Opening the 900X3A up, we’re greeted by a similarly cohesively-challenged interior due again to that recessed screen bezel with its protruding metal outer edge, and Samsung’s decision to use a combination of metal and glossy plastic in the keyboard surround. If it had just used metal only for the entire base, this would be a notably more premium-looking machine. Fingerprints are again a serious issue, and you’ll want to wipe the palm-rests regularly.
Another annoyance is that the glossy plastics used in the base and the screen’s bezel are different, with the former sporting the extremely subtle gold-flecked effect we saw on many previous Samsung laptops including the premium X360. We’re also not sure about the shiny silver power button – we see what Samsung was trying to achieve but we don’t feel it’s quite worked.
So far, we’ve been quite negative regarding the 900X3A’s looks, but let’s just put things into perspective: this is only in comparison to the Macbook Air, to which no other ultraportable has come even close where sheer style is concerned. On its own merits and when compared to the rest of the Windows laptop market, Samsung’s slick, light and well-built 9 Series is one of the most attractive entrants to be found.
If Samsung were to have used a less fingerprint-prone finish for its Duralumin, removed the protruding edges, used metal for the entire base and etched the power button, its 900X3A would have been a real winner in the design stakes. As is, it’s attractive but not totally lust-worthy.
When it comes to usability, things are far less ambiguous. The isolation or Chiclet keyboard features well-spaced, matt black keys. Layout is flawless, though we do miss the X360’s extra function keys which were tucked in to either side of the cursor keys.
Feedback is shallow but decent considering how little space Samsung has to work with, and the ‘click’ the keys provide is subtle but adequate. Our only complaint is that on a few occasions the touchpad inadvertently registered our palm-movements and changed the cursor position during typing – something that can be managed with the touchpad software.
One important advantage the Series 9 has over Apple’s Air is that it offers a backlit keyboard (though the original Macbook Air also had one, Apple removed this feature in its latest refreshes). Samsung’s backlighting system can be controlled manually or automatically by an ambient light sensor which worked flawlessly in our testing, and you can choose between no fewer than seven different brightness settings.
What really stands out from the crowd and its Samsung predecessors, though, is the 900X3A’s superb touchpad. Constructed from a single sheet of unmarked, sand-blasted black glass, the large multi-touch pad looks and feels lovely. Its surface offers the ideal blend of smooth and textured, and is very responsive.
We’ve had serious issues with touchpads integrating their buttons into the touch surface in the past. The HP TouchSmart tm2 is the most problematic example, but Samsung’s own SF310 also caused some annoyance.
However, the Lenovo ThinkPad X220t convinced us it could be done right on a Windows laptop, and now Samsung takes this a step further: we actually prefer the 900X3A’s touchpad to any other we’ve tried, including those with physical buttons. The integrated ‘buttons’ here offer perfect feedback with a positive click and absolutely no dead zone, and the pad never misinterpreted our presses as touches. Brilliant! Compared to the Air’s touchpad, it’s essentially a dead heat, which is really saying something considering how highly we regard that.