Firmly in the middle of the pack, Samsung doesn’t blow us away, but it isn’t a brand you should ignore, either. The company fared pretty well on our tech support showdown, but didn’t stand out in any other category. Generally speaking, Samsung’s laptops are made with quality construction, but the company doesn’t make very many of them. Primarily, this is the brand to consider if you’re looking for a premium Ultrabook or an affordable Chromebook. Look elsewhere for more variety.
Samsung has been scaling back on the number of notebooks it makes — we reviewed just three of its systems this past year — but all are high quality. By focusing its efforts on high-end systems such as the ATIV Book 9 (4 stars) and the budget-minded Chromebook 2 (3.5 stars), Samsung has been able to deliver consistently strong products.
Samsung continues to fine-tune its tech support, which led to a tie for second place in our last survey. The company added a unique new feature called SPOT (Smart Personal Online Training) that connects laptop owners with knowledgeable Samsung reps. Generally speaking, Samsung did a great job of supplying answers online and over the phone, with the notable exception of knowing how to deal with the company’s own SideSync software.
It’s not that Samsung doesn’t know how to make a pretty notebook — it does. Just check out the ATIV Book 9 (2014 Edition) or the upcoming refresh, the ATIV Book 9 Ultrabook. Made from an Ash Black aluminum chassis, both notebooks are stunning, with dangerous curves in all the right places. It’s just a variation on a theme we’ve seen for the past two years. While we appreciate that the upcoming Ultrabook will weigh a scant 2 pounds, it’s not enough to vault Samsung to the top. The faux-leather clad Chromebook 2 and Chromebook 2 (Intel) don’t bolster the company’s case, either.
MORE: Best Samsung Laptops
Perhaps Samsung should stick to devices with touch screens, because its laptop keyboards are unimpressive. Every Samsung notebook we reviewed suffered from shallow, mushy keys. For good measure, the ATIV Book 9 adds in a touchpad that stuck occasionally and failed at many multitouch gestures in our tests.
Because Samsung is now focusing on the extreme low end (Chromebooks) and high end of the laptop market, its screens are understandably a mixed bag. We found the Chromebook 2 to have limited viewing angles with just decent brightness (214 nits), but the 15.6-inch ATIV Book 9 boasted a colorful panel (98 percent of the gamut) with plenty of brightness (279 nits). The 13-inch ATIV Book 9 Plus’ quad HD screen (3200 x 1800 pixels) is sharper with generous viewing angles.
Samsung hasn’t put a huge focus on new notebooks or innovations over the past year, instead opting to make small improvements to its already solid products. The company recently infused its Chromebook 2 with a beefier Intel Celeron processor. The ATIV Book series remains Samsung’s flagship, and consistently impresses with its thin design, bright display and rich audio. The 2015 edition of the ATIV Book 9 is Samsung’s lightest yet, boasting a strikingly slim 2-pound frame and a crisp, quad HD 12.2-inch display.
Samsung’s audio quality falters on its low-end laptops. The speakers on the Samsung Chromebook 2, while loud at 91dB, sounded consistently scratchy. However, the ATIV Book 9 is enhanced with Dolby Digital technology and produced accurate sound with a strong definition between high and low end. Overall, Samsung’s notebooks averaged 87dB, which is slightly higher than the 85dB category average.
While its selection is a little larger than Apple’s, the Samsung family of laptops consists of just two Chromebooks and a few flavors of the ATIV Book 9 and 9 Plus. Unlike Apple, Samsung offers affordable systems that run from $250 to $400. However, both companies fall flat on selection, and Samsung’s lack of an online configurator hurts, too.
Samsung’s laptops saw updated SideSync software this year, which now supports Samsung devices running Android KitKat and later, and computers running Window XP and later or Mac OS. This helpful software conveniently lets you receive phone calls and text messages on your computer. We also like that you can share your phone’s screen on your laptop, and drag and drop content between your PC and your phone.
MORE: Best Laptops
Samsung Link, which lets you access all your content across all your devices, was also updated to integrate with Windows File Explorer. ATIV Book 9s and the One 7 Curved ship with S Player+ media player and S PhotoStudio image viewer and editor. While the upgrades are incremental, Samsung’s offerings are still useful.