Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review
13.3 in 3,200x1,800 display, 1.4kg, 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U, 4.00GB RAM, 128GB disk, Windows 8
Samsung was among the first manufacturers to test the waters with an Ultrabook, so it should come as no surprise that the company is also among the first to take the form factor to the next level. The Ativ Book 9 Plus might be a mouthful to say, but its eye-wateringly stunning 3,200x1,800 touchscreen display makes it one highly desirable bit of kit.
On first inspection, little has changed from the previous generation Samsung Series 9 laptops: other than a new name, the Ativ Book 9 Plus retains the same gunmetal grey finish and tapered sides which expand out towards the rear of the machine to make room for the ports.
Twin USB3 ports, Micro HDMI, mini VGA, a 3.5mm audio jack and a multi-format card reader are all you get, which is unsurprising given the size of the laptop. 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are standard inclusions, but Intel Wi-Di wireless display technology and the gigabit Ethernet adaptor bundled in the box are welcome extras.
From closed the laptop opens to a typical working angle with a single finger ...
However, what was once built from several parts is now machined from a single piece of aluminium, with barely any give or flex in the display or main chassis. This makes it slightly heavier than the outgoing model, although at 1.4kg it's still eminently portable.
An astounding amount of work has gone into perfecting the design. The screen hinges were developed specifically so you can open the lid with just one finger, but then firm up at around 100 degrees so the screen doesn't wobble either in general use or as a touchscreen. Apply firmer pressure and the lid will open out flat to 180 degrees, letting you use the Ativ more like a tablet than a laptop when you have the room to do so.
... push it more firmly though and it will open up a full 180 degrees
However you use it, you'll be blown away by the clarity of the 13.3in display. It uses toughened glass and has no air gap, meaning reflections from the internal backlight are significantly reduced, and at 350nits it's more than bright enough for indoor use. The glossy finish would make a dimmer screen impossible to read outside because of light reflections, but the Ativ holds up well even in direct sunlight - even if maximum brightness will increase battery drain.
Of course, the star of the show is the huge 3,200x1,800 resolution. That's over twice the horizontal resolution and 720 more vertical lines than a standard 1080p display, squeezed into a 13.3in screen. That equates to 275 pixels per inch (PPI), which is a higher density than Apple's Retina iPad 4. The PLS panel has superb viewing angles too, so you should be able to take it all in regardless of how far back you tilt the screen. Naturally for a high-end Ultrabook it's touch-enabled too, feeling just as responsive as an iPad or quality Android tablet.
Until Windows 8.1 sorts out ultra-high resolution desktop scaling, Samsung has used its own scaling settings to make working at 3,200x1,800 less of a strain on the eyes. This lets you change the text from normal to large scale, or to render the entire desktop at 1080p. We stuck with the latter setting for the most part, as it made working with photos an absolute joy, although it's worth keeping in mind this setting doesn't apply to certain apps; we had to squint to read the menus on the pre-installed Photoshop Elements trial. Compared to Apple's excellent OS X scaling, Windows still has a long way to go, and although this isn't Samsung's fault, its solution isn't a complete fix.
The scaling isn't perfect, as the teeny, tiny text in Photoshop Elements shows
The down-firing stereo speakers were never going to match the stunning display, but they do a reasonable job with MP3s and YouTube videos. Just don't expect to enjoy a full-length film without reaching for a pair of headphones first.