With the ATIV Book 9 Plus, Samsung can still lay claim to one of the best Ultrabooks on the market. As ever, it offers an attractive design and fast performance, but battery life is improved, and the 3,200 x 1,800 display is best in class.
Even if you decided to downgrade the resolution to 1080p, you'd be left with a fantastic screen.
Adding a touchscreen to the Series 9 was clearly something of a compromise for Samsung: not only did it add noticeably to the weight, but it also meant Sammy had to move from a matte, anti-glare screen to a glossy one. Still, if you're under the impression Samsung swapped in a pedestrian display, we'll correct you now. With this generation, the company made 3,200 x 1,800 resolution standard -- a dramatic improvement over last year's model, which topped out at 1,600 x 900. We won't waste your time describing how it's noticeably sharper than the original, but we will add that it looks even sharper than a typical 1080p screen; yes, your eyes can probably tell the difference.
That increased acuity works great for certain desktop apps, like Word, and it also brings out the best in the colorful Windows Start Screen. That said, we'll make the same caveat we make any other time we review a laptop with a super-high-res screen: not all content has been optimized to look good on displays this sharp. With YouTube, for instance, videos look strange at full-screen, with the scrubber and buttons at the bottom all scaled way down. The effect is so terrible, it's funny.
Even if you decided to downgrade to 1080p, though, you'd be left with a fantastic screen. Though it's naturally more reflective than the matte panel that shipped on last year's model, there really are very few light artifacts here. At half-brightness, I could barely see my reflection in the screen while I typed; at full brightness, I couldn't see it at all. Speaking of the sort, the 350-nit brightness rating helps contribute to some great viewing angles from the side -- with the brightness turned all the way up, you should have no problem crowding around the laptop and watching a movie from slightly off to the side. What's nice is that the vertical viewing angles are great even at lower brightness settings. So, even if you're working on an airplane and want to conserve battery life by dimming the backlight, you'll still enjoy good contrast with the lid dipped forward.
The ATIV Book 9 Plus is available in just one configuration, and it rocks generally the same components as other Ultrabooks we've tested recently: a dual-core, Haswell-series Intel Core i5-4200U processor clocked at 1.6GHz, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Accordingly, then, its benchmark scores land in the same ballpark as other machines with the same processor, including the Sony VAIO Pro 13, and the new Acer Aspire S7-392.
The one area where the ATIV Book 9 Plus falls short is in I/O speeds. All told, the Toshiba-made SSD (you read that right) notched average reads of 547 MB/s, with writes hovering around 508 MB/s. To be clear, we're not saying those speeds are slow. It's just that we've recently tested a string of machines that managed to hit or exceed speeds of 1GB per second, even on the write test, which is always harder. (Note: the Acer Aspire S7 has a RAID 0 setup, which has tradeoffs of its own, so we'll concede that's not a totally fair comparison.) At any rate, as we said, these speeds would have once been very impressive, but we can no longer say the Series 9 is a leader in this area. Which is surprising, since Samsung makes some of the fastest SSDs on the market. Maybe the company should have stuck to its own components here?
That said, the machine feels plenty fast in real-world use. Not only did I write my review on this laptop, but I wasted plenty of time on it too, keeping open tabs for Gmail, YouTube, Pandora and lots and lots of web searches. Switching from one app to another was easy, as was toggling between all those open tabs in Internet Explorer. At first, we thought the machine was in danger of overheating, as the bottom side and upper keyboard area got warm just six minutes into a YouTube video. The good news is that though it gets warm quickly, it doesn't get any hotter after that. Even after hours of use, complete with non-stop media streaming, the bottom stayed fairly lukewarm -- definitely cool enough to comfortably rest on my lap.
It's a similar story with fan noise. The ATIV Book 9 Plus pipes up quickly -- heck, it sometimes makes noise when it's sitting idle. But that noise never rises above a quiet sigh. In fact, we didn't even notice it until we paused Pandora and started to work without any background noise.