Samsung Notebook 9 Pen Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Vivid display; S Pen is a good stylus; Lightweight

The Cons

Weak design; Poor keyboard; Short battery life; Lots of bloatware

Verdict

The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro has a vivid display and the S Pen is a great stylus, but it's hamstrung by a poor keyboard, brief battery life and a boring design.

What if you didn't get a backache from carrying your laptop around? What if it was nice and light and took up less space in your backpack? What would you sacrifice for that? The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro will make you answer those questions. The $1,399.99 laptop is Samsung's latest premium entry and the company went so far as developing a lightweight material to keep it trim. It also has an 8th Gen Core Intel CPU and an S Pen stylus like the one you get on Samsung's smartphones. But it has lower-than-average battery life, a poor keyboard and a boring design that really needs to be brought up to 2018 standards, making it right exclusively those with extra money to spend and a backache at the end of the day from carrying a heavy device.

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Design

Samsung hasn't made any real changes to its laptop design in the last couple of years, and it shows. Despite modern parts inside, the Notebook 9 Pen's shell is dated and uninspired. It's a relic of laptop design from 2009, but thinner and lighter.

The silver slab has no character at all, with a plain silver look and Samsung's logo in reflective silver offset to the left. The rounded edges are a carbon copy of a MacBook. Opening the laptop reveals a 13.3-inch, 1080p display with a thicker bezel than competitors, and an island-style chiclet keyboard in the same silver color.

I'll give Samsung this: its magnesium-aluminum alloy, which it has dubbed Metal12, puts the Notebook 9 Pen in a different weight class than other 2-in-1s. The Notebook 9 Pen is 2.2 pounds, less than the Dell XPS 13 (2.8 pounds), the HP Spectre x360 13-inch (2.9 pounds) and the Lenovo Yoga 920 (3.1 pounds). Samsung also claims that Metal12 is durable, but it doesn't strike me as being as sturdy as any of those heavier laptops, and it feels far more like plastic than metal. There was even a little bit of give in the lid and on the bottom.

The Notebook 9 Pen's screen covers an excellent 121 percent of the sRGB color gamut, handily surpassing the premium laptop average.

I found it odd that the fingerprint reader is on the keyboard, but it still works even when the laptop is flipped into tablet mode. It would've made more sense to be on the side. I prefer the even easier option: Windows Hello facial recognition with the Notebook 9 Pen's infrared cameras. Then you can log in easily in any mode.

But at 0.7 inches thick, the Notebook 9 Pen isn't any thinner than competitors. The Spectre x360 is 0.5 inches, and the XPS 13 and Yoga 920 are both 0.6 inches.

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Ports

The sides of the Notebook 9 are decorated with a minimalist set of ports. On the left side are an HDMI output, Type-C port and a headphone jack, while the right has a microSD slot and a USB 3.0 port.

That's not much room for peripherals, and I would happily trade HDMI for another Type-C port for both video output and data, which would provide far more flexibility.

The existing Type-C port can charge, but the Notebook 9 Pen comes with a standard barrel-shaped charger, which lets you use all of your peripheral ports even when you're charging.

Display

The display that Samsung put in the Notebook 9 Pen will hit a sweet spot with owners of the company's phones: it's slightly oversaturated and bright, making for a vivid picture. When I watched the trailer for Ant-Man and The Wasp, the latter character's yellow visor popped against her silver helmet, and a massive red Pez dispenser appeared authentic.

The Notebook 9 Pen's screen covers an excellent 121 percent of the sRGB color gamut, handily surpassing the premium laptop average (108 percent), the Yoga 920 (105 percent), the Spectre (109 percent) and the XPS 13 (117 percent).

Samsung's panel measured 289 nits of average brightness on our light meter, making it more luminous than the laptop average (285 nits), the Yoga 920 (284 nits) and the Spectre x360 (261 nits). The XPS 13 was the brightest of all at a brilliant 372 nits.

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Keyboard and Touchpad

Sure, I was able to type quickly on the Notebook 9 Pen's keyboard, but I wasn't able to type well. The low-travel keys measure 1.2 millimeters and require 68 grams of force to press. I was able to get used to the switches, but the keys feel like they're made of slippery, cheap plastic. and I found myself sliding around and making copious amounts of errors as I consistently bottomed out.

On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 116 words per minute, which is within my usual range, but I had an 8 percent error rate, almost four times higher than my average.

My favorite feature is the ability to record GIFs. You just take a window, use the S Pen to resize it over a video, hit record and boom -- instant meme-ability.

The 3.9 x 2.3-inch touchpad is short, and I found myself bumping into the top edges often. Still, it's responsive and smooth, and instantly reacted to Windows 10 gestures like tapping four fingers to open the Notification Center and switching apps with three-finger swipes.

S Pen

The stylus is Samsung's vaunted S Pen. If you've ever used a Galaxy phone (or last year's Notebook 9 Pro), you'll be right at home. It's a comfortable, familiar stylus that never needs a battery, and it comes with software to support it.

When you remove the S Pen from its slot (or press its button), the Air Command software lets you instantly write notes, record audio, edit a document and take screenshots.

But my favorite new feature is the ability to record GIFs. You just take a window, use the S Pen to resize it over a video, hit record and boom -- instant meme-ability.

Audio

The speakers on the Notebook 9 Pen are pretty standard for a premium laptop. When I listened to PortugalThe Man's "Feel It Still," the bass line didn't have as much thump as I would like, but the speakers just managed to fill a midsize conference room. The vocals, keys and horns were all clear.

