Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite
Samsung’s ‘Lite’weight laptop has portability down, but proves disappointingly gutless.
- Thin, lightweight
- Excellent battery life
- Attractive design
- Disappointing performance
- Low-quality screen
Fantastic battery life and a lightweight, ultra-thin design are easy to recommend, but low performance and a low-quality screen make the ATIV Book 9 Lite a niche product for users seeking mobility above all else.
This ultraportable – which could be classed an Ultrabook if not for its AMD processor – sits at the entry level of Samsung’s ATIV Book range of Windows 8 laptops.
The ATIV Book 9 Lite is, visually at least, gorgeous piece of hardware for NZ$1,199 or NZ$1,399 for the touchscreen version. In Australia, it costs $999, or $1099 for the touchscreen version. Often laptops in this price bracket can be a little lacking in the style department, but the Lite takes its design cues from Samsung’s gorgeous top-end Series 9 Ultrabook.
The Lite is cased in plastic instead of metal, but keeps the same sleek lines, gently rounded edges, and airfoil-like profile of the Series 9. There’s a bit of give in the chassis, but not enough to be worrying. The Series 9, in fact, exhibited at least as much flexibility thanks to its ultra-thin alloy body.
It’s super-lightweight, at 1.44kg, and slim at 17mm. Samsung say 16.9mm, but I’m not getting into tenths-of-a-millimetre when it comes down to how tightly you close the lid. Either way, it’s as thin as the MacBook Air, and not too much heavier, making the ATIV Book 9 Lite one of the most portable 13-inch laptops we’ve had the pleasure to test.
Samsung claim an 8-second boot time and 2-second wake from sleep, both of which we were able to verify.
The Lite easily manages an 8-hour workday or flight on a single charge.
Granting this long battery life is not one of Intel’s latest-generation ‘Haswell’ processors, but an unnamed AMD processor that is referred to in Samsung’s marketing, and within the laptop itself, as “Quad-core processor”.
It’s not widely publicised that this is an AMD chip: where you’d expect an AMD branding sticker (or where ‘Intel Inside’ would appear on an Intel-powered laptop), there’s simply an “x4 Quad-Core” sticker. The only processor spec we could get hold of, besides the quad-core nature of the CPU, was a clock speed of “up to 1.4GHz”. All very mysterious, and not something we’ve ever seen before on a laptop.
Besides the secretive processor, the Lite sports 4GB of relatively slow DDR3L-1066 memory. Graphics are handled by an embedded AMD Radeon HD 8250, and storage is a 128GB SSD.
We ran the ATIV Book 9 Lite through our standard benchmark suite, and found the results exceptionally low in laptop terms. The closest comparison point was Windows 8 tablets based on Intel’s Atom Z2760 dual-core/four-threaded CPU.
The Lite’s quad-core AMD processor delivered between 150%-200% the raw computing performance of the Atom Z2760, whilst still managing 75% of the battery life. In certain tests, it delivered up to 350% the performance. So, quite the step up from a little Atom-based tablet, which you’d expect from a 13-inch laptop. However, the Lite still only came in at about 50% the performance of similarly sized and priced Intel Core-based laptops.
A whole lot of benchmarks aren’t worth anything in isolation: maybe 50% the performance is more than good enough, I thought, in exchange for that great portability and battery life. Yeah, no. Unfortunately, the ATIV Book 9 Lite struggled with everyday tasks such as multi-tabbed web browsing (to be fair, we’re talking 10+ tabs in Mozilla Firefox), working with heavyweight web apps such as Google Docs, or playing back HD video from YouTube.
While simple document-editing in Google Docs worked alright, though we did occasionally experience a bit of lag that wasn’t present on other PCs connected to the same network. Large, complicated spreadsheets proved a real hassle to update, thanks to slow performance on the client-side (again, the same activity on a different PC, over the same internet connection, posed no trouble at all).
Standard-definition and 720p YouTube clips played smoothly, but fullscreen 1080p clips displayed some lag during playback, even when fully buffered (i.e. the internet connection had no impact on playback). Playing two video clips at once resulted in both being unwatchably laggy. Sure, this isn’t something you’d be likely to try on purpose, but you’ll sure notice it when some website is silently auto-playing a promotional video in the background whilst you’re trying to watch YouTube.
Common applications such as Photoshop Elements were usable, but slower than we’re used to. We had no trouble retouching a single high-res image, but batch processing or just working on several images simultaneously brought things down to a crawl.
With performance like this, the ATIV Book 9 Lite is really only useful for the most basic web browsing and productivity work – typing and throwing emails around, perhaps working on some of those ultrabasic spreadsheets that might as well be a single-column list. Yes, it’s significantly more powerful than the cheap Windows 8 tablets on the market, but it still falls well short of what we’d expect from a laptop.
Also questionable is the Lite’s 13.3-inch screen. The 1366 x 768-pixel display is lower than we like to see, but I’ll let it pass on a 13.3-inch laptop. Though you can see individual pixels if you bend too close over the screen like you’re deliberately trying to do your back in, it’s not as outrageously blocky as that same resolution stretched into a 15-inch laptop. It’s also matte, which should be a huge point in its favour: glossy screens may look better in nice dim conditions, but prove a nightmare under strong lighting or the naked sun.
It’s not all sunshine and pixels, though. Colours look washed out, particularly at lower brightness levels, and the maximum brightness struggles to compete with the sun even given the matte finish. There was clear vertical banding visible, too, which we haven’t seen since the early days of passive-matrix LCD screens. If you love vibrant, Apple-style screens with a glossy finish and photorealistic colours, this is not the laptop for you.
Connectivity is, like the Series 9 laptop the Lite is modelled after, limited. There’s a single USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, and a headphone socket. An SD card reader is tucked away on the left-hand edge, helpfully protected by a spring-loaded cover. A micro-HDMI port and a proprietary port for the included Ethernet dongle sit on the same side. So, no onboard Ethernet, but you do get an adapter in the box.
You’re not so lucky for video output: there’s no cable included for micro-HDMI to regular-sized, nor does Samsung include the necessary adapter to use the mini VGA port on the right-hand side.
Wirelessly it’s the usual deal: 802.11b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0. Given the super-portable angle it would’ve been nice to see 3G/4G mobile internet support, but we’d hardly expect that given the price range and it’s entry-level positioning.
We’d really like to recommend Samsung’s ATIV Book 9 Lite. It does ‘mobility’ well, the battery life is just peachy, and it looks beautiful despite its plastic construction. However, it failed at the most important thing: being a useful computer. When even basic tasks proved frustrating thanks to the limits of its gutless, nameless little ‘quad-core processor’, it left us having to curb our enthusiasm and temper that recommendation.
There’s still a niche for the Lite. If you need an ultra-lightweight, long-running PC with a full-sized keyboard to take notes on during lectures, meetings or interviews, it works well. However, it’s not going to serve as a primary PC for most users: it’s the kind of laptop that you buy, if you can afford to, to use alongside a desktop or gruntier laptop.
The ATIV Book 9 Lite is an accessory for people that need almost tablet-like portability but require the screen size and keyboard of a laptop. It fills that niche reasonably, but don’t buy this one if you’re after something to provide traditional 'laptop' performance.
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