The Samsung Series 9 has long been the jewel in the Korean company's crown, and has set the standard for thin and light laptops for the last two years.
The Series 9 was in effect the world's first Ultrabook (although Samsung never let Intel officially share its pride and joy), and was the first Windows laptop to truly rival the MacBook Air in terms of performance and looks.
Of course, the Series 9 also had a MacBook sized price-tag, so enter the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite, Samsung's vanguard laptop for those on a budget. However, in this instance, 'Lite' doesn't refer to weight, but to features and design (though thankfully also price).
The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite is available for £499, which is under half the cost of its big brother, the Samsung ATIV Book 9. On the face of it, that's an excellent price for a 13.3-inch touchscreen Windows 8 laptop, and you're unlikely to find a big-brand machine for less.
But it's immediately clear from the design that some corners have been cut to keep prices down, and while the lid has the brushed metal effect synonymous with the Series 9 brand, this one's unashamedly plastic. Our version came in a deep, shiny black that manages to look appealing rather than blandly corporate.
Open the laptop and you can't fail to miss the sheer thickness of the touchscreen panel. It's relatively weighty, which is something top-of-the-range Windows 8 touchscreen laptops such as the Sony VAIO Pro 13 (£999) manage to avoid. The chassis comprises keyboard, trackpad and ports, yet it's still wafer-thin like the original Series 9, making the laptop as a whole look rather odd.
The touchscreen panel's extra bulk pushes up the weight of the ATIV Book 9 Lite to 1.6kg. It's not especially heavy, and the £500 saving on a full-blooded ultra-portable only adds around 300g in weight, which is a compromise most people will be happy to make.
It's still slim enough to slip into a bag and carry around, and the upshot of the plastic lid is its resilience against scratches, something the aluminium Series 9 doesn't share.
So, on the surface we have a portable and slender laptop at a great price, and one that will suit anyone whose eyes water at the price tags of modern ultra-portables. But can it deliver in terms of performance, or have too many sacrifices been made under the hood? Read on to find out.
We're used to laptops coming laden with Intel's all-conquering fourth-generation Haswell processors, which now have a monopoly on Windows and Mac machines. However, the low price of the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite undoubtedly comes from the Korean manufacturer's choice to use a rebranded AMD A6 processor instead.
It's a quad-core chip, but only offers a maximum clock speed of 1.4GHz, and runs at just 1GHz for basic tasks. Meanwhile, 4GB of RAM shores up the processor's memory requirements.
Samsung has furnished the Lite with a 128GB solid-state drive, saving the blushes of the basic CPU. Overall boot time is decent enough, and programs and files are snappy to load from cold.
The touch sensitivity of the ATIV Book 9 Lite makes easy work of the Windows 8 interface. It's a responsive and accurate panel, and registers presses and gestures well. Unfortunately, the plaudits don't extend to the screen's visual quality.
The 1,366 x 768 resolution is fuzzy and pale, and looks like last year's technology. The paleness is often down to the appalling viewing angles, which is almost impossible to remedy when using the ATIV Book 9 Lite in an office environment. Any slight movement of the screen betrays its mirror-like reflectiveness, which is difficult to ignore.
The original Series 9 keyboard is a shining example of what can be achieved on an ultra-portable laptop. But as you might have guessed, the ATIV Book 9 Lite has been given an inferior set of plastic buttons. While the feel is nowhere near as luxurious, the keyboard is spacious enough to allow comfortable typing for extended periods.
The trackpad has a plasticky feel, and clicking it is akin to popping the top of a jam jar, although it does come with a range of gestures that are normally the preserve of premium machines.
Connectivity options feel a bit awkward, and the super-thin chassis means the full range of normal connections you'd expect to find on a laptop are absent. There are two USB 3.0 ports, but only mini-HDMI is included, which will leave you frustrated if you don't have the right cable.
An Ethernet port has also been sacrificed, replaced by a supplied dongle. That's fine as long as you remember to take it with you, otherwise you'll be unable to connect to the internet.
Battery life – 4 hours 20 minutes
Cinebench 11.5 - CPU – 0.96pts
OpenGL – 9.77fps
3DMark Ice Storm – 17,115
3DMark Cloud Gate – 1438
3DMark Fire Strike – 280
With a white-label processor built into the Samung ATIV Book 9 Lite, we were eager to check out its performance. So how did it fare in our benchmark tests?
First we tested graphics performance using 3DMark. Scores were well below par across the three tests, with renders struggling to top 7fps, making gaming out of the question (you need around 30fps for a decent gaming experience).
Let's put those scores in context. Intel's entry-level, low-power Core i3 processor also failed miserably when it came to gaming performance, scoring 20,000 points in the first test. Consider that the Samsung scored 17,115 in the same test, and you'll have some idea of the (lack of) power on offer.
We tested SimCity on the ATIV Book 9 Lite, and while the game was playable on the lowest graphics settings, it wasn't an enjoyable experience. However, the same goes for the Acer Aspire P3, which packs an entry-level fourth-generation Intel Core processor.
While the scores in the 3D tests were relatively close, the processor tests really exposed the gulf in performance. Recording a score of 0.96 in Cinebench 11.5, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite's lack of processing grunt is laid bare.
The benchmark tests backed up what we saw in real-world use too. Slow and sluggish performance was evident across the operating system, and tasks as simple as loading two programs at the same time caused huge bottlenecks. In fact, installing our benchmarking software was a hard enough job in itself: the system locked up for around 10 seconds before four instances of the installation appeared at once.
Overall we were able to eke nearly four and a half hours from the Samsung's battery, which is pretty decent on a budget. (We found similar levels in the much costlier Sony VAIO Pro 13 Ultrabook.) That time extended to five or six hours while performing basic word and internet tasks, so there are positives to the Samsung's performance after all.
We were pretty excited when we heard that Samsung was redesigning its Series 9 laptop for the budget market. As big fans of the original, we felt there was a lot to live up to. But seeing the ATIV Book 9 Lite adopt a plastic lid, a poor screen and a white-label processor proved altogether disappointing.
On the surface this is a decent buy, and there aren't many portable laptops that can be picked up for south of £500. However, we feel that Samsung has cut too many corners, and those looking for a bargain laptop would be wise to consider other options.
We loved the price and the (almost) faithful design to the Series 9 range. The chassis is super-thin and extremely stylish, as long as you look past the redesigned lid. Overall it's a good-looking machine and at face value it knocks the socks off the competition in terms of aesthetics.
At this price, it's always nice to see a 128GB solid-state drive fitted as standard, and the snappy loading and boot times were thanks to this alone, rather than to the white-label AMD chip.
Our list of disappointments reads like a naughty schoolboy's report card. The blurry, poor-resolution screen, the plastic lid, the poor benchmark scores, and the own-brand chip all make for sorry reading. Some of these negatives are simply down to cost-cutting measures, and it's important to remember that this Samsung model exists for those on a budget. But you only have to look as far as the Asus Zenbook S200 or the VivoBook S400 for an altogether more impressive low-cost machine.
A budget laptop disguised as a premium machine, the lack of an Intel Core processor and second-rate hardware makes this laptop hard to recommend.