Techterms.com defines a laptop as portable a computer that you can take with you and use in different environments. It comes with a battery allowing it to operate without being plugged into a power outlet. Laptops were originally lower powered versions of desktop computers but advances in manufacturing and industrial design engineering have enabled laptops to perform nearly as well as their desktop counterparts.
I’ve been in the IT industry for these 29 years and have worked on computers – desktops and laptops – for majority of those years. There was a time when I would be content working on a 10″ tablet (HP TC1100C) and for a while my ideal laptop, prioritizing on weight over power, was a 12″ laptop. When I turned half a century I realized that my priorities for laptops needed to adjust to my age: weight and size (real estate) of screen. I validated the latter last year when I bought a 14″ Dell laptop to replace by 8-year old iMac 15. Dick, our Dell 14z, was a beautiful machine powered by an Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge with 8GB RAM. For much of my requirements – video editing and writing, this was the workhorse I will be needing for years to come (hopefully until the day I retired). Dick has one problem that I didn’t consider at the time we were buying it – weight. At 1.98kg, I was under the impression that 1.98kg or 4.356lb was acceptable weight to carry around. I was damn wrong! When you add the charger and carry bag, that 1.98kg easily jumps to 3.95kg – a lot of weight when you consider that you will carrying paper plus other stuff.
It used to be carrying 4kg of stuff on a backpack isn’t such a bad idea but as I said when you get passed the point of no return (50 years) even 3kg can easily weigh you down. So when the financial opportunity came to get a second laptop an ultrabook seemed the only viable option (at least for me).
Reading as many reports as I could muster and going through models from Lenovo, Acer, Asus, HP, Toshiba, Dell and Samsung, I was looking for a laptop that met my minimum criteria of weight (total weight of laptop + charger + bag) of 3kg and screen size of 14″.
The arrival of ultrabooks was just what I was waiting for. Intel’s ultrabook specifications meant I could look forward to a laptop that a screensize of at least 13 inch and weight of XX kg or less. For the record though I have to note that there have been lightweight laptops long before the ultrabook specification came about. Sony and Apple have been at the forefront of these lightweight computers. Apple with their under powered MacbookAirs (MBA) and Sony with their overpriced VAIO T series (followed by S and recently Z).
At the end of the day, my wallet went for a Samsung S9 15″ laptop for a number of reasons: 15″ HD screen, 1.65kg machine with a 0.32kg charger. It came with a black leather sleeve which was cool.
The S9 I bought is marked NP900X4C and is the third generation in the series. It sports the same fingerprint-resistant, bluish-gray aluminum unibody and tapered design. Measuring 356.9 x 237.0 x 14.9mm and weighing 1.65kg, the NP900X4C is sleek and light besting the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z.
Its its predecessor, the keyboard is shallow and takes getting used to. The NP900X4C comes with backlighted keys though, seriously, with 400-nit SuperBright screen, the backlighting feature is a mute point. It comes with a generous 109.22 x 73.66mm touchpad. The reviews I read report that Samsung has greatly improved the accuracy and performance of the trackpad on the NP900X4C but, in my view, it still much to be desired (I am using a Bluetooth mouse right now to get better at working on the S9). At least it supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and three-finger-swipe.
The NP900X4C comes with a 15-inch (diagonal) 1600 x 900-pixel matte display registering 368 lux on the light meter (a downgrade from the previous generation’s 399 lux – the higher the lux the brighter the screen). To be honest, the Dell XPS 15 offers a far better resolution at 1920 x 1080p display, while the Sleekbook 6z’s 1366 x 768. The average ultraportable sports a brightness of 232 lux.
The NP900X4C follows the tradition of many ultrabooks – bad sound reproduction, particularly in the subwoofer range but it manages to maintain accuracy even at full volume.
The NP900X4C, for the most part, runs cool to the touch except the upper-middle of the underside which can easily warm up to about 33 degrees Celsius. Thankfully it doesn’t get much hotter – compared to Dick, my Dell XPS 14z which runs well above 38.
