Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Review
Samsung is perfectly capable of designing captivating products—just look at some of the TVs we’ve reviewed. Even the last Samsung laptop we tested, the ATIV Tab 7, had its moments. But the company’s ATIV Book 9 Plus (MSRP 450,399) is a real treat.
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If you look beyond its stylish exterior, there’s a lot to be excited about: a retina-searing 3200 x 1800 resolution screen, a top-notch keyboard and touchpad, excellent battery life, and consummate performance thanks to its fourth-gen Intel i5 dual-core processor. Coupled with 4GB of RAM, a speedy 128GB solid-state drive, and a touchscreen, this ultrabook delivers an experience worthy of the name.
Small in size, big on style
Samsung utilizes a screen resolution of 3200 x 1800 on this 13.3-inch ultrabook, which is crazy. Asus’ Zenbook UX51VZ-XB71 only has a resolution of 2880 x 1620, and the MacBook Pro Retina only has 2880 x 1800. As you can imagine, Samsung’s 13.3-inch screen looks impeccable. In fact, it looks so good that you’ll be remiss to use its touchscreen.
Outside of its screen, the ATIV Book 9 Plus is a head-turner. Samsung calls this laptop’s color Mineral Ash Black. It sounds like a made-up J.Crew color, but more importantly: It’s quite attractive. Depending on your viewpoint, this ultrabook appears navy blue, dark gray, or a mixture of the two. With its incredibly trim profile, the ATIV Book 9 Plus looks totally unique.
On the left side, you’ll find its power input, a USB 3.0 slot, a mini-HDMI port, and an input for the included ethernet dongle; slightly underneath is an SD card reader. Over on the right, the Book 9 Plus has another USB 3.0 slot, a headphone/mic input, and an input for a (not included) VGA dongle.
Open up the ATIV Book 9 Plus and you’ll find some incredible assets. Its keyboard is rock solid, delivering a comfortable and mistake-free experience. Pressing each key produces a satisfying click with ample travel, and is easily on-par with other great keyboards found on the Asus Zenbook and Sony Pro 13.
Its touchpad, though, is just awesome. Touchpads lately just get better and better. The Asus Vivobook’s touchpad really impressed me recently, but this Samsung takes things to a whole new level: Fingers glide effortlessly across this pad’s smooth surface, and Windows 8 gestures are a easy to perform. This is easily on par with Apple’s touchpad on the Mac Air—suffer no more, Windows fans.
Intel’s latest processor is put to good use.
Samsung finally started using Intel’s fourth-gen processor, and we’re glad it did. While the super-thin ATIV Book 9 Plus isn’t a performance tank like a gaming laptop, it’s a straight-shooter when it comes to ultra-portables.
Samsung must be using a blisteringly fast solid-state drive because it scored higher than similarly-specced laptops.
Processor-based tests scored very favorably, especially PCMark, which also takes a computer’s hard drive into consideration. Samsung must be using a blisteringly fast solid-state drive because it scored higher than similarly-specced laptops like the Toshiba KIRAbook 13, Sony Pro 13, and MacBook Air. Indeed, using this laptop for everyday functions like web browsing and number-crunching is a speedy affair.
I wish I could say the same about its graphics processing capabilities. Using the ATIV Book 9 Plus to play an older game like Portal 2 isn’t impossible—on low settings, this Samsung played it quite well. Cranking up the settings produced a much slower experience, and that made the Book 9 Plus heat up way too quickly. If gaming is a requirement for your next laptop, look elsewhere.
If excellent battery life is a requirement for you, though, Samsung’s latest has you covered. Our basic battery life test involves leaving a laptop on a webpage with the screen dimmed to 50% brightness. We then use an extension to refresh the page every two minutes. Under these parameters, the ATIV Book 9 Plus had just under 9 hours of battery life—an incredible result. We even left this ultrabook on with Portal 2 running, and it lasted for about 2.5 hours. It doesn’t touch the MacBook Air’s 13 hours of battery life, but since it packs a much better screen, we can accept that.
The Samsung Galaxy Book Go looks like a terrific laptop bargain on paper, offering the freedom of Windows in a portable system for as little as £399/349.
Taking a leaf out of the Surface Laptop Go‘s book, it looks like Samsung is hoping to disrupt the Chromebook market by offering a budget-friendly alternative to the hordes of ChromeOS portables.
This Samsung Galaxy Book Go review unit I’ve got features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c, a similar chip to the one inside the Acer Chromebook Spin 513. Alongside this comes 4GB of DDR4 RAM (can be upgraded with more expensive configuration) and a 128GB SSD, which trumps Acer’s Chromebook by double.
