What do you do when you want to have a thin and light notebook PC, but your wallet is equally thin and light? It may have once been the case that you had to spend the bigger bucks in order to get your hands on a slim laptop, but that is no longer the case thanks to products like the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite. As its name implies, this is the "lite" version of some of its more premium cousins, but does that mean that Samsung had to cut all sorts of corners to cut down the price? Let's dig in and have a look.
Features at a Glance
You might remember last year when we sat down with Samsung Canada to see some of their new tablets and notebooks. The ATIV Book 9 Lite was revealed to us at that time and we thought it had some good potential if they were able to keep the price low while maintaining a reasonably decent spec sheet. Of course, there are going to be tradeoffs.
What you get with the Book 9 Lite is a 13.3-inch HD LED touchscreen display (1366 x 768), an unnamed quad-core processor (up to 1.4GHz), AMD Radeon HD 8250 graphics, 4GB DDR3L-1066 RAM, 128GB solid state drive, 720p webcam, 2-cell 30Wh battery and Windows 8 64-bit in a package that weighs just 1.58kg (3.48 pounds) and measures a mere 17.4mm (0.69") thin. Ports are minimal, understandbly, but reasonably comprehensive with one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, 3-in-1 card reader, headset jack, micro-HDMI, mini-VGA and mini Ethernet.
It's Thin and It's Plastic
The main idea with the ATIV Book 9 Lite is that you're able to get that thin and light form factor without having to break the bank. While its more expensive brethren are outfitted in aluminum, what Samsung has done here is gone with more of a glossy plastic. And that switch does affect both the look and feel of this notebook.
The hinge, while allowing for a full 180-degree fold flat orientation, can be a little on the light side and the top lid does have a noticeable flex to it. This normally wouldn't be too much of a concern, except that you do get a touchscreen and you'll likely be poking at that display.
What I did like is that, while it is also made of plastic, the palm rest had a cool, almost metallic kind of feel to it. It's not metal, of course, but it did provide a greater sense of confidence than the lid.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The function row at the top is understandably smaller and I appreciate the fuller sized right shift key. To accommodate this, the four directional arrows are smaller and they serve double-duty for page up/down and home/end. I prefer dedicated keys for the latter, but given the 13.3-inch form factor, this is forgivable.
The trackpad is also in line with more recent designs, ditching the separate left and right click buttons for a single pad. It's reasonably smooth, but I did find the actual "clicking" could feel a little finicky at times.
Stuttering Through HD Video
It looks good and feels just okay, but how does it stand up to daily use and abuse? Sadly, the worst part about the ATIV Book 9 Lite is its performance. Even though the official product page cites the "lightning-fast performance" and the ability to "multi-task with ease," this notebook isn't really up to snuff for even rather rudimentary tasks.
Sure, you can do your word processing and some basic web browsing, but when I loaded up a 720p HD video on YouTube and hit the button to make it go full screen, the Book 9 Lite struggled. The audio would come through fine, but the video would hiccup and stutter, making for a rather unpleasant experience. Considering that even smartphones and tablets can handle this sort of task without a hitch, this is completely unacceptable for just about any notebook.
The official spec sheet cites only a 1.4GHz quad core processor with no exact mention of what chip is under the hood. What we can tell you is that it is a white label AMD processor under there and, based on the benchmarks, it's not doing as well as it needs to be doing.
Running the "home conventional 3.0" benchmark in PCMark 8, a score of just 955 was achieved. More powerful machines run into the 5000 range or higher with absolute ease. The 3DMark 11 Performance score of just 469 leaves a lot to be desired too.
When tested in the Street Fighter IV benchmark under the default settings, the ATIV Book 9 Lite got a rank of D with a score of 7563 and an average 31.25fps. You'd want to dial down those settings considerably to get a more comfortable gameplay experience.
This was never really meant to be a gaming notebook, but when it struggles play back a HD YouTube video, you've got some real world problems.
MEGATechie By the Book or MEGATechie Lite on Performance?
The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite sure looks pretty decent. It's got a svelte design that's just about as thin as it gets, all while retaining the full touchscreen capabilities to go along with Windows 8. However, it is not where it needs to be.
Yes, it sells for around $800 online, making it cheaper than some better Intel-powered Ultrabooks, but it also offers a fraction of the performance, despite having an SSD in place of a spinning platter. The build quality is marginally better than mediocre, but your money can stretch further than what this can provide. Remember that I got my Ultrabook for less money a little over a year ago, though that is a Windows 7 non-touchscreen machine.
If you like the styling and design of this ATIV, then it may be in your best interest to pony up the extra money for the Book 9 Plus instead. Otherwise, there are other plastic options in the $800 range that may provide a better overall experience.