This is a story about a Windows laptop, but as is the case with most tech stories today, it seemingly can't be talked about without first addressing Apple. Since the tech titan launched its MacBook Air in 2008 (what was then the world's thinnest notebook), Windows PC manufacturers have been struggling ever since to match its super slim appeal. They've made thinner laptops, or lighter ones, or ones that are partially thinner, but always with some other Achilles heel – say, power, price, or build quality – that ultimately left consumers wanting. We think Samsung's latest update to its Series 9 laptop is finally the ultraslim, ultralight, and ultraversatile laptop Windows fans have been waiting for.
Like the Air, Samsung's sleek, stylish entry has a unibody enclosure, meaning that instead of lots of pieces of metal or plastic screwed and glued together, its metal base is just two pieces (plus a hinge), as is the display. The reward is an impressively stable and solid notebook that we're unused to seeing from the PC world (minus some higher-end Sony and Asus models perhaps). The island or chiclet-style keyboard is equally polished (and, it has to be said, Mac-like). Both the Air and the Series 9 notebooks have 128GB solid state hard drives, integrated graphics and 4 gigs of upgradeable RAM, and built-in SD card slots. Both also have dual state-of-the-art USB 3.0 ports (so you can easily charge your iPad), but the Samsung also has an additional regular 2.0 one. From there differences start to creep in, and it starts to feel tit for tat.
First and foremost, the Series 9 is both thinner overall and lighter than the Air. Samsung has both mini-HDMI and a mini slot for use with VGA (adapter is sold separately) versus Apple's Thunderbolt port, which supports lots of monitor connections, but each requiring a special adapter (which go from $10 to $30 or so), and Samsung includes an external Ethernet adapter, while again you have to shell out $29 for the Air's. The Air's glossy native 1440 x 900 resolution display is outmatched by the Series 9's matte 1600 x 900, though the result is a mixed bag: the Air has richer blacks and color, but suffers from glare issues. Regardless, the overall performance of both displays is superb, as is the battery life – with seven-plus hours for the Air and up to nine for the Series 9. The Air has a slightly faster processor and, at a base price of $1,200, is still $100 cheaper than the Series 9.
You get the picture: Pound for pound both machines are very similar minus nips and tucks here and there. God is in the details for sure, but aesthetically and functionally, either machine ably represents the pinnacle of this year's technology. So, Windows users looking for a fast, lightweight, and low-profile performer with incredible build and reliable power at a fair price, your wait is finally over. [$1,299; samsung.com]