When the Samsung Series 9 (2011) was first released last year, we found that it had many ideal traits of what an ideal Ultrabook should be, apart from its price (which was listed at about S$2500). Since Intel already defined the typical specs of an Ultrabook, including the price point, which was set at a more comfortable US$1000 and below range, this obviously meant that Samsung was unable to label their notebook as an Ultrabook and instead referred it as a premium notebook (which it was given the materials and components used to create the original Series 9 notebook). Some time later, Samsung introduced their official line of Ultrabooks - the Series 5 Ultra notebooks. However because they were made to be affordable, they weren't as robust, or attractive as the Series 9 notebooks.
Of course, that’s not to say the original Series 9 notebooks were perfect, as we did note design aspects that could be improved. We took special note of those while evaluating the new Samsung Series 9 (2012) edition. So what has changed or not changed? While the newcomer is also not qualified to be officially called an "Ultrabook" (again due to its price point which is above S$2000), its super thin form-factor, build quality and use of an Intel consumer ultra low voltage processor indicates otherwise. To most consumers, the form and specs dictate a notebook class rather than its price point which varies by time, so go ahead and call it a premium Ultrabook if you think that makes more sense. But according to Samsung, it's 'just' a new premium notebook.
Instead of the unique Duralumin material and plastic base construction of the original model, the 2012 Series 9 adopts the same uni-body build that the Macbook Air has, which would explain why the newcomer feels sturdier overall. It’s also much lighter (1.16kg) than last year's model (1.31kg) and the Macbook Air (1.3kg). Thanks to the notebook's tapered design and good weight distribution, it feels even lighter than specified. Unfortunately, the edge where your wrists rest on, is really sharp. This was an issue we’d had with other Ultrabooks made of aluminum, including the Macbook Air. Using the machine for prolonged periods could result in a very uncomfortable experience, especially when propped up on your lap.
One of our other major concerns we’ve had with the original 2011 (13-inch) Series 9 notebook, is the fact that the keyboard housing was made of plastic. The flex that came with that much plastic also made it feel cheaper than its suggested retail price. So when the 2012 Series 9 reached us, it was one of the first things we took note of, and we were glad it has improved - somewhat.
There is still a slight bit of flex when you press down hard on the backlit keyboard, but you won’t feel it while you're busy mashing away on the keys. Unfortunately though, this time the keys are pretty shallow. Its a typical trade off you can expect from a very thin (14.9mm) notebook, which needs to keep its sleekness and weight (1.16kg) down.
It could have still gotten away with shallow keys if they were 'springy' in nature, but the implementation of the chiclet keys left us slightly underwhelmed. The keys themselves don’t have much bounce, while some of the keys (such as the backspace button) are slightly wobbly, which means they are a tad noisy while some may be dismayed by the wobbly feel on an expensive notebook. That’s not to say the keyboard isn't any good of course. They still function as you’d expect them to, just that we’ve seen better (Lenovo U300s and Macbook Air for example). And at price points beyond S$2000 like the Series 9 notebook, one would be more demanding on the finer aspects of usability.
As a second generation variant of an impressive notebook, that’s about where our complaints end of the 2012 Series 9 notebook. We begin our positive note with the giant clickable glass trackpad (or clickpad) is back once again and we're most pleased with it. Next is the overall look of the notebook. Some may find that it looks sleeker, but others might argue that it’s less sexy (not as curvy as the 2011 version).
Mentioned earlier, the material used is also different this time. Instead of the very hard duralamin, Samsung now uses the more conventional aluminum alloy, which doesn’t compromise build quality much, but helps reduce the price down somewhat. The finish of the material is also different now; where it was all black with a brushed metal texture, on the 2012 Series 9, it’s dark blue with a matte texture throughout the machine. It’s equally nice, but it also reminds us of the finish found on the Apple Macbook Air, just that it's of a different color.
Besides the obligatory upgrade to Ivy Bridge, the new 2012 Samsung Series 9 also boasts a significant upgrade to its screen. You won’t find the standard (and downright appalling for a 2012 notebook) 1366 x 768-pixel resolution on this machine. Instead, you will find a very sharp 1600 x 900 pixels resolution screen like the one found on the ASUS UX31, except the Series 9’s screen goes up to a blinding 400 nits (just like the one on the 2011 Series 9). Oh and the screen has a matte finish!
It’s nice to have such a bright screen when using it outdoors, on a bright sunny day. However we found that having to look at it all day guarantees eye fatigue even after a short while. We reckon most users would opt to turn the display brightness down. Another drawback with a bright screen, is that it draws more power than competing notebooks. It’s not a big issue (as you would soon find out), but rather, just something users should take note of when comparing our battery performance results in the later pages.
Then hinges holding up the screen was also pretty rigid, and it doesn't require two hands to open - a point which some users may be very particular about. As for the speakers, they are still pretty impressive for such a small machine, but this time it felt like the speakers are louder yet. Turning the volume up all the way doesn’t make your music sound warbly or distorted. They are located at the underside of the machine, but aren’t obstructed because of the machine’s curved sides, which is another good design point.