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The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the ultrabook that I've personally been using for work and play. (And by "play" I mean playing with visual effects and graphics in Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro. Gaming on the Mac is still a "would not recommend.")
But while Apple continues to refine its premier laptop in incremental yet meaningful ways, it's always interesting to look past the walled garden and into the fields of competing laptops.
Samsung's new Galaxy Book 3 Ultra represents the company's best of the best; one could say it's the pinnacle of the Galaxy laptop experience, with a series of ecosystem-enriched features to affirm Samsung's commitment.
I've been testing the base $2,200 variant of Galaxy Book 3 Ultra for the past week, and it's clear to me that Samsung wants it to be at the top of your laptop buying list, ideally, above Apple's MacBook Pro. Does it succeed? Sure, but only if its wins matter more to you than its losses.
16-inch 3K AMOLED (2,880 x 1,800, 16:10) with 120Hz
Intel Core i7-13700H or i9-13900H
Nvidia RTX GeForce 4050 or 4070
16/32GB RAM with 512GB/1TB
76Wh (up to 17 hours)
13.99 x 9.86 x 0.65 inches
1x HDMI 2.0, 2x Thunderbolt 4, 1x USB 3.2, 1x microSD, 1x 3.5mm audio jack
The design of the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra doesn't move the needle; hide the Samsung logo on the cover and it can easily pass as just another large-screen laptop that's stacked up during Black Friday. Fortunately, the sturdy aluminum build of the Galaxy Book feels much more premium than that of a discount laptop, and thanks to subtle wedges and seamless curves throughout the chassis, the 16-inch size gives off a better impression of portability than a MacBook Pro of similar size. If I had to lug around a laptop throughout a workday, I'd pick the Samsung without hesitation.
It's not just the sleek design language that gives the Galaxy Book the edge here though. The weight of it is just shy of four pounds and noticeably lighter than other large laptops I've held. And with the lid being near paper thin, lifting it up with one hand is very much doable.
Doing so also exposes two flaws of the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra: the wobbliness and glossy finish of the display. While the screen is absolutely gorgeous to look at (more on that later), it has a tendency to wobble when I'm typing from my lap or any surface with the slightest tilt. The shaking is only emphasized when the glossy display starts to reflect every ray of light in a room or, worse yet, the outdoors.
Will you notice the shaking when you're laser-focused on what's being displayed? Probably not. Would a matte display have served better for viewing comfort? Absolutely.
Live by the display…
Believe it or not, I still consider the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra's display to be one of its key selling points. You're looking at a 16-inch, 120Hz, 3K, AMOLED display, with most of its tech carried over from the sharp, great-looking panels from Samsung's high-end smartphones. The colors on the laptop are, to say the least, punchy, visually distinctive, and plenty bright for most environments. Gaming and multimedia consumption are an absolute treat on the Galaxy Book.
For content creation and multitasking, the wider 16:10 dimension here is ideal. And while the Ultra model doesn't have a flashy 360-degree hinge or touchscreen display like its standard Pro and 360 siblings, its more conventional, laid-back design suggests that the laptop is all about getting the job done. Plus, a display that is both touchscreen-enabled and glossy is a recipe for a visual disaster.
The best use of space?
The bottom half of the laptop features what I can only describe as generous yet questionable add-ons. Things I like include the full-size number pad (even if the keys are narrower than my desktop keyboard's), the tactile yet bouncy keycaps, and the abundance of ports flanking the left and right sides, including one for USB-A!
While I love that Samsung includes a wealth of input/output, I wish one of two USB-C ports was situated on the right side of the laptop. That way, I have more flexibility when charging and don't have to shuffle a cable around. Also, the company decided to put a microSD card slot in favor of one for a full-sized SD card which doesn't make sense to me if its target audience consists of creators, folks who are likely to store camera photos and videos on, you guessed it, an SD card.
Another thing that I don't love is the trackpad. While massive, the new trackpad is not only off-centered but doesn't register presses on the upper half of it. As a result, there were plenty of times when the laptop would register a double tap as a single tap and vice versa. Keep in mind that I was coming from the MacBook Pro and have been absolutely spoiled by its Force Touch trackpad.
A dedicated graphics card matters
The day-to-day performance of the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra has been admirable. My typical workflow revolves around three desktops – one with Slack, Microsoft Outlook, and some form of media playback, another consisting of a content management system and all the tabs I need for research, and the last being either Adobe Photoshop or Premiere Pro for editing. Then, there's the occasional video call.
