Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2015) Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Beautiful display; Thin and light design; Solid overall performance

The Cons

Finicky touchpad; Short battery life

Verdict

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 is a compact laptop with a stunning display and good overall performance, but it suffers from short battery life.

Samsung has created a little beauty in the new ATIV Book 9. Featuring an aluminum chassis, this notebook weighs just over 2 pounds, has a lovely 12.2-inch, 2560 x 1600-resolution display and comes with an Intel Core M processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The ATIV Book 9 provides a solid Windows experience that you can take anywhere, but we wish it's battery life measured up to the rest of the system.

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Design

Small and stylish, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 is encased in Imperial Black aluminum, punctuated by a silver Samsung logo on the left side of the lid. It's smooth to the touch, but it picks up fingerprints after a while.

Thin, brushed metal strips accent the rims of the notebook's body and lid, giving the device an edgy feel. Samsung designed the ATIV Book 9 to be completely fanless, so that sleek, uninterrupted design carries through to the underside. 

But even its good looks can't make up for how difficult it is to open the notebook. The indentation on the front of the ATIV Book 9's body isn't deep enough. I had to grab both the laptop's lid and the chassis and lift from the corner to get it open.

Measuring 11.19 x 8.37 x 0.46 inches and weighing just 2.09 pounds, the ATIV Book 9 is thin and light enough to stick in a bag and carry all day. It's more compact than the Asus Zenbook UX305 (12.7 x 8.9 x 0.48 inches, 2.64 pounds), the HP Elitebook Folio 1020 (12.2 x 8.27 x 0.62 inches, 2.68 pounds), the Dell XPS 13 (11.98 x 7.88 x 0.33-0.6 inches, 2.6 pounds) and the Apple MacBook Air (12.8 x 9 x 0.11-0.68 inches, just under 3 pounds). However, the new 12-inch Retina MacBook weighs just 2 pounds.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keys on the Samsung ATIV Book 9 have a scalloped design, meaning they dip slightly in the middle. The keys have fairly average travel (1.4mm) but above average actuation (70 grams), which made typing easier. In the TypingTestOnline.Org test, I averaged 70 words per minute with a stellar 99 percent accuracy, which is the same as my average typing speed on my desktop.

However, sometimes the keyboard felt cramped because of the notebook's small size. Often I would hit the +/= key when reaching for the backspace key.

While the 3.9 x 2.3-inch touchpad is spacious and smooth, two-finger scrolling was hit or miss, leaving me to frustratingly swirl my fingers on the touchpad waiting for the cursor to move.

Display

The 12.2-inch, 2560 x 1600-resolution display on the Samsung ATIV Book 9 renders videos and photos beautifully. When I watched the trailer for Disney's Home, the bold and vibrant colors popped off the screen, and I could see every detail of Tip's flowing, curly locks. The ATIV Book 9 also offers wide viewing angles; I had to turn the display nearly 90 degrees before reflections obscured my view.

MORE: Best Ultrabooks 2015

Lab tests confirmed my real-world experience. Reproducing 98 percent of the sRGB gamut scale (100 percent is best), the ATIV Book 9 blows the MacBook Air out of the water (63.3 percent), and is better than the ZenBook UX305 (93.9), EliteBook Folio 1020 (95.3) and the Dell XPS 13 (91.7).

The notebook also bests its competition in color accuracy, measuring 5.1 on the Delta-E benchmark test (closer to zero is better). That's better than the ZenBook UX305 (11.7), the Dell XPS 13 (10.6) and the EliteBook Folio 1020 (7.4), but the MacBook Air came out on top (2.5).

Not only is the screen colorful, but it's bright, too.  At 303 nits, the ATIV Book 9 outshone the Asus ZenBook UX305 (281), the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 (224), the Dell XPS 13 (298) and Apple's MacBook Air (288). In Outdoor Mode, activated by pressing F9, the screen's brightness doubled, to a whopping 605 nits. The added brightness made watching videos outside on a sunny day much easier, although the sun's rays did cause inevitable glare on the screen.

Audio

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 comes with a Wolfson WM5102 UHQA lossless audio player and can pump out quality sound. Lenny Kravitz's "New York City" was clear and balanced as it filled my entire living room.

Heat

Samsung's ultraportable stays cool on top but gets toasty on the bottom. On the Laptop Mag Heat Test, which involves streaming HD video from Hulu for 15 minutes, the touchpad hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the space between the G and H keys measured 88 degrees. The underside, however, reached 99 degrees, which is above our 95-degree comfort threshold.

Ports and Webcam

This ultra-slim, ultraportable notebook is ultra-sparse when it comes to ports. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 has just two USB 3.0 ports, a micro HDMI port, a headphone/mic jack and a charging port. Still, that's more USB ports than the new MacBook, which sports a single USB-C connector.