Performance

Armed with an Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, the Notebook 9 Pro is fine for a busy multitasker. I had no problems with 25 tabs open, including one streaming 1080p performances from the Grammys on YouTube.

On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the Notebook 9 Pen notched a score of 13,129, beating the premium laptop average of 9,152 (which includes mostly 7th Gen core machines). But it's a few points below the Lenovo Yoga 920 (Core i7-8550U, 13,306) and lesser than the Spectre (Core i7-8550U, 13,568) and the XPS 13 (14,180, Core i7-8550U).

The Notebook 9 Pen lasted for only 6 hours and 16 minutes on Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which is well below the premium laptop average.

It took 18 seconds for the Notebook 9 Pen to copy 4.97GB of files, or 282.7 MBps. While that's faster than average (257.8MBps), the Yoga 920 (299.9MBps), the XPS 13 (508MBps) and the Spectre (565.5MBps) were even speedier.

On our Excel macro test, it took the Notebook 9 Pro 1 minute and 31 seconds to pair 65,000 names and addresses, beating out the average (1:59) but taking longer than both the Spectre (1:36) and the XPS 13 (1:08).

W

hen we seriously stressed the CPU with our Handbrake test, it took the laptop 26 minutes to convert a 4K video into 1080p. That's on apar with the Spectre x360, which took the same amount of time, but the average (24:08) is shorter, and the XPS 13 took just 16 minutes.

The Notebook 9 Pen uses Intel's integrated UHD Graphics 620, which will work well enough for basic everyday use, but not for heavy gaming or serious video editing. Samsung's laptop ran Dirt 3 at 47 fps, beating the Yoga 920 (35 fps), but not as well as the average (55 fps) or the Spectre x360 (56 fps).

Battery Life

It won't take long to find out where Samsung shaved the extra millimeters off the Notebook 9 Pen; it's the battery. The laptop lasted only 6 hours and 16 minutes on Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which continuously browses websites on a local server at 150 nits of brightness. That's well below the premium laptop average of 8:09 and the rest of its competitors, including the Spectre (8 hours flat), the Yoga 920 (10:14) and the XPS 13 (almost twice as long at 11:59). You're going to need to carry the charger around with you.

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Webcam

The 720p webcam on the Notebook 9 Pen produces usable, but not superb, images. When I took shots at my desk, my eyes appeared true-to-life blue, but my hair appeared a little blurry and the lights behind me were completely blown out.

Heat

In our testing, the Notebook 9 Pen stayed cool and collected. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, the touchpad reached 76 degrees Fahrenheit, while the center of the keyboard and the bottom of the machine both measured 82 degrees. That's all comfortably below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees.

Software and Warranty

Samsung has stuffed the Notebook 9 Pen with its own software and a whole bunch of bloat.

The apps Samsung pre-loaded include a bunch of duplicates of built-in Windows apps, like its own photo gallery, update downloader and note-taking software. But it also has some more welcome additions like a voice recorder and an app to send text messages from your Android phone. There are also apps of questionable utility, like Samsung Security, which makes other programs' windows partly opaque to make it harder for strangers (but also you) to read.

There's a bunch of bloatware, some under the cheeky subhead "Samsung Recommends." It includes Autodesk SketchBook, Netflix, Amazon, WildTangent Games and a children's program entitled Little Artist.

On top of that, there's the usual bloatware built into Windows, including Spotify, Drawboard PDF, Candy Crush Soda Saga, March of Empires: War of Lords, Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Disney Magic Kingdoms.

Samsung sells the Notebook 9 Pen with a one-year warranty. See how the company faredon our Tech Support Showdown.

Bottom Line

The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro has a vivid, bright display, a familiar, comfortable stylus in the S Pen and a lightweight frame thanks to Samsung's Metal12. That makes it right for those who care most about weight and inking. But the keyboard, battery life and design are all subpar, so you're best off looking at other options. Our current best overall laptop, the Dell XPS 13, is slightly pricier for the same specs ($1,449.99), but it lasts more than twice as long, has an amazing display and offers stronger performance. It's not a 2-in-1, though; so if you need it to bend back, it's not for you.

As of this writing, the HP Spectre x360 will get you the same specs and save you money; it's just $1,099.99. With that, you'll get better looks, longer battery life, a blazing-fast SSD and a stylus (though not as comfy as the S Pen).

The Lenovo Yoga 920 with a similar configuration is also less pricey at $1,379.99. With that, you'll also get a stylus (albeit a chunky one), longer battery life, a great display and a far-field microphone for Cortana.

The only downside to those three in comparison? They're heavier. But otherwise, they're all better than the Notebook 9 Pro in almost every way. So we can only suggest that those who want to travel really light and want the S Pen consider the Notebook 9 Pen.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag

CPU Intel Core i7-8550U CPU (1.99-GHz)
Operating System Windows 10 Home
RAM 8GB
RAM Upgradable to
Hard Drive Size 256GB
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type SSD
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 13.3
Highest Available Resolution 1920 x 1080
Native Resolution 1920x1080
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel UHD Graphics 620
Video Memory
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Wi-Fi Model Intel Wireless-AC 8265
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.9 x 2.3 inches
Ports (excluding USB) USB Type-C
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone/Mic
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
USB Ports 2
Card Slots microSD
Warranty/Support 1-year warranty
Size 12.2 x 8.1 x 0.7 inches
Weight 2.2 pounds
Company Website samsung.com
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