Hands-on with Samsung’s Chromebook 2-in-1 and fleet of 2017 laptops
Samsung's focus was on smart home accessories during CES 2017, but the company did unveil a few new laptops: an updated Notebook 9, the Android-supporting Chromebook Plus and Pro, and its first gaming laptop, the Notebook Odyssey. New Atlas braved the company's swamped booth to get some hands-on time with each.
The updated Notebook 9
We first laid eyes on the white version of the Notebook 9. While we're happy to see a departure from the nearly-identical metallic unibodies we've been seeing in mobile technology across the board, the squared white chassis seems like a divisive choice. On one hand, it's refreshing to see an update, but on the other, it's reminiscent of Apple's old plastic MacBooks. However, Samsung's Notebook 9 is made from a magnesium alloy, and has a metallic blue variant as well.
The keyboard is full-sized and comfortable, and the trackpad is good, well, for a Windows machine. We'd love if Windows trackpads caught up to Apple's. This one is responsive, but it has that pre-Force-Touch diving board hinge mechanism that makes clicks more substantial at the bottom than the top, and it sometimes feels like the responsiveness does not extend all the way to the trackpad's edges.
Picking up the Notebook 9, we were impressed with the whisper-light weight of the machine. The 13-inch version weighs only 1.8 lbs (0.82 kg), while the 15-inch version tops the scales at 2.17 lbs (0.98 kg). They're thin, too – 13.9 mm and 14.9 mm, respectively.
The updated Notebook 9 is also more flexible than its predecessors, though it falls short of becoming a convertible tablet. The 180-degree hinge allows the laptop to lay completely flat. There's also a function key shortcut that allows you to flip the orientation of the display vertically. The idea is that you can easily show someone else the screen during a conference or a meeting, but we're not amazed by its utility.
We were happy to see that the Notebook 9 is still sporting plenty of USB ports and expansion slots. While we expect everything to go USB-C in the coming years, there needs to be a transition period that doesn't send us all scrambling for adapters. The laptops are equipped with USB 3.0 x2 (or x3 on the 15-inch size), USB-C x1, microSD, HDMI and an audio jack. There is a dedicated charging slot, but it can also be charged over USB-C with a compatible charger.
It also supports fast charging through either the dedicated port or USB-C, with Samsung saying the notebook will fully recharge in less than two hours, or get "more than 3.5 hours" use (no specific use cases mentioned) with 20 minutes' charge time.
With such limited exposure, we can't speak to its performance, but the Notebook 9 is available with 7th-generation Intel i5 (13-inch only) or i7 processors and up to 8-16 GB of RAM.
Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro
These two Chromebook models are identical excepting their processors. The Chromebook Plus has a hexa-core Chromebook-specific OP1 chipset, and the Pro has Intel core m3.
But from there, they share convertible tablet/laptop builds, so you can flip and hold them in any orientation you choose. The 360-degree hinge is fairly minimal – no standout mechanicals like Lenovo's watchband hinge – but it seems to stay in place well.
The touchscreen is responsive whether you're pressing with your fingertips or the included stylus, which snaps cleanly into its storage compartment on the side of the keyboard. The stylus seems like a last-gen version of Samsung's S-Pen. It doesn't have as many levels of pressure sensitivity as the latest model (2,048, compared to the 4,096 that was in the defunct Note 7), but it still has a small light body and a plastic nib.
The stylus can be used for taking notes and drawing, but we weren't able to test out those features extensively. The utility of a mobile device like a Chromebook or tablet depends heavily on the quality of its software, and Samsung's drawing app is strictly in beta. The drawing seemed responsive enough, but it glitched and disappeared from the display before we could scrutinize it much.
Similarly, the Google Play Store app is in beta, and we weren't able to download any Android apps to see just how well they worked on Chrome OS. Still, the interface seemed to be edging extremely close to a full desktop experience. You can minimize windows and split-screen multitask without a problem.
Our least favorite part of the Chromebook design was its sticky, clunky trackpad. Its diving-board action and lack of responsiveness was more pronounced than that of the Notebook 9, but that may not matter much, since you always have the option to interact with the touchscreen instead.
We need more time to fully evaluate the Chromebooks' capabilities, but they seem like a quality upgrade from an Android tablet, or a worthy alternative if you don't need a fully desktop machine.
The Odyssey is Samsung's first dedicated gaming laptop, and it takes a strong cue from aggressively-designed gaming brands like Razer. The Odyssey has a customizable backlit keyboard that emits a light show as you type, along with a rugged chassis, red accent lights and a waffle-woven bottom for cooling. It's a heavy beast of a laptop, but that is to be expected from a gaming machine.
In our brief gameplay, it showed off snappy graphics rendering, but the display is 1080p, and not the QHD that some gamers may prioritize. There are two sizes (15-inch and 17-inch) but a representative told us that only the larger version will be VR-ready. Either one is available with up to the 7th-generation Intel i7 core processor. The smaller size has NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics, but the 17-inch graphics card options have not been confirmed.
Pricing and availability
Samsung has not released an official price or release date for the Notebook 9 or the Odyssey, though representatives expect them both to be released in the first half of 2017. The Chromebook Plus will retail for US$449 with an expected ship date in February, while the Chromebook Pro's price has not been confirmed and is expected for a late spring (Northern hemisphere) release.
Correction: This article originally listed a third (silver) color variant of the Notebook 9, but there are only two (white/silver and blue) color options.
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