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 a brilliant example of a meteoric improvement.
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.
Here is the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro (15-inch) configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U (dual-core; 4MB cache; up to 3.50GHz)
Display: 15-inch FHD LED display (350 ~ 450 nits; 1,920 x 1,080) with Touch Screen Panel
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620; AMD Radeon 540 Graphics (2GB GDDR5)
Memory: 16GB DDR4 RAM (16GB on board)
Storage: 256GB SSD
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2 x 2); Bluetooth 4.1 Camera: 720p HD Camera (IR Camera; Windows Hello)
Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB-C, HDMI, MicroSD, headphone/mic, DC-in
Dimensions: 34.72 x 23.9 x 1.7cm (13.67 x 9.41 x 0.67 inches; W x D x H)
Weight: 1.7kg (3.79 pounds)
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 $1,299 (about £1,000, AU$1,720). (The 13-inch model goes for $1,099,about £850, AU$1,460.)
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 for $1,279 (about £1,004, AU$1,684). 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 costs nearly twice as much at $2,399 (£2,349, AU$3,499) for a sharper-still screen, the 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 form and function achieved by the Notebook 9 Pro with a smart, economic choice in components, we’d say it’s a far better deal than the MacBook Pro for most users, and butts heads rather closely with the Spectre. The price is only going to get better once the Black Friday 2018 deals roll around, too.
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.