But while the specs look great on the surface, the Samsung Galaxy Book Go is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, with an underwhelming performance and a dim display hurting its chances of becoming one of our best budget laptop recommendations.
Design and keyboard
The Samsung Galaxy Book Go sports a nice-looking silver shell that could, from a distance, look like a MacBook Air M1, or a significantly more expensive ultrabook. But this illusion soon disappears when you actually start using the laptop.
During testing, I found Samsung’s portable feels much rougher and slightly cheaper compared to the smooth finish of the Spin 513. This is a shame, considering the rest of what’s on offer. It has decently thin bezels and a weight of 1.38kg, which makes it easy to transport around.
The Galaxy Book Go isn’t a convertible machine and it doesn’t have a touchscreen. You can at least push the screen down so it lays entirely flat, offering a tad bit more flexibility than the majority of clamshell designs.
The use of an Arm CPU, which doesn’t emanate as much heat as the usual suspects from Intel and AMD, also means less cooling is needed. This enables Samsung to keep the laptop’s profile fairly slim.
Despite this, the Go has a reasonable selection of ports. On the left, you’ll find a headphone jack, Micro SD card reader and a Type-C port for charging, while on the right there’s another Type-C, USB-A for connecting hard drives or USB sticks, a security slot, and intriguingly, a SIM card slot. Popping in a SIM card with a data plan will enable you to use an LTE connection for internet browsing away from the Wi-Fi router.
Samsung’s speakers work for basic tasks, but I found they don’t handle the top end very well at high volumes, with some distortion creeping in. The fact they’re mounted straight down with two grilles can mean sound is directly affected by the surface that the laptop is placed upon. Put it on a blanket or duvet, and the audio quickly becomes muffled.
The keyboard is relatively tactile and quiet, but there isn’t a fingerprint reader and it isn’t backlit which could be an issue for students who plan to use it in dim lecture halls.
Samsung has provided a standard-issue 720p webcam for video calls, and this can also work with Windows Hello. There are some function buttons handy in order to increase and decrease screen brightness, to enable users to connect to wireless displays or play and pause video.
A redeeming feature in the design of the Galaxy Book Go is its large trackpad, which provided smooth tracking and rather firm but tactile buttons when pressing down.
The Galaxy Book Go comes with a 14-inch 1080p panel that offers mediocre performance, at best. A quoted brightness of 150 nits seems very low for a laptop this price, with most laptops aiming for 300 nits at least.
With real world use I found it doesn’t provide half as good of a viewing experience as other similarly priced machines I’ve reviewed.
It does look somewhat sharp, but subdued colours means that it looks an awful lot flatter than other displays at this price. If want a laptop for casual Netflix or Disney Plus binging, then you’re better off looking elsewhere,
The fact it’s an anti-glare panel looks to be the only saving grace, but it’s still going to be difficult viewing the screen when outside on a bright day sue to the low brightness.
Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 Design
Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro 360 looks like it suits the price. The sleek aluminum finish, smoothness of the hinge and razor thin bezels scream premium.
This, ultimately, ostensibly, is a lightweight laptop that doubles as a big-screen tablet, but it isn’t your gaming performance hulk like a Razer Blade Pro 17, or a creative engine like the MacBook Pro. It can handle reduced versions of both and it traverses creative tasks far more comfortably—more on that later.
It does, however, look impressive. The aluminum finish feels premium, although it can be a fingerprint magnet. For a 15-inch laptop, it’s reasonably light at 2.86 pounds and it has one of the slightest profiles of any laptop I’ve ever used. Samsung describes it as thin as a smartphone, which is true up against the S21 Ultra. The lid in particular is razor thin.
Being slender does mean compromises, though. There are no HDMI or display ports here; instead you get a very welcome microSD port and three USB-C ports—one of which supports Thunderbolt 4—and a headphone jack. What’s also missing is a housing unit for the stylus.
Under the lid is a very responsive touch-type keyboard with slightly curved keys and Samsung’s scissor mechanism for quieter typing. My 15-inch review unit comes with a full-sized keyboard and a slightly cramped number pad on the end.
The keyboard takes some getting used to and the the shallowness of the keys is an issue of personal preference, but I ultimately found it fast and responsive. My typingtest.com score was 55 words-per-minute (WPM) with 5 typos on the Pro 360. On my trusty desktop keyboard, which has weathered thousands of articles, I got 64 WPM, with 3 typos, so there’s little difference.
