Samsung Notebook 9 (15-inch)
As technology improves and laptops keep getting bigger screens and slimmer profiles, the lines between traditional categories are going to blur even more. Case in point: the Samsung Notebook 9 (starts at $999.99; $1,199.99 as tested). Equipped with a 15-inch screen, it falls squarely into the size range of what we've long called a desktop-replacement. But given its low weight, svelte construction, and fantastic battery life, by any other measure it's a pure ultraportable. Whether it's ultimately right for you depends on exactly what your needs are, but its combination of features is rich and rewarding enough to satisfy them under almost any circumstance.
Design and Features
One thing's for sure: The Notebook 9 (which is also available in a 13-inch version) certainly won't weigh you down. Measuring 0.57 by 13.64 by 9.32 inches and weighing just 2.77 pounds, it's almost wispy enough that you won't even notice it when you stick it in your briefcase or, heck, even pick it up. It has a sturdy feel, however, with a matte-finish aluminum-magnesium construction that extends over every visible part of the system. Only the reflective Samsung logo on the lid really counts as a design flourish; otherwise, this is a no-nonsense, if not unattractive, machine.
Open that lid and you'll see some definite MacBook$1,549.99 at Amazon influences, with black chiclet-style keys with stark white labels contrasting the dullish metal. The keys type well enough, if with a hair less travel than is absolutely ideal; and the touchpad is comfortable, accurate, and unassuming, its integrated buttons effectively clicky. More striking is that 15-inch screen itself: a bright 1,920-by-1,080 panel that displays crisp images with vibrant colors, and is framed on the left and right by an unusually narrow (0.24-inch) silver bezel. (There's a bit more space on the top, where you'll find a 720p webcam located dead-center, and the bottom.) It's not a touch screen, but it has excellent viewing angles, and you can fold it all the way back to lay it completely flat.
The Power button is in the upper-right corner of the keyboard deck; the peaceful blue light that tells you when the Notebook 9 is in the upper left. The speakers produce fine sound with fairly articulate bass, though they even at top volume they're not particularly loud.
Given the Notebook 9's overall thinness, you may expect a relatively small number of ports, and you'd be correct. On the left edge are a full-size USB 3.0 port, a headset jack, a USB-C port, and a port for connecting an (included) external Ethernet dongle; on the right are a second USB 3.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, and a microSD card slot. The components are on the powerful side, too: The processor is a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, and it's paired with 8GB of memory. A 256GB M.2 solid-state drive (SSD) supplies the speedy storage. Wireless connectivity comes by way of 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.1.
The Notebook 9 is covered by a one-year parts-and-labor warranty.
Performance is where the Notebook 9's duality becomes something of an identity crisis. Is it more aptly compared against other large-screen notebooks or ultraportables? If the former, it acquits itself admirably, if not exceptionally. Its score of 3,084 in our PCMark 8 Work Conventional full-system benchmark test was largely in line with what we've seen from similarly priced computers, just beating out this year's LG gram 15$1,099.99 at Amazon, the HP Spectre x360 15t (15-ap011dx), Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro$1,399.99 at Best Buy, Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW-DS71T$1,478.00 at Amazon, and the Editors' Choice Acer Aspire E5-573G-57HR. On other productivity and multimedia tests, the Notebook 9 consistently landed in the middle of the pack in almost every case: neither terrific nor terrible.
Its lack of a discrete video card (it uses integrated Intel HD Graphics 520) makes the Notebook 9 less than ideal for serious 3D gaming. Its scores in our 3DMark Cloud Gate and Fire Strike Extreme tests were passable for a system with integrated graphics; and its frame rates in our Heaven and Valley tests (at medium details and 1,366-by-768 resolution) fell a bit short of our threshold of 30 frames per second (fps) for smooth playability, and the higher-end tests didn't even come close (we're talking single-digit frame rates here). If you really turn down the graphical details, you will be able to play most shooters, but the experience won't be as good as you'll get with the Zenbook Pro or the Ativ Book 9 pro, both of which have dedicated graphics systems; even the lower-priced Acer, had no trouble skipping ahead.
By any measure, though, the Notebook 9 has terrific battery life. It lasted 11 hours, 40 minutes, on our rundown test, with just three of our comparison units from either category doing better: the Zenbook Pro (11:53), the Spectre x360 15t$1,149.99 at HP.com (12:06), and last year's 13-inch Apple MacBook Air (an epic 17:36).
So what kind of laptop is the 15-inch Samsung Notebook 9? Even after spending a couple of weeks with it, I can't say for sure. And given how much it gets right, I'm not positive it matters. It stacks up admirably against Editors' Choice picks like the 2,560-by-1,440 Razer Blade Stealth$999.99 at Razer Online Store (for ultraportables) and the Acer Aspire E5-573G-57HR$569.95 at Amazon (for desktop-replacements), despite being considerably different than either. Maximizing what limited space it has, its performance, and its battery life ensures that it will give you the functionality you need. For about the same amount of money, you can find something that's faster or lasts longer away from a power outlet, but it will be hard pressed to fulfill as many overall requirements as the Notebook 9 does. For that reason, we're happy to name it an Editors' Choice—it's a highly capable winner, regardless of what type of laptop you need.
Image source: http://www.pcmag.com/review/347389/samsung-notebook-9-15-inch