Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review - PC Pro

When Apple’s WWDC event concluded in June, there were a few disappointed faces. Product announcements came and went, but a MacBook Air with a Retina display wasn’t among them. Now, Samsung has beaten Apple to the punch with the Ativ Book 9 Plus.

A small crowd gathered in the PC Pro office as soon as it was out of the box: the matte-blue finish and thickness of only 13.9mm at its slimmest point make it a good-looking piece of kit even by Ultrabook standards.

Unusually, however, the crowd stayed after it was switched on, thanks to the gorgeous 13.3in, 3,200 x 1,800 screen. It plays the MacBook Pro 13in with Retina display at its own game – and beats it, thanks to a slightly higher pixel density and a superbly responsive touchscreen.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus

Reviewing the screen requires two approaches. From a hardware point of view, it’s fantastic: it’s bright and clear, and the Windows desktop – preset to display at 200% of its usual size – is incredibly crisp. Other displays look pixellated and dated in comparison. The arrival of high-PPI screens on Windows laptops is undoubtedly positive.

There are signs the Book 9 Plus is ahead of its time, though. Out of the box, the right-hand edge of the mouse pointer showed evidence of jagged artefacts. These cleared up once we’d installed the preview of Windows 8.1, which improves support for high-resolution screens, but the Book 9 Plus still placed the odd hurdle in our way.

Most applications work fine: the Microsoft Office apps look terrific – especially text – and Internet Explorer works perfectly, but elsewhere we hit problems. After installing Chrome and setting the default zoom level to 200%, we were able to read web pages in the app’s Metro mode, but the URL bar stubbornly remained 3mm high, which is too small to be usable. Switching to desktop mode improved things, but the application looked pixellated, and text was no longer razor-sharp.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus

Things were worse elsewhere: Photoshop CC – a natural application to run on a machine with such a high-specification screen – was unusable, thanks to tiny icons and menu bars; Photoshop Elements suffered from the same lilliputian problem.

Even Samsung’s own software had problems with the cutting-edge hardware: a bundled system utility warned that “screen resolution is very high” and urged us to change it. As with the MacBook Pro, the effectiveness of the Book 9 Plus will depend on developers rolling out support for high resolutions. Apple’s OS-wide scaling makes non-optimised software much more usable than this.


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