The notebook's 720-pixel HD webcam takes decent selfies, but with bland colors and blurry details. While my skin tone was accurate, my long brown hair blended into itself with no definition.

Performance

Powered by a 0.90-GHz Intel Core M-5Y10c processor, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 ran quickly and smoothly. Featuring 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, the system easily handled 12 Chrome tabs, playing video, streaming music and downloading large email attachments.

On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the ATIV Book 9 scored 4,603. While that's better than category average (4,205) and the Core M-powered HP EliteBook Folio 1020 (3,814), the similarly powered Asus ZenBook UX305 beat it by a hair (4,623). It also fell short of the Core i5-powered Dell XPS 13 (5,530) or the MacBook Air (5,393).

The notebook was quick to match 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses in our OpenOffice test, completing the task in 5 minutes and 42 seconds. That's faster than the ZenBook UX305 (6:50) and the EliteBook Folio 1020 (6:36). The XPS 13 was a bit faster than the ATIV Book 9 (5:02), but the MacBook Air blew them all out of the water (3:46).

The ATIV Book 9 wasn't the strongest on our file transfer test, duplicating 4.97GB of mixed media files in 63 seconds for a rate of 80.8 MBps. That's slower than the XPS 13 (87.7 MBps) and way behind the ZenBook UX305 (154.2 MBps), the EliteBook Folio 1020 (182 MBps) and the MacBook Air (190.3 MBps).

Graphics

The Intel HD 5300 graphics GPU that powers the Samsung ATIV Book 9 can handle light gaming, but don't expect to dive into anything more taxing. We played World of Warcraft at 1366 x 768 resolution on auto settings, and the ATIV Book 9 registered a playable-but-not-great 31 frames per second. But when we upped to resolution to 1080p, the notebook slowed to an unplayable 17 fps.

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 performed decently on the 3DMark Fire Strike graphics benchmark, scoring 519. That's lower than the ultraportable category average of 613, the Asus ZenBook UX305 (603) with the same Intel HD 5300 graphics system and the Dell XPS 13 with Intel HD Graphics 5500 graphics (704) However, it's better than the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 (405).

Battery Life

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 won't be winning any endurance awards. On the Laptop Mag Battery test, which involves surfing the Web at 100 nits, the notebook clocked in at 6 hours and 23 minutes. Samsung promises up to 12 hours and 30 minutes of battery life for this notebook, so it really falls short. That's also more than an hour less than the ultraportable category average (7:59), and shorter than the Asus ZenBook UX305 (9:23), the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 (6:49), the Dell XPS 13 (11:42) and the Apple MacBook Air (12:20).

MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life

Software and Warranty

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 runs Windows 8.1 and comes with the company's suite of apps, including S Agent and S Player. I love SideSync, a program that lets you view your Galaxy smartphone or tablet's screen on the notebook. It comes in handy when you want to access the apps on your phone when it's sitting across the room.

Samsung added a number of security features to this notebook, such as a drawing lock code, which will prompt you to draw with your finger on the trackpad to gain access to the notebook. You can also disable recording from the camera and microphone, so no one you're chatting with can stealthily record you without your knowledge.

But the best feature for thwarting prying eyes is Secret Screen, activated by pressing Fn10. This feature makes your active window semi-translucent and harder for people to see what you're doing over your shoulder.

The ATIV Book 9 comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty that covers manufacturer defects, but it doesn't cover damage from accidental drops or spills.

Configurations

My review model of the Samsung ATIV Book 9 came with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, priced at $1,199. However, you can upgrade to the $1,399 model that comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

By comparison, the non-touch-screen model of the Dell XPS 13 is priced at $899, offers the same amount of RAM and storage, has a more powerful Intel Core i5 processor but a lower-resolution 1080p display.

Bottom Line

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 is a stunning little notebook that embodies the word "ultraportable." It's attractive, has a beautiful display, and offers solid overall performance. Plus, this system offers more ports than the new MacBook. However, the relatively short battery life makes this system a tough sell for its $1,199 price.

 For my money I prefer the $899 Dell XPS 13. While it has a lower-resolution screen and weighs half a pound more, it comes with a more powerful Core i5 processor and lasts nearly twice as long on a charge. Overall, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 looks and feels as premium as its price tag suggests, but it isn't the best value.

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CPU Intel Core M 5Y10c
Operating System Windows 8.1
RAM 8GB
RAM Upgradable to
Hard Drive Size 256GB
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type SSD Drive
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 12.1
Native Resolution 2560 x 1600
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel HD Graphics 5300
Video Memory
Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi Model
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.9 x 2.3 inches
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone/Mic
Ports (excluding USB) micro HDMI
USB Ports 2
Card Slots microSD
Warranty/Support
Size 12.5 x 8.8 x 0.54
Weight 2.09
Company Website http://www.samsung.com/us
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