The large touchpad also takes some getting used to. I understand the need to fill up space below the keys when the bottom half of the laptop is so big, but I’m not entirely sure such a large trackpad is the way to do it. I often found myself accidentally opening the context menu when I wanted to left click—again this is something you have to retrain yourself for.
I also experienced some palm-rejection and stickiness issues. Things I’d clicked on would drag rather than be released after I’d let let go of the button on the trackpad. I’d recommend turning down the sensitivity to the lowest option for a more familiar experience.
The main event is the Galaxy Book’s ability to turn into a tablet. The display folds backwards (hence the “360” title) and the screen automatically rotates, but tablet mode has to be manually turned on. Once in, you can put the device in tent mode (see below) and watch content or use the touchscreen display.
The touchscreen isn’t the most responsive I’ve ever used. There’s a sluggishness to it, which makes me question why Samsung made a 2-in-1 device if it didn’t execute this bit perfectly. But using the accompanied S-Pen in tent mode is good, especially with apps like Pen Up. The S-Pen latency is good and responsive, and in tent mode—which can be adjusted to different heights thanks to the stiff hinge—felt like a real aide to my drawing.
Bending the screen back disables the keyboard so you don’t need to worry about accidental presses. Like all 2-in-1 laptops I find it a bit odd to hold a device with a keyboard on the back, but the solid hinge acting as a built-in laptop-stand really is a stroke of genius because the device switches into a more viewable TV or work surface in one motion. This is a tantalizing prospect for people who travel a lot.
Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 Performance
Despite the slick design and Rapid bootup speed, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 isn’t necessarily a powerhouse that runs the best and latest games. But my i7, 16GB review unit handled almost everything I threw at.
The 512GB SSD boots up in seconds, even after I’ve bloated it with my files and apps. Browsing the web, running Netflix, word processing and other low-intensity activities are easily handled by the Pro 360. I had 20 Chrome tabs open whilst watching Netflix and downloading two Steam games in the background, and the laptop didn’t struggle.
But I will say this: You’ll want to update Windows and install whatever Samsung updates are waiting when you first use the laptop. On my first few tries, the CPU was struggling with basic tasks and sending the fan into overdrive. The update appeared to solve this. In Samsung‘s separate settings menu, you can adjust performance levels to limit fan noise if it’s an issue. In high performance mode, with Premiere Pro and Steam running in the background alongside everything else, the fan got noisy.
For creative programs, I found Adobe’s Premiere Pro worked surprisingly well. I didn’t notice any concerning performance issues and I managed to export an eight-minute 4K video in four minutes. If you have read my tablet reviews, you’ll know that using a stylus for creative tasks and editing can be very useful on a smaller screen. It’s the same for the 360 Pro and stylus, particularly in tent mode. Cutting and moving clips, editing animations and fiddling with b-roll feels very precise with the stylus in a way the trackpad doesn’t. It’s also more portable than a mouse.
For gaming, the laptop can handle simple, casual games, but newer Triple-A titles won’t run. There’s no discrete graphics here. Instead the 360 Pro comes with Intel’s (much improved) Iris Xe integrated graphics, so don’t expect to play Call of Duty or Aliens Fireteam Elite with much success. I tried what I thought would be a less trying game in The Ascent and I couldn’t get past lowering the graphics in the settings menu before it crashed. But it can handle older Triple-A titles like Dying Light in medium/low settings well enough.
In terms of benchmarks, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 scored 4704 on PCMark10, which puts the laptop through a series of tests that simulate taxing and non-taxing activity including video-conferencing, web browsing and word processing. A PCMark 10 score over 4100 for general use is good, as are scores over 4500 for typical office work and light media content. That puts the laptop in the realms of the Dell XPS 13 (9310) or Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3.
Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 Display
The baffling thing about Samsung’s new 2-in-1 Galaxy Book Pro 360 isn’t its flexibility, rather the Full HD display. This is an ultra sleek, ultra slim, ultra-impressive device, but when I flip open the lid, staring back at me is a disappointingly lower resolution screen than I’d expected.
Don’t get me wrong, the 1080p display looks really good. We know that Samsung’s specialty is screens, which is why the AMOLED panel has excellent contrast and deep colors with bright whites and deep blacks. But the FHD screen doesn’t quite fit with the haughty façade of this seemingly sophisticated laptop.
Samsung’s display magic has been worked here, though. Netflix looks great thanks to that OLED display, as do games. To get the most out of it you’ll need to tweak HDR in Samsung’s settings menu, or toggle HDR in Windows settings, which is automatically turned off to save battery. Once you get the combination right, you’ll notice the difference instantly and it really adds another level of vibrancy to content. The background fireworks scene of Spiderman: Far From Home looks great, as do brightly colored animated shows like Rick Morty.
