Last summer, the Samsung surprised us with its Notebook 9 Pro, a 2-in-1 laptop that will be lauded for years to come for not only its versatile design, but for its long-lasting battery and flattering looks as well.
This year, that same Seoul-based tech conglomerate has come out with a version of its award-winning Samsung Notebook 9 Pro for fans of traditional laptop form factors: the Samsung Notebook 9.
Usually when we see non-’pro’ variants come out of our favorite notebooks hit the shelves, it means only one thing: a model that’s been knocked down, performance-wise, for the sake of economic viability.
That’s not the case with the Samsung Notebook 9, a – dare we say – Ultrabook that retains the joys of the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro while taking away its ability to transform into tablet mode. Unfortunately, however, it is bafflingly more expensive than its professional grade counterpart.
Price and availability
For $1,399 (about £989, AU$1,725), the Samsung Notebook 9 can be yours. As it’s being sold in only one configuration, and one that’s available uniquely to the US at that, what you see is what you get from this laptop.
Then again, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the sheer value packed into the Samsung Notebook 9’s all-aluminum body. That ostensibly lofty price tag nets you everything you see in the spec sheet to the right.
That’s pricier than the previous-generation Samsung Notebook 9, and confusingly enough, it costs more than the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro, too.
That’s right, at $1,299 (about £1,000, AU$1,720), the similarly-specced 15-inch Samsung Notebook 9 Pro – touchscreen, 360-degree convertible display and all – is cheaper than the Samsung Notebook 9, though there are some key design differences between the two laptops we’ll get to momentarily that may very well justify the $100 premium.
Whereas the former comes equipped with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of SSD space and a 1080p screen for $1,199 (£1,299, AU$2,699), you can fetch the latter for $2,174 (£1,814, AU$2,634), armed with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ paired with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 4K screen.
Despite its inevitable comparisons to the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro, the vanilla Samsung Notebook 9 is a remarkably designed laptop. The moment you power it on, you’ll notice how bright, vivid and downright gorgeous the display is, not to mention how minuscule the bezels are.
It might not have the Ultra HD fixings that the XPS 15 does, but there’s an HDR-like (high dynamic range) quality to the Samsung Notebook 9’s screen that shouldn’t go ignored. That’s no coincidence either, seeing as Samsung’s own marketing materials suggest a ‘Video HDR’ feature is fully supported by the Notebook 9.
It’s not entirely clear what specifically ‘Video HDR’ does, but it sits inside the pre-installed Samsung Settings app, alongside three other ‘Quick Settings’ and a number of deeper advanced settings. Unlike other Windows 10 laptops we’ve reviewed in the past, Samsung lets you configure ‘Auto Booting’, ‘USB charging in sleep Mode’, ‘Outdoor Mode’ and more within its own proprietary control center – very handy.
From the looks of it, the Video HDR feature applies an automatic boost in contrast to the Samsung Notebook 9’s display rather than offering compatibility with the canonical ‘Stream HDR Video’ setting found on every Windows 10 computer. Although it’s not true HDR, it’s still a nice touch.
Screen quirks aside, the Samsung Notebook 9 is par for the course in other areas. The keyboard is comfortable, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. In other words, the fact that it has more travel than the MacBook Pro used to write this review is more of a knock against Apple than a compliment towards Samsung – if you catch our drift.
In regards to its primary competition, namely the Dell XPS 15 and Lenovo Yoga 720, the Samsung Notebook 9’s inputs hardly feel any different.
At its best, this laptop bears a keyboard that feels natural to the touch and a trackpad that just so happens to be not as awful as they generally, normally are (i.e., it isn’t super loud when you press down to click stuff). At its worst, the trackpad is maybe a hair too small. That said, the default sensitivity is high enough that you won’t need a mouse.
There is a fingerprint reader for use with the Windows Hello login authenticator too, which works about as well as expected. It’s no more or less consistent than other fingerprint readers we’ve used.
