The island-style keyboards on the Series 9 and the MacBook Air have a similar look and feel. We experienced good travel and response on each. After taking the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, our average scores were about the same.
The surface of the Series 9’s keys have a more obvious matte coating than the Air’s, which provided a marginally better typing experience (especially for users with fingernails), but the difference was negligible.The Series 9 also gets props for bringing a keyboard backlight to the party, a feature which isn’t available on the Air.
The Air has direction keys on a row above the numbers so you can do things like activate Expose, control media playback, and adjust the brightness–just the way we like it. Plus, you can make the Function keys the primary keys in OS X’s Keyboard preferences.
The Series 9, like most PCs, privileges the Function keys. That means to adjust things like the screen and backlight brightness, volume, Wi-Fi, etc., you need to press the Fn key. However, we like that Samsung included an Fn Lock to switch the Function keys to secondary status. The only drawback: this doesn’t only affect the top row, but any key with a secondary Fn action, such as the arrow keys.
Winner: Samsung Series 9
Despite our issues with the top row, Samsung’s addition of backlighting puts the Series 9 ahead in a very close category.
After Apple introduced the glass Trackpad on the MacBook line we’ve seen several PC manufacturers attempt to create touchpads that rival it. Most don’t succeed. However, we have to give credit to Samsung, as the clickpad on the Series 9 is one of the better Windows-side implementations we’ve seen.
Both touchpads are large: 3.9 x 2.7 inches (Series 9) vs 4.3 x 3.0 inches (Air). We had no problem executing one, two, three and four-finger gestures. The Air’s glass touchpad is a little smoother, and the Series 9 has more of a soft-touch finish, but both make for easy navigation and clicking.
With two fingers users can scroll, pinch to zoom, and rotate on both of these ultraportables. However, the Air includes screen zoom functionality for magnifying the entire screen, not just a window. Another big difference we noted: the lack of scroll with inertia on the Series 9. Scrolling is far smoother and easier on the Air. There is a Momentum setting for the Series 9 clickpad, but it only applies to one-finger mouse usage, not two-finger scroll.
Both laptops feature three-finger gestures. The Series 9 offers a few extras: three-finger press will launch a specified program and three-finger click will mimic the middle button mouse click by default. Users can change this to mimic a different mouse button or assign one of a long list of actions to it.
One of the most useful gestures in Mac OS X is four-finger swipe for Expose. It allows users to quickly see all available windows and programs and easily pick one or to clear all windows and look at the desktop. Users can also swipe left or right with four fingers to switch applications. The four-finger gestures on the Series 9 are very similar. Swipe down to clear windows away and see the desktop, swipe up to access the Aero 3D window manager (though Expose is better).
We did encounter one drawback on the Series 9: when using the touchpad with two hands (one finger resting on the left click area) the cursor sometimes jumped or the pad accidentally actiated a multitouch gesture. We haven’t encountered these issues with MacBook clickpads.
Winner: MacBook Air
Better two-handed sensitivity plus smooth inertial scrolling puts the Air ahead by a bit, but Samsung (and Synaptics) still deserve major props for delivering a clickpad that’s smooth and easy to use.