Samsung says the screen maxes out at 370 nits, but I’ve found the display isn’t the most visible on a sunny day. Even indoors watching darker films during the day, I have to whack the brightness up to the max to properly see what’s going on.
Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 Features and Webcam
Samsung has imbued the laptop with a number of exclusive features. The most pertinent is connecting your other Samsung devices to the laptop using Samsung Flow. This let me connect my Galaxy S21 Ultra to the device and share files or remotely control the phone.
It’s surprisingly easy to set up. You’ll need to download the Samsung Flow app on your phone and connect it to the app on the computer, then you’re ready to go. What I like is the internal chat system that’s used to share files between the two devices; you simply paste a link, picture or text and it beams into the app on the other device instantly.
Transferring recently captured pictures to the laptop is so, so useful. Users can also make calls, use apps on the phone via the desktop and read text messages—or if you’re using Smart View, you can use the phone remotely. You will have to make sure you tweak the notification settings, otherwise you’ll be inundated with pointless alerts from all of the apps that have something to say.
There are a lot of familiar Samsung apps here that bridge the gap between phone and laptop like Samsung Gallery, Notes and Wallpapers. There’s the expected bloatware from Microsoft, and even the Amazon store app, which I don’t appreciate. I’m good with the Samsung apps, but third party apps that can’t be uninstalled—like Google Duo and Teams—rankles. Outside of that, having access to Samsung apps I do use like PenUp, Gallery and Quick Share really does make this laptop more portable and phone-like.
There are also four privacy specific features.
- Privacy Folder—this secures a selected folder with your Windows password and it works exactly as advertised.
- Security Cam—this takes a picture of whoever is trying to sign-in to your laptop and emails it to you. (Check out the image below.) It’s useful, but there is a big red warning message telegraphing whoever is signing in that the feature is active.
- Block Recording—this turns off the camera and microphone via a shortcut.
- Secret Screen—this makes the screen either darker or more transparent so your sensitive content is less viewable from certain angles. It does do exactly that, but for the user, the content is also hard to see and awkward to interact with.
As you can see from the security cam shot, the 720p camera is bad. Images and footage are very noisy and simply don’t look like they have come from a device made in 2021. What baffles me is that Samsung’s S21 Ultra has one of the best selfie cameras on the market, so why hasn’t some semblance of that technology made it over to this laptop? Perhaps it’s about keeping costs down, but at 1500, I’d expect more.
Samsung Galaxy Book S review: Who is it for?
Qualcomm and Samsung made it quite clear during our briefing that they envision the Galaxy Book S being used predominantly for work productivity scenarios, web browsing, social media, and watching video. In other words, we’re not looking at a product that focuses on photo or video editing, nor 3D graphic design. This strikes me as an attempt to head off criticism that was leveled at the Surface Pro X by some outlets, rather unfairly I might add.
The Samsung Galaxy Book S isn’t targeting absolute top-of-the-line laptop performance. Arm-based processors like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx in the Galaxy Book S aren’t quite at that level and they can’t run x64 Windows apps yet, either. That’s still in the pipeline for 2021. Instead, the FOCUS is on the ability to work from anywhere, with a day or more of battery life and a constant connection to the internet. Based on my experience, this is certainly the best fit for the Galaxy Book S.
On its own, the retail price of 999 might seem a little steep. That feels even more pertinent when you consider that cheaper Chromebooks can perform many of the same duties, albeit without Microsoft Office and other productivity apps. 4G LTE connectivity isn’t cheap, either, but you’re also buying a laptop with a premium design. The Samsung Galaxy Book S is clearly built with the mobile professional in mind.
The Samsung Galaxy Book S is light at just 960g (2.1lbs), thanks to its aluminum chassis. It’s also thin at just 11.8mm at its thickest and 6.2mm at its thinnest. The build quality is simply exceptional. You’ll find two USB-C ports, one on either side, with both supporting USB Power Delivery fast charging. A headphone jack is located on the left edge if you’re not yet on the Bluetooth train. The SIM tray is tucked on the underside, and two little microphone slits are positioned just above the keyboard.
The 13.3-inch TFT LCD display is very nice and I have no complaints about its 1,920 by 1,080 resolution at this size. Colors look great and you can leave the display brightness up quite high without having to worry about battery life. This helps a bit, as glare can be an issue on this display, though it’s nothing close to a deal-breaker.
