Objects of My Affection: Samsung Series 9 Notebook

Added on by Patrick Greene.

The Duralumin plays some wonderfully subtle tricks with ambient light.

The Duralumin plays some wonderfully subtle tricks with ambient light.

The first thing you need to know about the Series 9 Notebook by Samsung is that it's just achingly, exquisitely beautiful. The second thing you need to know is that it's achingly (perhaps not exquisitely) expensive. The important thing to keep in mind is that this is a thoroughly premium product, and that you really do get what you pay for. The Series 9 backsup its looks with equally impressive internals, including a very fast Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD.

Why I like it:

1. It's beautiful

There are very, very few hardware manufacturers in the world that can challenge the eternal elephant in the design-review room, Apple. Two companies that can occasionally be thought of as being in the same league (emphasis on "occasionally") are Samsung (Korean) and Sony (Japanese). They might not be as innovative as the wizards from Cupertino, but they can at least keep pace in terms of build quality, ergonomics, and genuine, aesthetic value.

Sure beats printing things out to play through them.

Sure beats printing things out to play through them.

Sometimes, of course, this can lead to some problems.

Still, there are moments when each of the Big Ss strike design gold (check out the Sony Vaio Z Series). The Series 9 represents such a moment: it is aesthetically original, resembling its obvious arch-nemesis only in its footprint (and, to a degree, its touchpad). The designers have spoken at length about drawing inspiration from organic forms (a leaf, water, etc.), and I sincerely believe them. This isn't a design that comes about by iterating something for a test group. This is a design that came directly from some sort of artistic impulse, from a desire to create something beautiful.

The look works because it marries the masculine (brushed, black Duralumin case, sharp edges) and the feminine (that beautiful "light-catcher" that curves around the periphery, a sense of fundamental lightness and elegance) without appearing to try very hard.

It also achieves the same impossibly-thin look as the Air, but does so through different design cues. Part of why the Air shocked everyone when it debuted back  in 2008 was that, from certain angles, it basically looked as thick as a supermarket tabloid. This was because a) it was as thick as a supermarket tabloid, and b) because Apple engineers pushed anything remotely bulky in the chassis all the way to the hinges, tapering the rest of the case to an impossibly thin crease. This was a masterful application of trompe l'oeil, emphasizing just how portable this next-generation laptop was (and is). The Series 9 underscores its own svelte lines not so much by tapering, but instead by way of a delicate aluminum band elegantly tracing its profile.

Both laptops have eliminated optical drives from their respective equations. I use an Asus external disc drive for my Series 9, but when I say "use" I really mean "purchased, utilized to install Finale, and then held onto as a nice little sculptural piece for my desk."

Samsung further slims the Series 9 by way of concealed ports. Each side has a flap-down compartment containing three connection points (left: network, HDMI, high-speed USB; right: micro SD, headphone/microphone (combined), USB).

That's actually the ethernet port on the left: you connect the network cable by way of an included dongle.

That's actually the ethernet port on the left: you connect the network cable by way of an included dongle.

The ports feel (and, indeed, are) very sturdy, opening and closing with a solid (albeit small) "thunk."

2. It's functionally well-suited to writing music

The primary purpose of any computer I own is to help me compose music more effectively. Three key aspects of the Series 9's design have proven invaluable in this respect: the screen, the keyboard, and the trackpad.

First, the screen. Aside from the fact that it has absurdly bright, crisp colors and a striking contrast ratio (this is Samsung, after all, and they're known for their screen technology perhaps above all else), it's matte. This, more than just about anything, was what steered me towards the Series 9 and away from the glossy-screened Air. It means I can routinely enjoy moments like this:


The fact that the whole thing is just so darn portable makes it that much easier to tote it around with me wherever I go, whipping it out if inspiration strikes.

Backlighting and chiclet-style keys make me happy.

Backlighting and chiclet-style keys make me happy.

The keyboard also has some distinct advantages over the competition. Among other things, it's backlit. Not only that, but the backlight is manually adjustable (and very responsive to ambient light conditions when left to its own devices). The chiclet-style keys are a joy to navigate, with softly textured faces and precise weighting.

The trackpad might not be quite up to Apple standards, but it's easily the best I've ever seen on a non-Mac computer. It has a soft, rubberized texture, and features fluid multitouch capabilities that I've never experienced on a PC before. The thumb-down-while-navigating-using-another-finger method works like a charm. Dragging articulations, entering notes, and even simple graphic design is just a pleasure. I used to wonder how it was possible that my friend (and Mac-geek) Andrew Paul Jackson actually preferred entering notes and other score items via trackpad, and had no desire to buy a mouse for his MacBook. Using this buttonless, multitouch, accurate trackpad has been quite an enlightening experience for me, to say the least.

3. It is among the most well-rounded devices (of any kind) I've owned.

In summing up, I can't think of a better compliment to give Samsung than the fact that I, as a relatively tech-savvy, aesthetically judgmental, cash-strapped consumer not only bought this computer, but that months of using it haven't changed something I realized the moment I first turned it on: I wouldn't change anything about it. I still get that little thrill when I flip the lid open and it wakes up from sleeping in 3 seconds, the keyboard backlight surging to life, the Duralumin gleaming darkly like a panther.

I love how, after hours and hours of intense usage (running Finale, Word, Chrome, Zune, even SketchUp), I can hover over the battery icon and see that I've still got 60% remaining. I love how "60% remaining" means that I've still got a few hours before I start looking for a wall port.

I love how I can tote the system around in an office-use-only envelope and no one has any idea I'm carrying a fully fledged, desktop-replacement-worthy system.

I love how I can look at the Series 9 every day and feel like I made the right choice, even if the right choice was an expensive one in this case.

It was worth it.

ADDENDUM: Check out this ridiculous line of crystal-studded Series 9 notebooks announced at Samsung's IFA press conference last week.