When it comes to designer computer hardware, few companies are as emulation-worthy as Apple. Its 13in Macbook Air has been the standard by which sleek ultraportables have been judged since the original Air came out in 2008. Few companies are in a better a position to challenge this dominance as Samsung, and indeed the Korean giant attempted to do so with its X360. While a very stylish machine, it wasn't without its faults and wasn't as thin or sleek as the Air. However, this time around Samsung is back with a rival machine that's not only thinner and lighter than the Macbook Air, but packs in goodies like a Sandy Bridge Core i5 processor, USB 3.0 and a backlit keyboard without compromising on battery life. Can the 13.3in Series 9 900X3A beat Apple's latest?
Well, it certainly kicks the competition to the curb when it comes to specifications, connectivity and performance. But as it's aimed at the designer crowd, let's take a look at its visual appeal and build first.
Though Samsung quotes its laptop as being thinner than the latest Air revision, things aren't quite as straightforward as that. While Apple's laptop tapers from 17mm to a super-svelte 3mm, Samsung's effort 'only' manages 16.3mm to 15.9 from end to end. Impressive as that might be considering the amount of connectivity and processing power stuffed inside the 900X3A's chassis, it means that it doesn't look nearly as slim and minimalistic as its rival.
Thankfully it's also lighter, though again only just: at 1.31kg compared to the Air's 1.32kg, the difference is not really noticeable.
What about build? For its outer shell and palm rest the 9 Series uses Duralumin, an aluminium alloy that's twice as strong as the regular stuff, to ensure this is one of the more rugged metal-clad laptops around. However, whether this impression is true or not, it simply doesn't feel as sturdy in the hand as Apple's milled aluminium chassis.
Essentially, the Air feels like it's been carved out of a single block of metal, while the 900X3A feels like metal panels have been attached to a frame. Don't get us wrong; the 900X3A is still one of the best-built ultraportables we've had through the office, with perfectly fitted parts and barely a hint of flex. And it looks pretty special too, especially given the black livery.
That said, while the lid sports a brushed finish that's very attractive and the silver Samsung logo set to the side is by no means unsightly, even picking the 900X3A up once will result in a plethora of highly visible fingerprints, and the lid's hinges also break up the laptop's smooth lines. Furthermore, the lid's metal top layer extends over the plastic screen surround below, a design feature that isn't particularly appealing and gives an incoherent impression. The effect is exacerbated by the edge being left unpainted; a touch that would otherwise be desirable but here does highlight this issue.