Super-lightweight laptops fall into one of two types: the MacBook Air, and everything else. There are plenty of small-scale notebooks that come close to matching the Air for size or performance, but no one other than Apple has quite managed to build a notebook that’s thinner than a custard cream and can still just about be used as your primary computer without charging a silly price. Well, until Samsung’s 900X3A came along, that is.
Thinner, lighter than Air
The 900X3A, also known as the Series 9, is nearly identical in size to the 13inch MacBook Air. It’s ever so slightly thinner and lighter, but you’d never notice it unless you came armed with calipers and scales.
First impressions are almost as good as the Air. The gunmetal grey aluminium lid is honed to a fine blade-like edge and houses a thin LED-backlit screen which, with its matte finish and powerful backlight, is usable in direct sunlight.
In turn, the screen sits on top of an ‘island’ keyboard that’s both good looking and easy to type on. A wide swathe of yet more aluminium below that makes for a very comfortable wrist rest, and also houses a large multitouch trackpad with left and right click buttons beneath its surface.
It’s a clean, sophisticated look and feel, but it is slightly undermined by the glossy keyboard surround and thin plastic base. This makes the Series 9 feel more fragile than the Air, and there’s a little bit of flex in the keyboard too.
Despite this, the Series 9 is the more practical machine. On paper, its 1.4GHz CPU looks inferior to the MacBook Air’s 2.13GHz processor, but because it's one of Intel's latest Core i5 processors, it's much better for video editing and gaming. In fact you can even play Crysis 2 on it, albeit with many of the fancier graphics options turned off.
Given that CPU, it’s a little surprising that the battery life isn’t better than it is. At around 6 hours it’s got plenty of life for the working day, but we expected a little more. What’s really impressive is the speed at which it charges – less than two hours from flat to full.
The stock Windows 7 installation is enhanced with a Samsung Control Panel, hotkeyed to F1. These things are often nothing more than bloatware, but this is one of the best pieces of pre-installed software we've seen, giving you a neat way to manage Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and so on, and it also includes some battery conservation options.
Is the Series 9 impressive enough to warrant the price, though? The top-spec Air is cheaper and, although it lacks the Samsung's USB 3.0, HDMI and Ethernet ports, it has a higher-resolution screen and a proper SD card reader. The Samsung 900X3A is indeed lovely, but on balance we’d stick with the Mac. However, if you must have Windows 7, this is the closest thing to a MacBook Air you’ll find, and that’s pretty high praise.