The highly efficient nature of its processor means the Galaxy Book S doesn’t require any fans. The laptop runs completely silent and never gets warm on your lap; the Arm-based processor definitely has its upsides here.
Samsung did a very good job with the speakers, especially given how thin the Galaxy Book S is. The speakers sit below the keyboard on either side of the laptop. They’re tuned by AKG and come through crisp and clear, with plenty of volume.
There’s no Microsoft Hello face unlock feature here, which you’ll find on the Surface Pro X and other two-in-ones. Samsung opted for a fast fingerprint scanner in the power button that’s a perfectly fine alternative.
I’m suitably impressed by the hardware package Samsung put together with the Galaxy Book S. It goes a long way towards justifying the laptop’s 999 price tag on its own.
What is it like to use the Galaxy Book S?
If you’re a regular Windows 10 user, you’ll know what to expect from the Cortana assistant, Microsoft Store, OneDrive, and Office package the laptop ships with. Everything you need from a modern workhorse is available. Microsoft improved its Your Phone app, which allows for deeper integration with your Android handset’s calls, messages, and music.
My work takes place entirely online, so a decent web browser is a must. There’s still no native Arm version of Google Chrome, but Firefox has an Arm version up and running. What I’m more perplexed with is why the laptop ships with the legacy Edge browser rather than the far superior Edge Chromium. (Not that it’s too much of a hassle to install yourself, but still.)
Using the Samsung Galaxy Book S for work was a superb experience. Office ran on the Book S as well as any other machine I can remember. You’ll find a few native Arm apps on the Microsoft Store, such as. Netflix, and VLC, but even some apps that are compiled for x86 work well. This list includes Slack, Skype, GIMP, and Spotify for some downtime streaming. Although finding x86 versions can sometimes be a bit tricky outside the confines of the Microsoft Store.
Perhaps the best thing about working on the Galaxy Book S? Battery life easily lasts a full working day, if not two. I typically clocked around 10 to 12 hours of screen-on time from a single charge.
The 4G LTE networking option is more convenient than tethering while working on the go, and certainly better for battery life. Even so I didn’t find it a much of game-changer. There’s no eSIM support, but the laptop is unlocked so I dropped in an EE SIM, registered, and was up and running in just a couple of minutes. Your mileage will vary here depending on how much you’re prepared to pay your carrier for the convenience (and what 4G LTE speeds are like in your area.) Even the 8Mbps EE connection in my rural area was passable enough for most of my work needs, but you’d want a faster connection to stream high-resolution video.
My one small gripe about the Galaxy Book S is the keyboard. It’s certainly not bad to use, but its shallow nature leaves you with little feedback with each stroke. The trackpad mouse clicks have a similar niggle, but the large size of the pad makes up for it.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Book S is a joy to use for its intended purpose. Web browsing and mobile working are great. Just don’t try to run highly demanding x64 applications or high-end games. Different products are aimed at those users.
Laptop performance on Snapdragon
The Snapdragon 8cx marked Qualcomm’s big move into the laptop space, sporting beefed up CPU and GPU capabilities to push beyond the confines of smartphone performance, while retaining the integrated networking, machine learning, and imaging benefits for which Qualcomm is known. The 8cx handles day-to-day tasks as well as any other laptop processor in this tier.
Qualcomm claims the Snapdragon 8cx performs on par with the mid-range, quad-core Intel i5-1035G4 in the PCMark 10 benchmark, but with lower thermals and longer battery life. However, realizing the chip’s full performance depends whether you running apps compiled for Windows on Arm or x86, with the former being much more optimized.
Native Arm application maybe be spotty but this isn’t a do-over of the miserable Windows RT days, with limited app support and a substantially cut down experience. Despite running on an Arm processor, the Samsung Galaxy Book S provides the full Windows 10 Home experience via excellent x86 emulation. Microsoft’s full Office suite runs flawlessly, as do image editing applications like GIMP. This elevates the app experience over Google’s Chromebook platform, which relies on wrangling Android apps to go beyond web apps.
There are also the added benefits of the Snapdragon 8cx platform that you won’t find with competing processors. These including machine learning and signal processing capabilities, enhanced crypto-security, GPS location data, aptX Bluetooth audio support, and even low-power voice wake for Cortana. These are less tangible than software, but ensure you’re covered for a wide range of eventualities.
The bottom line is that the Samsung Galaxy Book S and its Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx SoC offer plenty of performance for its target market while also providing pretty much every integrated feature you could want. Windows on Arm is not quite the complete Microsoft experience, but it caters to 99% of the most common use cases.