in which korean hardware pleases

I just got a new laptop, and while I wouldn't post about it normally I've had a number of people ask me what I thought of it. For the last five years or so I've been a Thinkpad user exclusively, but the latest models of their lightweight X series have offered disappointing screens with 1366x786 being the only resolution option. Since my dignity prevents me from buying a laptop with fewer vertical pixels than my phone, I broadened my search this time around and came across the 13-inch Samsung Series 9, aka NP900X3B.


Update August 2012: I've gone back to the old Thinkpad after getting it repaired. I realized after a month or so with the Samsung that the ultra-thin profile is actually an anti-feature. I like my laptops small, but I realized that weight is really the only thing I care about in that category. There are no concrete benefits to be had from a thin design, while fact that it forces a shallow, uncomfortable keyboard, inaccessible battery, less-sturdy chassis, and hard-wired SSD are very tangible drawbacks. I definitely do miss the brilliant screen, but I'm glad to be on a machine that doesn't sacrifice functionality for looks. If you're considering a Series 9, I'd still say it's better than most laptops on the market. If you're coming from a Macbook, the keyboard and inaccessible battery might not bother you, but I'd encourage you to take a look at the Thinkpad X series too.

At first the most striking thing about it is its thin profile, but once you've started using it you realize it's the screen that really sets it apart. Samsung is the largest manufacturer of LCDs in the world, so it makes sense that the screen would be the distinguishing factor on their high-end models. The resolution is 1600x900, which I couldn't find in anything else smaller than 14 inches, but it's the 400 cd/m2 of brightness that really sets it apart. With summer right around the corner, this perfect for working outdoors.

While I'm pretty thrilled with the new machine, the thin profile forces some difficult compromises with the keyboard. It's of the standard chicklet design, which is a drag coming from the Thinkpad. The X200s Thinkpad I was using previously had a very comfortable response and depth to it that you don't find with most chicklet keyboards. The Samsung also lacks a trackpoint, drainage tray, and dedicated volume buttons. The X200s isn't appreciably heavier than the Samsung; (only ½ a pound more) but it is over twice as thick. Personally if it's light enough I don't find thickness to be a problem; I'd much rather have a comfortable keyboard than a 0.4-inch profile. But it does turn heads.

The speakers on ultraportable laptops like the X200s typically come across as a token effort to fill a feature checkbox, but the Samsung's are fairly respectable. I was pleased to see the lack of the hardware wifi kill switch that plagued me on my Thinkpad. It's also got a bigger selection of ports than you'd expect with the slim profile: USB 2, USB 3, micro-HDMI, combined mic/headphones, and Ethernet, though the latter must be used with the provided adapter.

I'm running Debian Wheezy on it because I read on a blog post that a newer kernel was needed for the wifi drivers, but apparently this was only the case with an earlier model of the Series 9 that used the Broadcom chipset; The NP900X3B uses an Intel chipset that has been well-supported for some time. Everything worked perfectly out of the box except the keys for adjusting the keyboard backlight. The camera, external monitor port, and multitouch trackpad work as you'd expect. The suspend functionality, which on Linux has traditionally lagged behind Mac OS X, resumes in a couple short seconds.

While I would love to see this same screen on a laptop with the luxurious keyboard, carbon fiber body, and replaceable battery of a Thinkpad, the Series 9 is quite slick and should keep me happy for a number of years.

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