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Ultrabook Review: Samsung Series 9

, 26 Jul 2012
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It’s slim, fast, and attractive. If you can live with a few quirks, it’s a great choice.

Let me get straight to the point. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, if you have the means, I highly recommend that you get one. It’s fast, light, has solid battery life, and is overall well-designed. If your coding does not require acres of RAM and a blazing-fast processor, you’ll be more than happy with this kind of device. Most of my coding is text-editing – stuff like PHP, JavaScript, CSS and HTML – so for me the portability and lightness balanced with zippy performance is fine.

The Ultrabook I am reviewing has a 1.7 GHz Intel I-5 processor and 4 GB of RAM. I also chose the 128 GB SSD. (My exact model is the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3B-A01US – I believe there’s an even newer version that’s the NP900X3C-A01US.) I’ve now used SSDs in my last few laptops, and I can’t imagine not using one now. Here’s my take on SSDs: what you lose in local on-device storage you more than make up in responsiveness. The SSD rarely makes me wait for disk access. When I need additional storage, I have an inexpensive 1GB external drive I can carry – and I recently picked up a couple of 64 GB USB sticks for under $20 each. I’ve also changed my workstyle so that most of my documents are kept in the cloud – a combination of DropBox and Google Drive – with only select local copies kept on the Ultrabook for offline access.

Initial Impressions

The Ultrabook is nicely packaged, providing a pleasant out-of-box-experience. Initial setup was done in only a few minutes, and there was minimal crapware on the machine. (I uninstalled only the Norton Internet Security and WildTangent.) The unit came with Skype preinstalled, which is great since we use it daily to manage our distributed team.

Samsung’s utilities are nice, including a lovely Mac OSX-like dock and a comprehensive setup utility. One additional big plus: an included driver and software update utility.

While I love the SSD, and have no desire to go back to whirling platters, even before I did software and document installation only 70 GB of free space remained. After using it for a while, I’m hovering pretty steadily at about 30 GB of free space.

Portability and Speed

Again, one of the big advantages to me is that it’s thin and light (about two and a half pounds). There’s no question this Ultrabook will turn heads, and the design doesn’t look as if it aped competing products (to name no names). I’ve used the backlit keyboard in low light, and the screen itself is bright and reasonably high resolution (1600 x 900).

It’s quick to boot and quick to wake up from sleep, although it sometimes forgets what my last wireless status was, and the function key wireless selection seems a bit squirrely. That said, the function key capabilities are a bit sluggish across the board but still solid.

I find most things about this Ultrabook well above average. The keyboard – always the Achilles heel of any laptop, let alone Ultrabook – is good and responsive, but it’s a bit loud and clicky. The trackpad is the best I’ve used on a laptop: meaning it’s not terrible but still not as responsive as I’d like.

Battery life is consistently over 4 hours from a full charge with WiFi on and brightness at about hallway – about enough to get me from my Salt Lake City home to the office in Toronto. (Longer flights usually have power plugs anyway.) And the power adapter is petite (slightly bigger than a pack of cards).

I had some random behavior for a few months where the Ultrabook would randomly insert the letter z whether I was near the keyboard or not, but whatever gremlin possessed it has fled elsewhere.

The metal case is made of "Duralumin," which Samsung says is twice as strong as aluminum. It does feel solid without feeling overly heavy, but the cover of mine sports a nice dent, and I try to take reasonable care of my equipment, so perhaps it’s a bit more fragile than it should be.

Despite the size, the sound is solid and the built-in microphone is responsive.

Finally, I must express my disappointment with the dongles. Because it’s so slim, the Series 9 has room only for USB slots (one on each side; the left is USB3). The Ethernet adapter does not work consistently for me, and neither does the display adapter --  making it difficult to use a projector or external monitor, to say the least.

There is also some strange behavior where screws on the case like to work themselves loose (see photo – the left shows the mysteriously loosened screw; the right is how it should look) and I have to retighten them periodically to prevent them from falling out and getting lost ... and disassembling the Ultrabook in the process.

Ultimately, I would recommend the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook to anyone whose development needs are adequately served by the I-5/4 GB RAM/128 GB SSD specs. It’s delightfully portable – easy to take to meetings or to get some "quiet time" away from your desk.

(The Samsung info page on this Ultrabook is at http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/laptops/NP900X3A-A03US)

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Jeff Hadfield
Developer Media / CodeProject
United States United States
Jeff started with personal computers in the late seventies, when he learned to program BASIC on an Apple II (not an Apple II Plus, mind you). Since then, he’s learned Pascal, Fortran, COBOL and VB/VB.NET – all of which have been enough to show him that he’s not a born developer, but he can play one on TV, so to speak. (He's not bad at markup (HTML, CSS) but not good at JavaScript.)
 
Jeff has worked with developers and developer communities for 20 years. He is the former Editorial Director of WordPerfect Magazines (remember macros?). He's also the former Editor in Chief and Publisher of Visual Basic Programmer's Journal, Visual Studio Magazine, Java Pro magazine, Visual C++ Developers Journal, Exchange & Outlook Magazine, Enterprise Architect magazine, and Microsoft Architecture Journal. He also worked on the VBITS/VSLive! conferences and the various related websites for those publications and conferences. He has spoken and presented at many tech and marketing industry conferences and events.
 
He currently works to help businesses understand and reach developers better as part of Developer Media.
 
All things considered, he'd rather be cycling.
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Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionDid you encounter this problem with Samsung 9 PinmemberJohn Marko13-Mar-13 1:47 
AnswerRe: Did you encounter this problem with Samsung 9 PinadminJeff Hadfield13-Mar-13 6:26 
GeneralGreat with VS2010 Pinmemberjosehidalgor4-Sep-12 0:43 
GeneralRe: Great with VS2010 PinadminJeff Hadfield4-Sep-12 4:00 
SuggestionLoctite PinmentorDaveAuld26-Jul-12 6:20 
GeneralRe: Loctite PinadminJeff Hadfield26-Jul-12 16:56 

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