Samsung ATIV Book9 Lite Notebook Review

While waiting to get my hands on some juicy Chromebooks for testing and, no doubt, a wall of frustration, I decided to take a look at the ATIV Book9 Lite from Samsung. It’s a notebook that had caught my eye in PC World, simply because- unlike almost every other notebook on display- it looks beautiful.

The Book9 lite is a 13.3″, Windows 8 powered laptop boasting a 1.4Ghz CPU, 4GB RAM and a reasonably decent  Radeon graphics card. It’s available in Ash Black and White, both of which look really quite good. It’s sleek form factor is also endearing, but its let down a little by a surprising amount of weight. Although this also speaks volumes about its build quality, which looks and feels very solid.

It’s also Touchscreen. Something I was initially very skeptical of, but began to embrace for not quite so brilliant reasons. You see;  the Trackpad on the Book9 Lite, despite looking a lot like those on Apple notebooks, doesn’t live up to its design inspiration. I found myself constantly battling with the Trackpad, and only after a driver update did I manage to permanently disable one of the more irritating features: double tap to drag, which had me dragging Google Chrome tabs around accidentally with rage-inducing frequency. Incidentally, the App for tweaking Trackpad settings is buried inside the lost and forgotten old-style Control Panel, which Windows 8 doesn’t like you seeing. Unless you’re competent with Windows, you’re not going to find out how to turn off the Trackpad features which annoy you. Samsung, if you’re listening, you need to update your software to drop-in to Metro and provide easier access to system settings.

The Touchscreen, on the other hand, was absolutely wonderful. From Kinetic scrolling, to just tapping stuff quickly with a finger instead of arduously guiding the cursor into position, I found being able to touch the screen far, far more useful than I’d ever imagined. It’s safe to say that I’d now seriously consider a touchscreen laptop. Touchscreen is not without its problems, however.

First, fingerprints. The elephant in the room. I knew as soon as I discovered the Touchscreen in the Book9 Lite that I had opened up a can of worms. And I wasn’t wrong. Within just a few days of using it, I had plastered the display with fingerprints to the point where it became irritating. No amount of cleaning will get on top of this problem, and frankly you’ll quickly find it easier to live with the fingerprints than try to battle with them- I did.

Second, tiny buttons. Windows 8 isn’t completely given over to the world of touchscreen, and you’ll find using your finger is wrought with frustration if you attempt to use anything but Metro apps. Resizing windows, tapping not-finger-sized buttons and even things as simple as right-clicking are a chore with a touchscreen. Fortunately the trackpad is always on hand, and I found a mix of both inputs to be most productive.

Ideally, the Book9 Lite could use a Trackpoint. This is, by far, my favourite form of input on a laptop and would make the Book9 most certainly a strong contender for most-awesome-laptop-I’ve-used if one were present. Sadly you can either plug in a mouse, or strike a dynamic compromise between touch and trackpad. Not ideal, but if you’ve never used a MacBook then you don’t know what you’re missing anyway.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the screen and keyboard of the Book9 Lite could be laid perfectly flat, at a  180degree angle to each other. This has very little practical use unless you need to lie the laptop flat for some heavy touchscreen use. Don’t be put off by the plentiful range, however, because the hinge is fantastic and you’ll find the laptop lifts up before the screen flops back when you’re poking too hard with your finger.

Unlike the touchpad, the keyboard is great and there’s not a complaint I could think of about it. It’s a typical flat-style keyboard, the likes of which I’ve become very accustomed to over many years of using MacBooks.

The presence of an SD card reader is welcome, and USB3.0 is too. The Mini HDMI is irritating, since it requires a cable that most people wont have, and wont care to buy (if you’ve bought one for your smartphone then this wont be such an issue) but its fair to say that the sleek, slim style of the Book9 is something I’d rather keep than mar with a full-sized HDMI port.

Similarly, the Ethernet adapter ( surprisingly, it has one! ) uses a micro port and a dongle ( surprisingly, it’s supplied in the box! ) so you can optionally use a wired network connection without having to live with a stonking great ( and irritatingly USB sized ) port.

Overall, I love the Book9 Lite. It looks great in both colours, the touchscreen is surprisingly useful, the build quality is excellent and it’s consistently fast and responsive thanks to its choice of SSD over HDD. It’s priced as you might expect, however, at about twice as much as an entry-level laptop. This does mean it sits comfortably between cheap, entry-level tat and ludicrously overpriced ultrabooks- so if you’re adamant on picking up a Windows notebook, and want something that’s not ugly, cheap rubbish then I couldn’t recommend this more.

Oh, and the power supply has a right-angled connector. I can’t stress how important this is. Thank-you, Samsung.

Incidentally, I installed Windows 8.1 and it worked fine. The addition of a Start Menu button is somewhat redundant since there’s a keyboard key dedicated to this on every Windows-running machine I’ve encountered, but 8.1 makes a handful of changes which otherwise make Windows 8 less frustrating. If you don’t consistently use EITHER Metro Apps OR Desktop Apps, however, you will quickly become irritated with the paradigm shifts between the two. Simply put, any attempt to multi-task with a Metro App will drive you slowly crazy, and you’ll find yourself having to put up with silly things like Metro Skype-that-uses-your-Windows-login-that-you’ve-never-ever-used-with-Skype. There’s a separate download for Desktop Skype to fix this problem, but it shouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

My biggest irritation with Windows 8.1 is how it basically requires you to log in with your Microsoft ID and tie your computer, and an assortment of Apps, with something you probably ditched in favour of Google forever ago ( unless you also own an Xbox 360 ). Sure, you can skip this, but you’ll be perpetually nagged at every opportunity to set up a Microsoft ID so you can do scary things like…well… install Apps.

Rant aside, I’m not that frustrated with Windows 8 and use it almost on a daily basis.