Let's stop the argument right here: The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro ($1,399.99) has the best built-in stylus in a laptop. It's the first notebook with an S Pen, the active pen you may know from the company's Note line of phones, and it works great. This well-built, 15-inch 2-in-1 looks great and offers solid performance with discrete graphics for a lower price than most of its direct competitors. If you can deal with its below-average battery life, the Notebook 9 Pro is an excellent choice.
With its sturdy aluminum body and subtle, dark-gray coloring, the Notebook 9 is sleek, attractive and definitely the best-looking Samsung laptop I've tested. The lid is adorned only by Samsung's logo, in silver, on the left-hand side. Lifting the lid reveals the 15-inch, 1080p display; the deck; and the island-style keyboard.
At 3.8 pounds and 14.6 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches, the Notebook 9 Pro is slightly lighter than similarly sized competitors. The HP Spectre x360 is 14 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches and 4.4 pounds, and the Dell XPS 15 is 14 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches and 4.6 pounds. The Lenovo Yoga 720, a 2-in-1 with a 13-inch display, is 12.2 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches and just 2.8 pounds.
There's a good mix of ports on the Pro to support both legacy and upcoming accessories. On the left side are the power jack, HDMI output, USB Type-C port and headphone jack. The right side is home to a pair of USB 3.0 ports and a microSD card slot. Under the wrist rest, there's a slot to hold the S Pen stylus.
Just like other convertible 2-in-1s, the Notebook 9 Pro's 360-degree hinges make it usable as a laptop, tablet, tent (an upside-down "V") or stand (with the keyboard facedown and the display faceup).
Display: As accurate as it gets
The Notebook 9 Pro's 15-inch, full-HD display is sharp and colorful, and it looked great in my testing. When I watched the trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming, the hero's red-and-blue suit looked just like it does on a movie screen, and I could make out every droplet of water when the wall crawler swung into a pool.
The screen covers an excellent 106 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which surpasses the 94-percent mainstream notebook average. Competitors, like the HP Spectre x360 (113 percent), the Yoga 720 (127 percent) and the Dell XPS 15 (an extraordinary 188 percent), did even better.
But it's hard to beat the accuracy of the Notebook 9 Pro's colors. It has a Delta-E score of 0.2 (0 is ideal), which is far better than the average (2.0), as well as the scores from the XPS 15 (1.4), the Yoga 720 (2.5) and the Spectre (3.5). The Notebook 9 Pro's screen measured an average of 266 nits of brightness on our light meter, making it slightly less luminous than the category average (276 nits), the Yoga 720 (280 nits) and the XPS 15 (282 nits), but brighter than the Spectre (255 nits).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the Notebook 9 Pro is serviceable, but with 1.4 millimeters of travel, it's a bit shallow (1.5 to 2 mm is typical). Thanks to their solid 73 grams of required actuation force, I did wish the keys were deeper. They do, however, have satisfying, clicky feedback that feels and sounds good. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 106 words per minute, which is just one word shy of my usual average, with my standard 2 percent error rate.
The 4.5 x 3.3-inch touchpad is spacious and responsive. I had more than enough room to move the mouse around, and it quickly reacted to gestures such as two-finger scrolling and swiping three fingers down to clear the desktop.
S Pen: The best integrated stylus
For the first time, Samsung brought the S Pen, which it uses on its notebooks and tablets, to a laptop. (There was a similar stylus on the Chromebook Pro, but the company insists that it was not an S Pen.) The pen is 4.7 inches long, with a 0.7-millimeter-thick tip that can support more than 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilting. If you've used the S Pen from the Samsung Galaxy Note line, particularly the one from the ill-fated Note 7, you'll feel immediately at home.
When you remove the S Pen from its nook, Samsung's Air Command software launches with immediate shortcuts to take notes in the Samsung Notes app, view your library of previous scribbles, select a part of the screen to save for later, write on the display or extend your desktop to another monitor.
The S Pen is one of the best styluses I've used with a 2-in-1 in a long time. I used it often to navigate Windows and doodle in Autodesk Sketchbook. The drawing movements are instant and pressure sensitive, and the palm rejection is excellent.