Light on weight, heavy on ports
Contrary to other 15-inch laptops in its class, the Samsung Notebook 9 is anything but unwieldy. In fact, weighing only 2.73 pounds (1.24kg), it manages to be significantly lighter than the 3.79-pounds (1.7kg) Samsung Notebook 9 Pro without compromising on specs. Specs which, mind you, comprise a perfect blend of ports both old and new.
These include a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a single USB 2.0 port, a headphone jack, a microSD card slot, HDMI out and, perhaps best of all, a Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C port. So, whether you’re living in the past or preparing for the future, you ought not to be disappointed with the connection lineup.
It might have discrete Nvidia graphics, but we wouldn’t go in expecting too much from the Samsung Notebook 9’s pixel-pushing performance. It’s not a gaming laptop, nor is it advertised as being such.
On the other hand, the Samsung Notebook 9 is a commendable choice for nearly everything else.
That 2GB of GDDR5 video memory boasted by the onboard GeForce 940MX chip goes a long way when you’re talking about graphics-intensive photo or video editing.
So, while it was a chore to play Dragon Ball FighterZ on the Samsung Notebook 9 at medium settings, you’re bound to find success with productivity tasks.
What’s more, since it utilizes Nvidia Optimus graphics switching tech, the Samsung Notebook 9 should theoretically have a lengthy battery life in addition to a boatload of power.
After putting this theory to the test, we can confirm the credibility of these claims, too.
What it lacks in other areas of our benchmark testing, the Samsung Notebook 9 more than makes up for with its phenomenal battery life. At 4 hours and 51 minutes, according to the PCMark 8 battery life test, the Samsung Notebook 9 performed markedly better than the 3 hours and 38 minutes persevered by the Dell XPS 15 and even the 4 hours and 35 minutes of the Lenovo Yoga 720.
In our own in-house battery test, wherein we loop the hit film Guardians of the Galaxy in VLC Player until the system dies, the Samsung Notebook 9 blew us away, lasting a whole nine hours and 23 minutes before reaching a temporary demise.
The Samsung Notebook 9 doesn’t have the best graphics for gaming, as you can tell by its lackluster 3DMark scores (1,418 in Sky Diver as opposed to the Dell XPS 15’s 15,373). Even though it’s an Intel Core i7, it doesn’t have the best processor either, as it’s a ‘U’-series i7 rather than an ‘HQ’-series.
What it does have is a thin and light design that won’t strain your back, a beautiful screen, a formidable keyboard and a trackpad that we surprisingly don’t hate. It supports fast-charging and a wide range of other features that you’ll only find on Samsung notebooks through a built-in app that also took us by surprise – oh, and that battery life can’t be beat.
The pricing is admittedly a little weird. It doesn’t make sense that the non-hybrid Samsung Notebook 9 would cost more than the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro that doubles as a tablet, especially when the only internal difference between the two products seems to be that the Pro leverages a comparable grade of AMD graphics in place of Nvidia.
Other than that, the only complaint we have is that the heavily advertised ‘HDR Video’ function doesn’t give you permission to tick that elusive ‘Stream HDR Video’ option in the Windows 10 video playback settings; it’s only applicable to the integrated Samsung Settings app automatically pinned to your taskbar when you log in to your computer for the first time. For that reason, we’re hesitant to call this HDR at all.
The Samsung Notebook 9 is an anomaly, in that it seems like it was priced erroneously and yet it’s still somehow worth the cost of entry. It doesn’t have the fanciest internal components, but it’s powerful enough to get the job done, whatever that job may be, plus it has the advantage of featherlight portability.
Furthermore, it should be a crime to mention the Samsung Notebook 9 without applauding its battery life in the same breath. It doesn’t come close to the apparently immortal MacBook Air, yet it knocks its immediate rivals out of the water. This is a laptop that’s built for enduring long projects on the fly, without the concern for misplaced chargers, and therefore worthy of our ‘Recommended’ award.