 fps at 1920 x 1080 and low settings, and an unplayable 13 fps on the highest settings.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which browses the Internet over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness, the ATIV Book 6 lasted 5 hours and 26 seconds, falling just below the category average (5:37). The VAIO T Series 15 lasted an hour less at 4:21, while the Aspire V5 choked at just 3:29. The Retina MacBook Pro lasted a much longer 8:20.
Software and warranty
Samsung loaded the ATIV Book 6 with a number of proprietary apps and features, some more useful and enjoyable than others. For starters, SideSync lets users to sync and perform tasks on their Samsung Android device when it's connected to the ATIV notebook via USB.
After installing SideSync on a Galaxy S4 and enabling the USB debugging option, we connected the phone to our notebook. Through Phone Screen Sharing within SideSync, we interacted directly with the S4 on the Book 6 through a virtualized screen. We could access the Gallery app, respond to messages and even browse Chrome. However, transferring files was more hit and miss -- it's easier to just access the files through Windows directly.
After opening "Angry Birds" through Phone Screen Sharing, we could expand the virtualized screen to nearly fill the entire desktop. Unfortunately, the game stuttered and skipped frames a lot as it rendered the animations.
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S Camera is a blast to use. Users can apply a bevy of effects and filters to their photos and video. You can then organize, share and view those photos -- along with videos and music -- through Samsung's S Player app.
Samsung also provides an alternative to Apple's GarageBand by including Music Maker Jam by Magix. This allows users to create and sample music using a number of different digital instruments and theme packs. Finally, SW Update is a tool that handles updating all of Samsung's in-house apps.
Samsung also packs quite a bit of third-party software onto the ATIV Book 6, preloading Netflix, StumbleUpon, free trials of games such as "Plants Vs. Zombies," a 90-day trial of Photoshop Elements and even a few oddball apps such as Jamie Oliver's Recipes. We'd prefer a cleaner Windows install, but we like PhotoShop Elements.
The ATIV Book 6 comes with a free trial of Norton Studio, a suite of security services, and a one-year warranty covering parts and labor.
Our review unit sample of the ATIV Book 6 is the baseline model. For $1,299, you would get essentially the same machine, but with a RAM accelerator in its 1TB, 5,400 rpm hard drive and Windows 8 Professional Edition.
The ATIV Book 6 more than meets Samsung's promise of a premium and powerful computing experience. We especially enjoyed its booming JBL speakers and gorgeous, responsive 1080p touch screen. What holds this 15-inch notebook from earning a higher rating is its finicky touchpad; yes, there's a touch screen, but Windows 8 gestures should work more smoothly out of the box. Overall, though, the ATIV Book 6 gives shoppers a good Retina MacBook Pro alternative for $1,000 less.