January’s International CES may have been dominated by a new generation of ultrabooks, but Samsung has been playing the super-slim game for some time – with its 16.3mm-slim Series 9 laptops.
Styled as ‘ultra portable’ notebooks, the slinky, metallic-styled Series 9 is a clear challenge to Apple’s 19mm-deep MacBook Air range. This variation is squarely aimed at business users. This will also please restless ultrabook fans, as the NP-900X3A-B02′s 16.3mm depth compares well to its future rivals, unveiled in Las Vegas this year. These are the Acer Aspire A5 at 15mm, the LG X-Note Z330 with 14.7mm thinness, Toshiba Portege Z830 at 15.9mm and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Hybrid, which comes in at 20.3mm.
Before the novelty of the NP-900X3A-B02′s feather-light weight has worn-off, Samsung hits us with a gorgeous backlit keyboard that’s not only easy to use in pitch black, but comfy and quiet. We found it to be one of the most accurate and natural designs we’ve used. Kudos also goes to the one-piece, multi-touch trackpad, which although using its own commands (two fingers for left-click) never sticks. It is virtually silent, and beautifully hides the left and right buttons.
A slight variation on the Samsung NP-900X3A-B02 is the Samsung NP-900X3A-B01, which costs £1099. This is nothing more than a division between Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional. Both of these are strapped with an Intel Core i5 2467M chipset, Intel HD Graphics 3000, 4GB memory, a 128GB solid state HDD, 1.3-megapixel webcam, an Intel 802.11n module, and Bluetooth 3.0. If you want built-in Blu-ray – or any kind of optical drive, for that matter – head to Samsung’s Series 7 laptops.
Its matte, anti-glare 13.3-inch LED panel deserves some praise, not only for its 16:9 widescreen proportions, but also for its wide viewing angle. Watch from the wings and colours do drain, as does contrast, though not nearly as much as on cheaper models. The device is capable of a very high brightness, while video and graphics appear sharp and concise despite the rather low sounding 1,366 x 768 pixel count.
More aircraft-inspired features come in the material used to construct the NP-900X3A-B02. This is duralumin – a type of aluminium usually used in aviation construction – to get the total weight down, to a thoroughly portable 1.3kg. On the right-hand side is an almost invisible flip-down platform that houses a headphones output-cum-microphone, which is flanked by a USB 2.0 and a microSD card slot. The opposite side sees a mini-HDMI, nestled between a USB 3.0 slot and an adaptor cable for attaching a LAN cable. A Micro HDMI to VGA converter cable (AA-AH0NAMB/US, and seemingly available (only) from here for £24.17) is also available for hooking-up the NP-900X3A-B02 to a display, but it’s not included in the box. That’s a shame, not only since that cuts out some serious versatility, but also because there’s a useful ‘Connect to a Projector’ mode that allows duplicate, extend and projection options only. Other business-centric goodies include a quick XPS Viewer software for spreadsheets, and a Remote Desktop Connection programme.
Skipping between programmes and launching a host of browser windows caused zero problems for the NP-900X3A-B02, and the processor’s speed is matched by a Fast Start mode. In our test, we told the NP-900X3A-B02 to sleep and wake with the lid’s position (as it closes it automatically saves work), then shut the lid. Upon opening, we were working on this review a stunning seven seconds later. This is much quicker than other super-mobile laptops. Powering-up from cold, took a little longer at 34 seconds, which isn’t a bad result for work to begin.
What don’t we like about the NP-900X3A-B02, aside from the rather high price tag? Well, if pushed we’d suggest adding a manual WiFi switch for frequent flyers, while the stereo 1.5W speakers at the top of each flank are certainly nothing to get excited about. The uses of microSD as a portable storage format is also of concern, inspired, perhaps, by the use of such things in other teeny tiny Samsung products, such as its 17-mm slim ST30 ultra-compact camera. Here, that duralumin lid and fingerboard catches fingerprints that are hard to get rid of, unless it’s given a sturdy wipe. The areas around the gloss black plastic keyboard, as well as the keys themselves, are similarly strewn with smudges. Adaptor cables are a pain, and the need to carry two is a shame indeed – especially since the Micro HDMI to VGA converter cable isn’t even included.
The key test for anyone away from power sources for several hours is battery. In our tests its built-in battery lasted between three and four hours, which compares well to the MacBook Pro, but not to a regular laptop. It also falls short of the serious road-warrior examples, such as the chunkier Lenovo ThinkPad X220i, which can be accessorised to achieve 23 hours.
Using the Power Saver battery mode can be distracting. This mode, long used on Samsung gear, tweaks the light levels on the screen to best stretch the battery. In practice, it seems to change the brightness willy-nilly where the sudden peaks and troughs can be off-putting, and we’d recommend switching to Balanced mode if pulling the long-haul.
- Keyboard layout; ambient light sensor-driven backlighting; design; USB 3.0; screen; solid state HDD; powerful.
- microSD card support; uses adaptor for LAN; connect to VGA, Micro HDMI to VGA converter cable not included.
On the face of it this beautifully designed, slim and feather-light laptop is a business laptop extraordinaire, for Windows devotees. Its design, keyboard and Intel i5-powered performance is awesome, though we’re not sure it’s suited to anyone than the short-hop business traveller. The battery life is simply too short, and at this price, the Micro HDMI to VGA converter cable ought to be bundled. As a piece of technology for the home it’s awesome – the ultrabook era starts here.