Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite review: A cut-price ultrabook experience

Summary:The 13.3-inch Windows 8-based Ativ Book 9 Lite looks like an ultrabook and comes with an attractive price tag, but has Samsung cut too many corners in pursuit of affordability?

Samsung's 13.3-inch Ativ Book 9 Lite laptop aims to deliver at least some of the glamour and styling of an ultrabook, but at a more affordable £499 (inc. VAT; £416 ex. VAT) price.

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The Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite achieves its affordable price point by cutting corners on the (plasticky) chassis and (unnamed) AMD processor. Image: Samsung

The oddly-named device retains the elegant design of its more expensive sibling, the Ativ Book 9 Plus, but comes housed not in brushed aluminium but in a plastic chassis (the lid does have a brushed effect that might be intended to echo the pricier model, but isn't to my taste).

At 1.58kg the Book 9 Lite feels surprising heavy in the hand (the Book 9 Plus is lighter at 1.39kg ) despite its slender frame. When you open it up, the stripped-down design aesthetic makes it a slightly anonymous device to use, but the simplicity of that ultrabook layout certainly has its appeal compared to the fussiness of many laptops.

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The Ativ Book 9 Lite has an island-style keyboard and a large touchpad set in a generous wrist-rest area. Image: Samsung

Although there isn't quite enough travel in the keys for my liking, the slim body meant that typing put less pressure on my wrists than a standard laptop, making it very comfortable to work on it for extended periods, even though the quirks of the touchpad are mildly irritating.

The 128GB solid-state drive is one reason for the laptop's trim form factor, and also why it wakes up so fast. The 13.3-inch 1,366-by-768-pixel screen is of quality but nothing to get particularly excited about. It's also a touchscreen that fully reclines — a welcome development that makes for a richer and more immersive Windows 8 experience.

One small detail; I found that the screen on the model I tested was a little too springy on its hinges, which meant that the screen tended to bounce backwards and forwards too much when I was using the touchscreen; in particular using the onscreen keyboard turned the screen into an something of a bouncy trampoline for my fingers.

Of course, the specs of the Ativ Book 9 Lite can't match those of the 4th-generation Core i5-powered Book 9 Plus, and one area where it underwhelms is in performance — thanks in part to the unidentified (AMD-made) 'quad-core processor' inside. The Book 9 Lite's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 4.4 out of 9.9 is defined by the lowest-scoring subsystem — Graphics in this case. The remaining subsystem scores, in ascending order, are 4.5 for Processor, 5.5 for Memory, 5.9 for 3D Graphics and 7.2 for Hard disk.

Battery life is another area where the Ativ Book 9 disappoints. It's powered by a sealed-in 2-cell 30Wh battery, and we measured the system's power consumption under various conditions (idling and running a benchmark, with screen brightness levels of 25%, 50% and 100%) to get battery life estimates (Wh/W=h). The results range from just under 8 hours with screen brightness turned down to 25 percent and the system idling at the Windows 8 start screen, to just under 2.5 hours when running a benchmark (Microsoft's Fishbowl HTML5 test) with the screen at 100 percent. With a usage pattern comprising a mixture of idle and load time, and middling screen brightness, you can expect the system to last for around 4.75 hours on battery power — a long way short of 'all-day' battery life.

ative-book-lite-battery
The system's power consumption (with a fully charged battery) was measured using a Voltcraft VC 940 Plus multimeter and the resulting figures divided into the battery's 30Wh capacity to get battery life estimates under various conditions.

Alternatives/competitors

If you want to go upmarket, then the Ativ Book 9 Plus is the supercharged bigger brother. If you like the idea of an affordable SSD-powered device, then a Chromebook could be another option.

Pros
Ultrabook-like form factor
Fast boot
Touchscreen
Elegant styling
Attractive price

Cons
Underpowered processor
Average quality screen
Plastic-clad chassis
Disappointing battery life

Verdict
The Ativ Book 9 Lite is an attractive package, combining many of the attractive qualities of an ultrabook but at a lower price. But that lower price does mean compromises particularly around the processor, screen quality and battery life.

Price
£499 (inc. VAT); £416 (ex. VAT)

Editors's rating: 7/10


Specifications

Dimensions  324 x 224 x 17.4 mm (12.76" x 8.82" x 0.69")
Weight  1.58 kg (3.48 lbs)
Display  13.3-inch HD LED display (1366 x 768) touchscreen
CPU  Quad-Core Processor (up to 1.4 GHz)
Graphics  AMD Radeon HD 8250
Storage  128GB solid-state drive
Operating system  Windows 8, 64-bit
Networking  802.11b/g/n 1, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit Ethernet
Ports  mini VGA, Micro HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, SD/SDHC/SDXC card reader, mini Ethernet
Other features  stereo speakers (1.5W x 2), 720p HD webcam

Topics: Laptops, Reviews

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.

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