Apple bundles every MacBook with a robust suite of software, ranging from web applications (Safari, Mail) to basic but powerful media creation tools (iMovie, GarageBand). There are many equivalents on the Windows side (though they’re less lauded) and Samsung has also built up a good set of useful utilities and programs.
Samsung’s branded apps are productivity-focused for the most part, but we appreciate that the utilities are actually useful. We really like Samsung’s Fast Start (responsible for the speedy wake times) and the Speed Boot manager, where users can choose which programs load first to keep boot time from getting longer as you add more apps. File Share makes it easy to set up a connection between computers on the same Wi-Fi network so they can transfer files wirelessly. And Easy Migration helps users port programs from an old computer to a new one.
While there are multimedia options on the Series 9 (Easy Content Share, Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center, Windows Live Movie Maker), the Mac OS X and iLife ’11 equivalents are superior. iTunes is not only a media player, but has a well-integrated store for digital media. iMovie is both easier to use and has more bells and whistles than WLMM. Plus, the Air includes GarageBand, an audio recording and editing tool that’s useful even if you don’t have a band. The Air doesn’t skimp on utilities, either. OS X also has an integrated migration tool, and Time Machine backups are easy to set up and restore.
The new Mac App Store simplifies things further by giving users a single source for locating and updating apps right from the dock.
Winner: MacBook Air
Apple offers better pre-loaded software for creative users, and the Mac App Store makes it easy to discover and download all types of programs.
Apple backs the MacBook Air with a one-year limited warranty and 90 days of free telephone support (AppleCare). While we’re not fond of the short phone support window, Apple’s website has excellent tech and customer support areas staffed by Apple employees. In addition, Air owners can take their machines to an Apple Store for in-person help with problems. Most help is free, though hardware repairs outside of the warranty period cost extra. Customers may purchase 3 years of AppleCare service for $249. We gave Apple a grade of A in our 2010 Tech Support Showdown.
Samsung backs the Series 9 with a three-year international warranty, which includes 24/7 phone support and two way free standard shipping for repairs. When we tested the company’s tech support last year we gave phone support good marks for their helpful and friendly techs. Since our last test, Samsung has revamped its website to make it easier to find the information users need. Overall, the company’s Tech Support Showdown grade was a C, but we expect a higher web grade when we retest later this year.
Winner: Samsung Series 9
Although the quality of Apple’s support is better–and more accessible–having three years of coverage built in provides great peace of mind.
Neither the MacBook Air or Series 9 are designed to be user-upgradable, so customers will have to choose from the options offered by Apple and Samsung.
The 13-inch Air, starting at $1,299, has two basic configurations with upgrade options for each available on Apple.com:
|MacBook Air||Base Config||Upgrades||Base Config||Upgrades|
1.86-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
|1.86-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||2.13-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo [$100.00]|
|Memory||2GB DDR3||4GB DDR3 [$100.00]||2GB DDR3||4GB DDR3 [$100.00]|
|AppleCare||90 Days||3 Years [$249]||90 Days||3 Years [$249]|
The Samsung Series 9 only has one configuration for $1,649. An enterprise version is available for $1,699 with Windows 7 Professional and TPM security.
If customers configured the MacBook Air to have 4GB of RAM and a three-year warranty, thus bringing the specs closer to the Series 9, the notebooks end up being the same price. However, we like that Apple gives users more choice. There are two CPU, two size of RAM, and two SSD options. Prices range from $1,299 up to $1,948. We would like to see similar options for the Series 9.
Winner: MacBook Air
The much more affordable starting price of the MacBook Air makes it the better value for most. Plus, consumers like more configuration options, even if their options are narrow.