Convertible laptops have been refined down to a science since their awkward first steps onto the market a few years ago, and Samsung is perhaps most representative of this. The firm’s Notebook 9 Pro is the best example of meteoric improvement we’ve seen in awhile.
Available in both 13.3 and 15-inch varieties, the new Notebook 9 Pro is a convertible 2-in-1 laptop, far removed from the traditional trappings of the previous generation. Instead, the electronics firm has opted to keep things simple with a single configuration for both models while focusing its energy on incorporating its S-Pen technology and Air Command software
The results are an economically-configured, stylish all-metal laptop sporting some of Samsung’s latest touchscreen and stylus technology. Frankly, we’re so impressed by the device’s appearance and capability despite its price and specs that we’ve granted the Notebook 9 Pro our Editor’s Choice Award.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Samsung has smartly specced and priced the Notebook 9 Pro to be affordable. The 15-inch version we’ve reviewed – its only configuration – costs $489 (‘Note: This is the price of China’), the 15-inch Macbook Pro China price is: US$ 520. Only a difference of about $30.
For the list of parts you see here, that’s quite the deal compared to, say, HP’s 15-inch hybrid, the HP Spectre x360 15. Although, it only offers half as much RAM to start, it’s competitive otherwise with Nvidia GTX 940MX graphics driving a far sharper UHD 4K touchscreen. To wit, it includes an HP Active Pen stylus, though its version isn’t built into the laptop’s frame and requires a AAAA battery.
Meanwhile, the 15-inch MacBook Pro 2,880 x 1,800 Retina display backed by slightly stronger Radeon Pro 555 graphics. Notably, the Notebook 9 Pro’s 16GB DDR4 memory is a step above the MacBook Pro’s 16GB of DDR3 memory. Plus, facial login and a touchscreen on the Samsung hybrid are stand-ins for Apple’s Touch ID and the Touch Bar, respectively.
For the function and form that the Notebook 9 Pro achieves with smart, economic choice in components, we’d say it’s a far better deal than the Apple laptop for the general consumer, and butts heads rather closely with HP’s device.
The Notebook 9 Pro builds upon Samsung’s new approach to laptop design that’s a bit more uniform and closer to how it builds its phones. The result is more curvature than ever in the lid and keyboard deck, an outward silver sheen bedecked by a carbon-colored metal on the interior.
Samsung managed to achieve delightfully thin bezels on the display’s sides, squeezing a 15-inch diagonal screen within a 13.67-inch-wide frame. Likewise, the laptop measures just 1.7cm (0.67 inches) thin and weighs 1.7kg (3.79 pounds).
The laptop’s keyboard deck is spacious and comfortable, with plenty of room for the enormous trackpad. Despite the space, Samsung opted for more spacing between the well-backlit keys over an numeric keypad.
Instead, extra space is given to page control keys as well as arrow keys, meanwhile the speakers are relegated to beneath the base. You’ll find plenty of punch in those rounded keys, and the slightest curve to their surface.
The screen is as color-rich as any of Samsung’s smartphone displays, making the absolute most of its comparatively just-satisfactory resolution of 1080p. Samsung also calls this a RealView display, able to shine at 350 nits brightness in normal mode and up to 450 nits in outdoor mode.
This makes it easier to see your work or play in the sunlight, though it’s still a glossy panel, making glare an inherent annoyance. That said, games and video look brilliant on the display, as do doodles in the Samsung Air Command app.
THE S-PEN ON WINDOWS 10
Speaking of which, the inclusion of the S-Pen here is pretty clever, with a slot for the stylus embedded into the right side of the base at the lip. Unlike digital pens, it requires no charging, and yet, offers up to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity as well as tilt controls. This stylus is competitive with even Microsoft’s latest Surface Pen, which weighs twice as much and requires a battery for the same basic functions save for a software eraser and deeper Windows controls.
Drawing the S-Pen from its sheath automatically conjures a radial menu of options from where the Action Center appears. This is called Air Command, and the options available include Create Note, View All Notes, Smart Select, Screen and Show Window.
The first option is a notetaking app similar to OneNote, called Samsung Notes, though much simpler than Microsoft’s version. It offers various ink types and colors … and not much more. At least you can save and share those notes as well as draw over existing image files.
Smart Select is a much more powerful tool, allowing you to use the S-Pen to draw out rectangular or oval-shaped screenshots, and can even read text from said image and extract it into another document. Better yet, the tool can create GIFs by framing a recording space over your favorite video clips no matter the source.
Screen Write simply captures a screen and allows you to doodle on it, while Show Window allows you to choose which windows are shown on which displays in multi-screen environments.
All in all, it’s a robust stylus offering that feels perfectly light and fast. Digital ink doesn’t lead too much while drawing and writing, thanks in part to strong display response. While we prefer the “truer” eraser in the Surface Pen, we’ll take the button-based one on the S-Pen for its improved portability and fun features.
The Notebook 9 Pro won’t disappoint the average user, offering more than suitable performance for the student or home user with its Core i7 processor and AMD graphics.
You can even expect to game moderately well, though don’t expect to get much further than games like World of Warcraft or Hearthstone.
With 16GB of DDR4 memory, you can expect to be able to multitask particularly well, with room for plenty of browser tabs in there. As we’ve said before, the touchscreen delivers as well, with snappy response to the stylus and facial login via Windows Hello is speedy.
This laptop seems to prioritize getting to whatever it is that you’re doing quickly, and in style, above most other factors. That’s where Samsung’s smart economic decision making came into play, opting for Full HD 1080p rather than 4K screen resolution, for instance.
Decisions like these not only helped the Notebook 9 Pro outperform the Spectre x360, competing against its own 4K display essentially, in graphics, but also in longevity.
We saw varying battery life scores from the Notebook 9 Pro in our two tests, providing testament to how much they should be trusted. While the Samsung laptop came in an hour short of the HP device in our PCMark 8 battery test, the Notebook 9 Pro smoked its rival in battery life by nearly three hours in our own video playback test.
Beyond that, we’ve found general use to sit between 6 to 8 hours. This could in part be thanks to battery-saving improvements Microsoft introduced to Windows 10 with the Creators Update just this past spring, after the Spectre x360 was reviewed. Meanwhile, the indomitable 15-inch MacBook Pro boasts a much-closer 7 hours and 45 minutes.
Still, this battery outlasts both, and even supports fast charging through the laptop’s USB-C port. In our book, those are the makings of a winner.
Samsung truly is cramming a lot of value into this package for the price point, remaining well competitive with rivals while providing much of the same power and panache as a MacBook Pro for far less. We also appreciate the laptop’s long battery life and bevy of ports new and old, namely the combination of USB-C and USB 3.1 as well as microSD support. The screen is also rich in color and just sharp enough.
While it’s not a knock against the S-Pen, we prefer our styluses a little weightier, though, not having to charge is a huge plus. We just wish that, with rather ample space, the speakers could have been better positioned. And, if we’re really nitpicking, the bottom bezel on the display is a little thick for our tastes.
We may not be huge fans of hybrid laptops of this size, Samsung has done it so well that we may well be converts. Awfully competitive with close rivals and taking the 15-inch MacBook Pro to task, the 15-inch Samsung Notebook 9 Pro should be on your list of go-to 15-inch laptops.
Should you never turn the laptop 360 degrees via its gorgeous, sturdy hinges, you can still appreciate so much power and convenience from this machine. It’s for that reason that we’ve deemed the Notebook 9 Pro worthy of our Editor’s Choice Award.