Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review

6 Sep 2013

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

Price when reviewed 
1,299
4

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,082
Price inc VAT £1,299
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 4
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 319 x 222 x 17mm (WDH)
Weight 1.400kg
Travelling weight 1.8kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i5-4200U
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 3,200
Resolution screen vertical 1,600
Resolution 3200 x 1600
Graphics chipset Intel HD Graphics 4400
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1 (via optional adapter)
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader yes
Pointing device type Touchpad
Speaker location Base
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 8hr 3min
Battery life, heavy use 2hr 28min
Overall Real World Benchmark score 0.64
Responsiveness score 0.74
Media score 0.67
Multitasking score 0.51

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 8 64-bit
OS family Windows 8
Recovery method Recovery disc