The speakers on the Notebook 9 Pro are average for a notebook. When I listened to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's "Cumberland Gap," the vocals, guitars and drums were clear and loud, filling our midsize conference room. However, I couldn't make out the bass at all.
There's no dedicated audio program on board, but the Samsung Settings app has a menu that lets you choose among several sound profiles. Selecting Music provided a bit more volume, while Game accentuated the drums. But I think most people will be just fine leaving it on Standard.
Performance: Fast and formidable
The Notebook 9 Pro comes armed with a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-7500U CPU, AMD Radeon 540 graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which are more than powerful enough for getting lots of work done at once. I had 30 tabs open in Google Chrome simultaneously (including one streaming a 1080p episode of "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver") while I took notes in the Samsung Notes app, and didn't experience any lag.
Samsung's laptop achieved a score of 8,274 on the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, surpassing the HP Spectre x360 (Core i7-7200U; 8,017) and the Lenovo Yoga 720 (Core i5-7200U; 7,300), but falling behind the Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-7700U; 13,911) and the mainstream notebook average (10,628).
The Notebook 9 Pro took 23 seconds to transfer 4.97GB of files, which translates to 221.3 megabytes per second. That's faster than the category average (203.9 MBps), but the Spectre (282.1 MBps), Yoga (318.1 MBps) and XPS 15 (339.3 MBps) were all speedier.
On our OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Notebook 9 Pro paired 20,000 names and addresses in 2 minutes and 37 seconds, beating the average (3:59), the XPS 15 (3:23), the Spectre (3:34) and the Yoga (4:02).
With its discrete AMD Radeon 540 GPU, the Notebook 9 Pro has quite a bit of graphics might, achieving a score of 118,845 on 3DMark Ice Storm. That's far higher than the average of 87,210 and better than the Yoga 720 (68,657; integrated graphics) and the Spectre (93,759; Nvidia GeForce 940MX). The XPS 15 (134,459; Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050) outperformed the group.
Those numbers suggest that the Notebook 9 Pro isn't good enough for serious gaming for titles such as The Witcher 3 and Mass Effect: Andromeda, but you'll get some extra oomph when you need it in Photoshop.
Battery Life: Not great
The Notebook 9 Pro simply doesn't have the endurance of its competitors. It ran for 6 hours and 56 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves surfing the web continuously over Wi-Fi. That's a smidge over the mainstream notebook average (6:52), but the Lenovo Yoga 720 (7:04), Dell XPS 15 (8:23) and HP Spectre x360 (8:36) all fared better.
The 720p camera on the Notebook 9 Pro is perfectly serviceable, but it's not as sharp as the best webcams on the market. In a shot I took in my lab, the camera perfectly captured my red shirt, but my hair appeared a tad blurry.
Whether you hold it like a tablet or rest it on a table to watch movies, the Notebook 9 Pro should stay nice and cool. After we streamed HD video from YouTube for 15 minutes, it measured 78 degrees Fahrenheit on both the bottom and the keyboard, and 76 degrees on the touchpad. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees to be comfortable.
Software and Warranty: Far too bloated
The Notebook 9 Pro comes with a lot of preloaded software, which ranges from useful first-party utilities to wasteful bloatware. Samsung SideSync lets you swap files between your notebook and Samsung phone. Samsung Security suite includes a special privacy folder, an option to block screen recording and an effect that is supposed to make it harder for people sitting next to you to see your screen (though my colleagues could see my info just fine). Samsung also includes its own photo gallery and messaging apps, as well as an online support app. There's also a ton of junk, including Amazon, Netflix, TripAdvisor, WildTangent Games, Little Artist, McAfee and the Keeper Password Manager, as well as the bloatware that comes built into every Windows 10 machine (Candy Crush Soda Saga, Sling, Twitter, etc.).
The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is a sleek 2-in-1 with a vivid display, strong performance and the best embedded stylus I've used in a laptop. Both the HP Spectre x360 ($1,500 when similarly configured) and the Dell XPS 15 ($2,075 when similarly configured) last far longer on a charge, but they cost quite a bit more than Samsung's laptop. Overall, the Notebook 9 Pro is a worthy buy.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag