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Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review

Verdict

There’s plenty to like about this sleek Ultrabook, but better application support is necessary for the incredible, Retina-beating screen to make the Ativ Book 9 Plus worth the outlay

Review Date: 6 Sep 2013

Reviewed By: Dave Stevenson

Price when reviewed: £1,082 (£1,299 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

When Apple’s WWDC event concluded in June, there were a few disappointed faces. Product announcements came and went, but a MacBook Air with a Retina display wasn’t among them. Now, Samsung has beaten Apple to the punch with the Ativ Book 9 Plus.

A small crowd gathered in the PC Pro office as soon as it was out of the box: the matte-blue finish and thickness of only 13.9mm at its slimmest point make it a good-looking piece of kit even by Ultrabook standards.

Unusually, however, the crowd stayed after it was switched on, thanks to the gorgeous 13.3in, 3,200 x 1,800 screen. It plays the MacBook Pro 13in with Retina display at its own game – and beats it, thanks to a slightly higher pixel density and a superbly responsive touchscreen.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus

Reviewing the screen requires two approaches. From a hardware point of view, it’s fantastic: it’s bright and clear, and the Windows desktop – preset to display at 200% of its usual size – is incredibly crisp. Other displays look pixellated and dated in comparison. The arrival of high-PPI screens on Windows laptops is undoubtedly positive.

There are signs the Book 9 Plus is ahead of its time, though. Out of the box, the right-hand edge of the mouse pointer showed evidence of jagged artefacts. These cleared up once we’d installed the preview of Windows 8.1, which improves support for high-resolution screens, but the Book 9 Plus still placed the odd hurdle in our way.

Most applications work fine: the Microsoft Office apps look terrific – especially text – and Internet Explorer works perfectly, but elsewhere we hit problems. After installing Chrome and setting the default zoom level to 200%, we were able to read web pages in the app’s Metro mode, but the URL bar stubbornly remained 3mm high, which is too small to be usable. Switching to desktop mode improved things, but the application looked pixellated, and text was no longer razor-sharp.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus

Things were worse elsewhere: Photoshop CC – a natural application to run on a machine with such a high-specification screen – was unusable, thanks to tiny icons and menu bars; Photoshop Elements suffered from the same lilliputian problem.

Even Samsung’s own software had problems with the cutting-edge hardware: a bundled system utility warned that “screen resolution is very high” and urged us to change it. As with the MacBook Pro, the effectiveness of the Book 9 Plus will depend on developers rolling out support for high resolutions. Apple’s OS-wide scaling makes non-optimised software much more usable than this.

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User comments

"Their printed counterparts naturally deteriorate, forcing popular books to be repurchased," the review states. "This principle, therefore, should be applied to digital books; otherwise, publishers would be unfairly discriminated against."

I have second hand books at home that are almost a century old. I take good care of my paper books and they last a long time as well. Who is going set the time scale for this autodelete feature? Or will letters just start disappearing at random?

By JamesD29 on 9 Sep 2013

Not yet...

Notwithstanding my distaste for the "Reality Distortion Field" that used to surround Jobs\Apple, it must be said that they knock-out decent kit, at increasingly attractive prices.

The MacBook defined an era of 'taste' and 'quality' that the likes of Samsung can so-far only aspire to. This isn't because Samsung's products are ugly, nor of low quality. On the contrary this Laptop is both quite pretty and looks solidly made, but it's DERIVATIVE.
Without MacBook it would never have existed, and Samsung, like Acer, HP et al would be churning-out portable 'beige box' PCs like they always have.

With Smartphones Samsung have managed to (re)define a "Galaxy" brand image of equal, or at least equivalent, power to "iPhone\iPad"etc. They need to find the same in PCs.

By wittgenfrog on 9 Sep 2013

Leaving desktops trailing behind

The high resolution available on this 13 inch laptop leaves the desktop monitor far behind. Samsung is still releasing 24 inch monitors that only have HD video resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Why are desktop users being treated so badly by comparison?

By bobswin on 9 Sep 2013

Ativ Book 9 plus confusion

Your review gives two potential sellers - BUT they are actually selling the old model. It is easy to get mislead by this. Please enhance your program to only promote the actual product not a nearly item.
By the way where is the new 9 plus? The release date seams to have moved.

By alanhalfacre on 10 Sep 2013

@wittgenfrog

"Without MacBook it would never have existed".

I feel that is a bit of a stretch.

Why would laptop development not have continued to evolve?

It seems to me that all the Macbook did (as far as PC's are concerned) was to cause Intel to develop a standard that could be used for MARKETING purposes.

By qpw3141 on 10 Sep 2013

Resolution 'ho

I use a 2560x1600 desktop monitor and cannot work in tiny resolutions due to a bizarre case of digital claustrophobia, so I've been waiting for this laptop! Sad to hear about artifacts, however since breaking my current GPU and using my old ati3970, I get artifacts on my massive desktop monitor now.. so maybe this is the GPU rather than the screen? Also, it's unfair to judge any PC/laptop on whether an App or software has accounted for large resolutions screens.
I will wait for more reviews and check it out in the Samsung store which I live near (woohoo!) :)

By FrobinRobin1 on 12 Sep 2013

@wittgenfrog

Do you mean in the same way that Apple took Creative Labs' portable MP3 player and made the ipod? (The ipod was only slightly smaller than CL's).. Which basically means you're saying that the iPod, iPhone and iPad wouldn't exist without Creative Labs original mp3 player (or choose your own earlier "derivative")

By FrobinRobin1 on 12 Sep 2013

Rose-Tinted specs for Apple

So many times people insist Apple either 'invented' or 'revolutionised' a device, when it was simply a small Technical or Design advance, combined with a megalomaniac Publicity machine, and the pandering bleating of Apple fans.

I have a new iPad, and my wife has an iPhone 4S. The 4s is fine for her 'not too complex' needs, but my Nexus 4 completely outclasses it on price and capability.

As for the iPad, after several months usage, it is no replacement for a Laptop. It almost totally lacks any way of effectively transferring files, the one vital thing most people need. And the total separation of Apps from each other, without some kind of inter communication method that works universally, means even Dropbox (pretty much the only way to move files around) depends on Apps being coded to recognising its existence.

So, nice looking kit, but very pricey and horribly restrictive.

By Wilbert3 on 12 Sep 2013

Display is both gorgeous and mediocre?

Was this review written by two persons?

First, display is fantastic, bright and clear. Everything is sharp!

Then, it's suddenly mediocre.

By Lng101010 on 13 Sep 2013

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