Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus review

A Retina-beating display, new Haswell processor and cutting-edge design. Is this the ultimate Ultrabook?

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus
Samsung targets top spot in the Ultrabook wars

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The biggest talking point with the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus has to be its screen - it's a thing of beauty, with perfect viewing angles. There there's the headline figures: 3200 x 1800 pixels, coined by Samsung as QHD+.

That puts the resolution firmly into 4K territory (3840 x 2160) and it helps to elevate an already impressive screen into something we've not seen before. To put it into perspective, it's superior to a Macbook's Retina screen, and at present you can't even get that technology on a Macbook Air. So it's streets ahead in terms of screen performance.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review

Our only issue with its immense screen resolution is that, while Modern UI in Windows 8 works perfectly and looks spectacular for it, in desktop mode the scaling isn't quite right. You'll need to bump up the size of on-screen items to 200% just to be able to read text and graphics, although some aspects - such as third-party programs - are still tiny.

Power users will probably want to spend their time in 1080p - the best compromise between quality and usability - so they won't get the full benefit from the huge level of detail on offer.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review

The Ativ's 13.3-inch display also features touch, with 10-point recognition, and it works flawlessly. The trackpad perfectly accompanies it with a range of touch gestures that mimic the screen, meaning navigating the interface is a joy, whether you like Windows 8, or not.

The screen can also be angled to a full 180 degrees, should you need to collaborate on something locally. It means the Ativ could be used as if it was a tabletop device. It's interesting, although not necessarily essential.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review

Underneath that slender aluminium chassis is a splendid selection of components, including a Core i5 4200 running at 1.6GHz, which can happily throttle to 2.6GHz for a temporary burst of speed. There's also 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.

While this might not sound particularly beefy, in an Ultrabook this slim we think it's a pretty comprehensive line-up of hardware, not to mention that at just over £1,200, it's reasonably good value for money too. The aforementioned ThinkPad and Latitude are much more expensive business-focused laptops and neither offers anywhere near the same level of overall spec.

Fingers on the screen

Tickling the touchscreen

A MacBook Air is cheaper, but the only area in which the Air trumps the Ativ is in the networking department. The Air features the latest, and fastest, 802.11 ac technology, while the Ativ makes do with an 802.11 abgn card. It's still fast, but not cutting edge. (Mind you, this is probably the only aspect of the Ativ that isn't new.) You do get a 1GB LAN adapter that can take advantage of a high-speed network, without having to be tethered to a Wi-Fi connection.

The only major dislike that we came across with the Ativ is the pre-loaded bloatware found on both the Modern UI and the desktop. At this level of quality, and for the price you're paying, it really shouldn't be there. Some of the built-in software, however, is pretty good: SideSync allows you to work on an Android phone on-screen, at the same time as the Ativ.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review


Cinebench 11 - CPU render 2.5 pts, OpenGL 14.73 fps
3DMark - Ice Storm: 33,535, Cloud Gate: 3,453, Fire Strike: 582
Battery life - 269 mins

As we've mentioned previously, the Ativ's on-paper performance doesn't appear particularly mind-blowing - but real world performance is a different matter entirely.

Startup time is frighteningly quick thanks to the responsive SSD. We were opening apps within ten seconds of switching the power button on; it's almost as quick as an always-on tablet.

The Ativ also manages to handle a range of computing tasks with ease, whether you're playing casual games, working on multiple documents or viewing more than a few browser windows at the same time.

Opened out flat

The ATIV design is flat-out gorgeous

The benchmarks show that the new generation 1.6GHz Core i5 is almost a match for the slightly higher clocked previous generation 1.9GHz i5, the same found in the Dell Latitude 6430u. That's pretty impressive because you're getting comparable performance without the system outlay. What really counts here, and it's no doubt a result of the improved power management, is the battery life - it's about double that of the Ivy Bridge chip.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review

To the untrained eye, a battery result of between four and five hours doesn't seem particular impressive, but bear in mind that we ran the Ultrabook at High Performance without a break, doing some seriously demanding activities, ranging from simple document editing, up to editing video.

In normal, everyday life, we should easily see the battery life doubling to at least eight or nine hours, so it's possible that Samsung's 'all-day' claim of 11 hours use isn't such a boast after all. It's no doubt in part due to the improved power management of the Haswell chip.

This is a big advantage, and it makes the Ativ a viable proposition for somebody looking to use a laptop for all day working, without having to carry a chunky charger at all times.

Side-on view

Not only does the Ativ offer genuinely great performance, with great battery life, it's also totally silent in general use, with just a very small amount of heat from the underside. When things get busy, however, the fan does kick out a little bit of din. It's not excessive, but you'll definitely notice it. Thankfully, the processor doesn't often get to the point when it needs that extra lick of cooling.

As for ergonomics, the Ativ's keyboard feels really nice in use, and the backlit keys look great on an evening, but we did find that occasionally key presses didn't always register - it's everything or nothing with the amount of pressure you use.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review

As mentioned previously, the trackpad is multi-touch and combined with the touch-screen display, it's a marvel to use. There's loads of space on the trackpad too, so you can really feel comfortable working for an extended period.

The overall feel of the Ativ is great, and there are lots of great touches that make you glad you spent the extra money. There are two USB 3.0 ports, a micro HDMI, Bluetooth 4.0 is included, and we love that the Ativ comes with an attachable Gigabit Ethernet adapter. It's got an air of quality and nothing feels like an afterthought. For example, instead of a basic slot or a removeable cover for the SD card, it's got a spring-loaded hinge cover, which works wonderfully.

Samsung ativ book 9 plus review