The Apple MacbookAir was the first of these lightweight laptops to sport very few ports. Thankfully the NP900X4C comes with two USB 3.0 ports, a powered USB 2.0 port, a 4-in-1 card reader, microHDMI port, mini-VGA port (you need to spend extra for the Adaptor) and a combo headphone/mic 3.5mm jack. It also comes with a micro (10-100-1000) Ethernet port (thankfully an adapter is included). It comes with Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6235, 2 x 2 802.11abg/n (up to 300Mbps) with Widi support and Bluetooth V4.0.
The NP900X4C has a 1.3-MP webcam and can capture video at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 1024. The camera renders colors accurately and crisply.
The NP900X4C comes with the new Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7-3517U (1.90GHz, 4MB L3 Cache), 8GB RAM and 256GB SDD. Unfortunately, Samsung uses the slower SanDisk U100 SSD instead of the much faster Samsung mSATA drives in the second generation S9 – boooooo! Despite its choice of SanDisk SSD, the NP900X4C boots Windows 7 in just 23 seconds which is 20 seconds faster than the average ultraportable (45 seconds). The Dell XPS 15 boots at 46 seconds while the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z takes 43 seconds to boot Windows 7. Wake up from sleep mode is about 2 seconds.
Most ultrabooks sporting the new IVY Bridge CPU use the built-in Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip. Watching HD videos is fine with this graphics processor, just don’t complain when playing HD video games on this laptop.
The NP900X4C has a built-in 8-cell 62Wh battery and is expected to last about 7 hours.
The NP900X4C comes preloaded with Samsung Easy Settings which allows users to adjust battery settings, display and audio properties, keyboard backlighting and other settings. Easy Software Manager downloads and installs updates and drivers, while Easy Support Center can run checks on the notebook’s hardware to ensure that it’s running at optimal speeds. It also comes with Microsoft Office Starter 2010. If you want PowerPoint for free, download Star Office.
WHAT I LIKE
The S9 is, at the moment, the only slim laptop with a 15″ screen. Most ultrabooks out in the market follow Intel’s ultrabook specification of 13″ screen. To be fair Samsung never said the S9 series is an ultrabook. If you want to be strict about it, the Samsung S5 are marketed as ultrabooks.
For me, part of what attracts me to buy the Samsung S9 was the 15″ screen AND 1.65kg weight. Anything else is a bonus.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
Price! This is an expensive unit. I bought it for US$1,666. This is already a discount from the suggested Hong Kong retail price of US$1,792. Samsung has never been competitive when it comes to price. I think it thinks that its brand is sufficiently at par with Sony to warrant the premium. Incidentally, the 13″ S9 retails for US$1,766 with 4GB RAM and 128GB HDD. This part confuses me as to how Samsung could charge so much for the smaller sibling when it competes with similarly configured machines at about half the price.
The Samsung S9 NP900X4C stays true to its marketing as a sleek, elegant machine with uncompromising build quality. If you are after price, choose either the Samsung S5 or Dell, Asus, Acer and so many other ultrabooks. Even Sony has its S series (the top of the line for Sony is the Z series). The Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition and the Asus Zenbook UX31 are good machines to try out. When I first started on the path to get an ultrabook I was consider the Lenovo Thinkpad X230 and Carbon X1, the Lenovo ideapad U410 or U510, and Acer S5.
As for me, for better or for worst, I choose to buy the Samsung third generation Series 9 NP900X4C. It is my first Samsung computer and I am hoping that despite my early hesitation, I didn’t make a mistake with this one. At the very least I did not regret not buying a Macbook Pro or Macbook Air – that would be a bigger mistake for me.
I did mention earlier that I went through as much reviews of competitive laptops as I could get my hands on. I even went to the Wanchai Computer Mall to look at the ultrabooks available in the market. At the time there was no 15″ S9 available for me to look at. I was almost hooked on the 13″ Sony VAIO Z series because it was light and beautiful. But when I held the upper left and upper right corners of the lid, there was visible flexing of the screen. It was scary. It showed to what extent vendors were willing to compromise on the build to keep the machine light. That was enough for me to decide on the S9. The aluminum case, while contributes to the heft, also protects the expensive innards of this machine.