Head-To-Head: Samsung ATIV Book 9 Vs. Apple MacBook Air

Samsung vs. Apple

With all the Ultrabooks around these days, reporting that a vendor's new laptop is thin, light and responsive is like saying it's backlit, has a trackpad and offers great battery life. Since Intel's Ultrabook spec was modeled after Apple's MacBook Air, it seems only fitting to compare any Ultrabook devices that come along with actual products from Apple.

One of the latest Ultrabooks to arrive at the CRN Test Center is the Samsung ATIV Book 9, one of a series of new ultraportables. We compare Samsung's new line with Apple's latest MacBook Air series, which launched June 10. It bears mention that Apple, always on the cutting edge, built its new line using a chip that was unveiled only a week earlier--Intel's 4th generation Haswell chip, its most advanced and power-efficient processor to date.

Model Mania

Samsung offers seven models of the 13-inch Ultrabook formerly known as Series 9 ranging in list price from $999 to $1,699. Two $999 entry-level models are offered with 128 GB solid-state drives plus different versions of the Intel Core i5 processor at different clock speeds and Intel HD Graphics editions. Four models are available with faster, more powerful Intel Core i7 processors and options for upgrading to 8 GB RAM and SSD capacity of 256 GB. Operating system options are Windows 7, Windows 7 Pro and Windows 8.

Apple's configuration model for MacBook Air is a bit simpler. The company offers 128 GB and 256 GB editions of the 13-inch MacBook Air with 1.3 GHz Intel Core i5 Haswell processor at $1,099 and $1,299 respectively. Each can be ordered with a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM or both; the 256 GB version can be ordered with 512 GB. All come with Mac OS X Mountain Lion.

Has Haswell?

Samsung reportedly will not offer Ultrabook models with Intel's power-efficient Haswell processors until the fall. Still, with battery life rated at about eight hours of continuous use, the ATIV Book 9 is no power hog. While its numerous Ultrabook models are perhaps a bit more complicated to sift through than Apple's, Samsung does offer more flexibility in terms of processor and graphics options than Apple.

All models from both companies have two cores. Between its Core i5- and Core i7-based models, Samsung's clock rates (without Turbo Boost) range between 1.7 GHz and 2.0 GHz. Its most powerful, the ATIV Book 9 NP900X3E, comes with the 2.0GHz Intel Core i7 3537U. Meanwhile, Apple has Haswell in all of its 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air models, and boasts major improvements in battery life. Base models are built with the 1.3 GHz Intel Core i5 processor with a maximum clock rate of 2.6 GHz in Turbo Mode. The 1.7 GHz Intel Core is an option for all models and can boost to 3.3 GHz when needed.

Graphics Output

All but one of Samsung's seven 13-inch Ultrabook models come with Intel HD 4000 Graphics. The odd man out is the ATIV Book 9 model NP900X3D, which comes with a 1.4 GHz Intel Core i5 2537M CPU with Intel HD Graphics 3000 and 1600x900 maximum resolution. Resolution of Samsung's $1,399 high-end model tops out at 1920x1080, full HD.

Native resolution of the 13-inch MacBook Air is 1440x900. All MacBook Air models come with Intel HD 5000 Graphics, which supports mirroring or simultaneous display of full native resolution of the built-in display plus a maximum for external monitors of 2560x1600. MacBooks include Thunderbolt, a multi-talented digital output port that supports DisplayPort, DVI, dual-link DVI, VGA and HDMI with optional adapters. Thunderbolt also can connect to FireWire and Ethernet at speeds up to 10 Gbps.

Weights and Measures

Apple decided years ago that laptops don't need to be symmetrical. Today's iMacs are another example; its edges are razor-thin compared to its belly. Hence, the MacBook Air's uneven "height" measurement when closed, which tapers from 0.68 inches down to 0.11 inches. Samsung's Book 9 measures an even 0.51-inches from front to back. Side-to-side it's 12.35 inches wide and 8.6 inches deep. At 12.8 inches wide and 8.94 inches deep, the 13-inch MacBook Air is nearly a half an inch wider and a third of an inch deeper than the Book 9.

Nonetheless, that tapered edge has a certain magic, and gives Apple's ultraportable a certain air even though Samsung's Book 9 is smaller overall. Samsung tips the scale at 2.56 pounds, nearly a half-pound lighter than Apple's 2.96 pounds.

Battery and Charger

Samsung includes a 44 watt-hour, 4-cell lithium polymer battery that's rated to deliver "up to 9 hours" on a charge. Also provided is a 40-watt AC adapter with detachable IEC C5 "Mickey Mouse" power cord and cylindrical right-angle power connector for the DC power. This connector is thinner than most and tended to slip out of its socket during tests. Charging feedback is provided by the Book 9 by an LED that's visible only when the lid is open; the Windows 8 Lock Screen displays a battery-charge fuel gauge.

The MacBook Air comes with a 54 watt-hour lithium polymer battery that's rated 10 hours of movie playback, 12 hours of wireless web and 30 days of standby time. It's charged with a 45-watt MagSafe 2 power adapter with Apple's proprietary AC power connector and magnetic connector for the laptop side. An LED on the MagSafe connector shines amber while charging and green when charged. Neither company's batteries are user-replaceable.

Inputs and Outputs

Samsung's seven Book 9 models all offer roughly the same array of inputs and outputs (pictured), with just some slight variations on the media card readers. All come with one each USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 with sleep charge, microphone/headphone combo jack, multi-card reader (3- or 4-in-one, depending on model), and Gigabit Ethernet port (with required adapter). There's also a VGA and Micro HDMI ports, both of which require an optional adapter. Samsung also packs a pair of 1.5-watt speakers, internal mic and HD webcam.

Apple no longer bothers with USB 2.0. The MacBook Air includes two USB 3.0 and a Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt port for connecting to external monitors, storage devices and networking. There's also a SDXC card slot, stereo speakers, a 720p FaceTime HD camera dual mics a headphone port and support for the iPhone headset with remote and mic. Both company's ultraportables feature a backlit keyboard and large touchpad with support for multi-finger gestures.


As for wireless communications, Samsung and Apple are mostly on par. The Book 9 and MacBook Air both offer dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n; Apple also supports the emerging 802.11ac high-speed spec; Samsung supports Intel's emerging Wireless Display (WiDi) spec. Both include Bluetooth 4.0. Samsung includes wired Gigabit Ethernet in the box; Apple requires a Thunderbolt adapter.

The Bottom Line

Samsung offers a fairly compelling product with the ATIV Book 9 series of Ultrabook devices. The $999-list ATIV Book 9 delivers a dual-core 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5 processor with Intel HD 4000 Graphics driving a 1600 x 900 LED-lit display, 128 GB SSD and 4GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM running 64-bit Windows 8. For $100 more, Apple's $1,099 MacBook Air delivers the same amount of SSD and RAM, a display with slightly lower resolution driven by a slightly slower dual-core Intel Core i5 processor but with the more capable HD 5000 Graphics processor running Mac OS X Mountain Lion.

On the higher end, a $1,399 Samsung ATIV Book 9 delivers a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor with 256 GB SSD, 4GB of RAM, 1920x1080 display driven by Intel HD 4000 Graphics running 64-bit Windows 8. The same system with an Apple logo and OS, with a slightly lower resolution driven by a more capable GPU lists for $1,449.