While my Galaxy Book 3 Ultra review unit was the base model (13th-gen Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050), and it handled all of that without any noticeable stuttering, it's safe to credit the integration of a dedicated graphics card and rather intense fans for the laptop's fluidity.
With a discrete GPU, the Galaxy Book absolutely breezes through my usual photo and video edits, which consist of high-resolution, raw images and footage. My usual stress test includes applying multiple layers of gaussian blur on a timeline and seeing if the laptop struggles at all with playback. The Galaxy Book showed signs of weakness only after its battery dipped under the 40 percent range and began to throttle itself. Naturally, the cooling fans get loud enough to serve as a constant reminder whenever I'm pushing the laptop's internals and inevitably draining its battery life.
On a standard workday, I averaged about six and a half hours of usage per charge, which is not bad but not great either. On days that involved more video editing, downloading files, and a bit of gaming (because that's what you do when you have a dedicated GPU in a laptop), I watched as the battery percentage dropped 20% every hour.
The benchmark results are in...
For those who live by benchmarks, here's how the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra fared in Geekbench 6 and Cinebench R23 tests compared to 16-inch MacBook Pros (M1 Pro and M2 Max).
By the numbers, the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra is neck and neck with Apple's older M1 Pro-equipped MacBook, but the M2 Max variant is still levels above the competition when it comes to multi-core performance.
While your Twitter feed isn't going to load any faster because one laptop scored higher than the other, we're looking at seconds (or even minutes) of faster speeds when it comes to graphics-intensive applications like exporting 4K videos and loading AAA games.
An ecosystem of its own
Much like Apple's deep integration across devices, Samsung's been building out an ecosystem of its own. This, in my opinion, is the biggest reason anyone should consider the Galaxy Book, let alone the Ultra. With the latest laptops, Galaxy users can sync their smartphones and tablets to take advantage of features like Multi Control, which allows you to navigate and control multiple devices through the Galaxy Book's keyboard and trackpad, Quick Share for wireless data transferring, and more.
In fact, all the product photos in this review were captured by the Galaxy S23 that I've been testing, transferred over to the Galaxy Book Ultra via Quick Share, and edited from the laptop. The process was pleasantly seamless and took less than a minute for the two devices to first recognize each other. It almost felt wrong to be able to move 4K videos from the phone to the laptop in less than a minute.
Ultimately, the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra starts at $2,200 for the Intel Core i7, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage configuration. That's a big price for a big laptop, but if we're comparing it with its closest Apple alternative, then Samsung is undercutting the 16-inch MacBook Pro (M2) by about $300. And in Samsung's defense, it's giving you a lot for the money, including a dedicated graphics card, one of the best-looking laptop displays on the market, and an uncompromising keyboard experience. The only notable shortcomings are the glossy screen, the obnoxiously large trackpad, and the moderate battery life.
Should I buy one?
For content creators and professional users, especially if you already own a Samsung smartphone or tablet, I could see the Ultra laptop being worth the splurge. It's also one of the few non-gaming laptops that I'd genuinely recommend for those who play.
But at a starting price of $2,200, there are plenty of other, more affordable yet just as powerful laptops that you should be considering, including the last-gen MacBook Pro (M1 Pro). I'd also look elsewhere if you rely heavily on an SD card for file transferring. In my case, I'm always taking pictures and videos with a mirrorless camera, and being able to move my files locally, with no fear of wonky wireless connections getting in the way, is a must.
Alternatives to consider
Besides the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra, here are the alternatives that I'd recommend:
Like the Ultra, the Galaxy Book 3 Pro 360 has a 16-inch screen, up to 1TB of storage, and the same arrangement of ports. While it runs on an Intel Iris Xe instead of an Nvidia GPU, the laptop is still reliable for day-to-day tasks and most professional software and costs $500 less.
2021's MacBook Pros are still some of the most capable laptops available today, as demonstrated by the benchmark results earlier, and they're more affordable now thanks to Apple's new M2 models. That makes both the 14-inch and 16-inch variants great pick-ups if you're in the market for new hardware.
While the two alternatives above are more subtle by design, the Asus ZenBook 14 is clearly a creator's laptop, with two displays -- a 14.5-inch screen on top and a 12.7-inch ScreenPad Plus on the bottom -- that allow you to multitask with ease. There's also a discrete RTX 3050 GPU and 1TB of storage.