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Review: Samsung’s Notebook 9 is the MacBook Pro alternative you’re looking for

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor

Apple’s MacBook Pro is the best 15-inch laptop you can buy. It’s well-built, attractive, and packs a ton of power. It’s also heavy and, at $2,000, really expensive.

Which is where Samsung’s new $1,200 Notebook 9 comes in. Equipped with a 15-inch display and powerful Intel Core i7 processor, the Notebook 9 seeks to be a lighter, less expensive alternative to Apple’s champion. And — with just a few caveats — it succeeds.

Attractive and lightweight

Not to sound snobby, but if I’m spending more than a $1,000 on a laptop, it had better be made of something better than cheap plastic. Usually that means metal, which adds to weight. Since 15-inch laptops already tend to feel heavy in the hand, such extra weight can quickly become problematic.

While Samsung did indeed use metal for the Notebook 9’s frame, it used a relatively light aluminum and magnesium alloy, ensuring that the laptop looks upscale without getting ungainly.

In fact, at just 2.9 pounds, the Notebook 9 is a full pound and a half lighter than the MacBook Pro. That might not sound like much, but when you add it to your bag along with all of your other sundries, it can mean the difference between being comfortable and having a sore shoulder.

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As with the MacBook Pro, the Notebook 9’s aesthetic can be best described as “less is more.” The laptop’s lid has a simple chrome Samsung logo and nothing else. The keyboard deck is equally austere.

Measuring 14.1 by 9.7 by 0.71 inches, Apple’s MacBook Pro is surprisingly thin for a 15-inch laptop. But at 13.6 by 9.3 by 0.57 inches, Samsung’s Notebook 9 is thinner by a good bit. Again, the difference might seem slight, but when you’re cramming it into a crowded bag, every hundredth of an inch counts.

One issue I have with the Notebook 9 is that it doesn’t feel quite as solid as the MacBook Pro. Apple understands that fit and finish matters and builds its hardware to extremely tight tolerances. The Notebook 9 doesn’t feel as exacting.

Bright, colorful display

Samsung is known for producing some great displays. So it comes as no surprise that the 15.6-inch screen on the Notebook 9 is absolutely gorgeous. The $1,200 base model gets a 1920 x 1080 LCD screen that offers brilliant, dynamic colors that are also surprisingly bright.

If you want something sharper, you can upgrade that display to one with 3840 x 2160 screen resolution for a grand total of $1,500. Most folks won’t need such a high-res panel, though, since it won’t do much for you when you’re just browsing the Web or streaming Netflix or Hulu. But if you’re going to be doing something like pro-level photo editing, you’ll likely want to make the upgrade.

The MacBook Pro’s 15.4-inch Retina panel, by comparison, offers 2880 x 1800 resolution. The Pro’s screen is certainly sharper than the base Notebook 9’s, but Samsung’s display still has better color quality.

Solid keyboard, meh touchpad

I used the Notebook 9 for more than a week during my testing, and I’ve got to say: Its keyboard is wonderful. The keys feel sturdy and have plenty of travel, and the sound of each key press was music to my ears. I think Samsung’s keyboard is every bit as excellent as the MacBook Pro’s — and that’s saying something.

The Notebook 9’s touchpad is as smooth glass. Your fingers glide across it with ease. I did, though, run into issues with the touchpad’s palm rejection. There were a handful of times when my palm accidentally grazed the touchpad while I was typing; it moved the cursor and produced some typos.

I use a MacBook everyday and have never had that problem. There’s a reason that Apple sets the standard for touchpads.

Powerful, affordable performance

The $1,200 Notebook 9 packs an Intel Core i7 processor with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB solid-state drive. That’s plenty of power for most users. You’ll be able to stream movies, browse the Web, edit photos and videos, and play basic games without any problems.

If that doesn’t cut it for you, though, you can upgrade to the $1,500 Notebook 9, which comes with the same processor, RAM, and storage drive but adds the aforementioned higher-resolution display and a Nvidia graphics chip. If you’re going to be doing serious photo and video editing or want to play some of today’s newer PC games, that’s the Notebook 9 to get.

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Interestingly, the base MacBook Pro is a bit more powerful than Samsung’s offering, thanks to its default 16 GB of RAM. Apple also lets you customize its MacBooks by selecting the processor and amount of storage you get — something you can’t do with the Notebook 9.

As for battery life, the Notebook 9 lasted throughout my workday before needing to be recharged. That’s impressive, but the MacBook Pro can run for just as long.

Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that the Notebook 9 runs Microsoft’s Windows 10, while the MacBook Pro runs on Apple’s OS X El Capitan.

Competitive pricing

The biggest difference between the Notebook 9 and MacBook Pro is price. The standard Notebook 9 with a 1080p screen starts at $1,200, while the version with a higher-resolution screen and Nvidia graphics chip goes for $1,500. That’s a lot of money, but it isn’t terrible when you consider the kind of components the laptop offers.

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The MacBook Pro, meanwhile, starts at $2,000 with slightly more power than the Notebook 9 and can top out at as much as $3,200 (with a faster Core i7 processor and a massive 1 TB SSD).

The bottom line

Samsung has done a spectacular job with the 15-inch Notebook 9. Its lightweight, attractive design is as sculpted as Apple’s MacBook Pro, and its keyboard is one of the best I’ve used on a Windows PC.

And at $1,300 less than the MacBook Pro, it’s a solid investment. Sure, its touchpad can be a bit wonky and the machine as a whole can’t be customized as much as the MacBook Pro. But if you’re looking for a new 15-inch laptop that can handle virtually anything you can throw at it and doesn’t weigh a ton, the Notebook 9 is well work checking out.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.