Samsung Notebook 9 Pen Hands-on Review

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen Hands-on Review

Samsung is much better known in North America for its smartphones than its computers and, at CES 2018, the company is trying to take advantage of that fact. Its new Notebook 9 Pen 13 brings the familiar S Pen, well-known to Samsung Note owners, to the laptop for the first time.

There are other nods to mobility, as well. The silver magnesium-aluminum chassis is extremely light, shaving weight down to just 2.19 pounds. It’s a thin laptop, too, at .64 inches. All that sounds great for anyone who needs a laptop for travel, but can it possibly stack up against the Microsoft Surface Book 2 or HP Spectre x360 13-inch?

It’s all about the S Pen

Samsung’s S Pen, unsurprisingly, is the standout feature of Samsung’s Notebook 9 Pen. It looks and feels like the smartphone model – perhaps even identical, though we didn’t have one available to compare. In any case, its smartphone heritage is evident. It’s slim, delicate, and quick, traits that lead to precision, but make us wonder how it would feel to use for more than a few minutes. The S Pen can handle 4,096 levels of pressure and has a thin .7 millimeter tip, so it’s on par with the latest Microsoft Surface Pen.

The S Pen is easy to put away, because there’s a built-in holster.

The S Pen’s size does lead to one major boon – it’s easy to put away, because there’s a holder built into the 2-in-1 itself. That’s rare, but appreciated, because losing a stylus is a costly annoyance. This is a feature we’d like to see in every 2-in-1 that ships with a stylus.

Samsung says the S Pen will work with bundled software, like Samsung Notes and Autodesk Sketchbook, in addition to the usual array of Windows 10 support. A menu of these features can be summoned with the press of a button on the S Pen itself. You can then select a portion of the screen to take a screencap, or make an animated GIF, all with the pen. There’s also support for other Samsung apps that have less to do with pen support, like Samsung Message, which can shoot an instant message to others who use the app on a smartphone, tablet, or PC.

It’s clear that Samsung is using the software strategy that has worked so well for it on mobile, and it does tack on features not available on other 2-in-1s. PCs aren’t phones, however – users tend to be hostile to anything that might look like bloatware. We’re also not sure the software features are all that necessary. Microsoft already includes sticky notes, OneNote, and a digital ink space for sketches or quick notes.

Otherwise, the Samsung Notebook 9 Pen 13 is a conventional 2-in-1 with a 360-degree hinge. It works much like a Lenovo Yoga or HP Spectre x360, though it’s lighter than most its competitors — a lot lighter. It weighs over a pound less than a Microsoft Surface Book 2, HP Spectre x360, or Lenovo Yoga 920. In fact, the entire 2-in-1 weighs about six-tenths of a pound more than the Surface Book 2 13-inch’s screen when detached. That’s nuts! The Notebook 9 Pen 13 is so light that, at first touch, it almost feels like a prank. Surely, there can’t be entire PC in there, right? And yet there is.

The 13.3-inch display offers plenty of screen space, with thin bezels surrounding it, keeping the overall footprint down. A 1080p touchscreen is all that’s available, so the screen can’t compete with the sharpness of most its peers. Still, it looks good enough to satisfy in day-to-day use. Brightness is a perk – Samsung says it can hit 450 nits — and the display looks incredibly vibrant when we handled it.

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen Compared To

Lots of performance, but not so much battery

The hardware in the Notebook 9 Pen 13 is what you’d expect to see from any high-end 2-in-1. There’s an 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of DDR4 memory, and up to 512GB of NVMe PCIe solid-state storage. These specifications, while impressive, are not unusual – and as usual, they lead to a system that feels snappy. Even demanding users should be happy with this 2-in-1’s performance. Well, if you don’t play games, because Intel UHD 620 graphics is all that’s available.

Battery life might prove a weak spot. We can’t test it during a hands-on, obviously, but we do know the battery is a 39 watt-hour unit. That’s toward the small side. While it contributes to the system’s light weight, it may also result in less exciting endurance. Samsung says it’s good for nine hours of 1080p video. That’s not bad, but many competitors promise more than 10 hours. Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 claims 17 hours – which held up in our tests – and the Lenovo Yoga 920 claims 15 hours.

A notebook that’s all about the pen

Endurance aside, the Samsung Notebook 9 Pen seems built entirely around on-the-go use of a stylus. Its light enough to lift and maneuver with one hand, includes an extremely precise pen with a holster to help you keep it secure, has unique software, and includes excellent hardware in all areas. It wouldn’t be my pick if laptop use was my main worry, but if I wanted a great 2-in-1 – in a 360-degree format, instead of detachable – the Notebook 9 Pen would be on my list.

Or, at least, I think it would be. One piece of the puzzle is missing – price. Given its hardware, we doubt the Notebook 9 Pen will be affordable, and that may put it toe-to-toe with the Microsoft Surface Book 2.  That’d be a tough match for Samsung to win.

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