Samsung Notebook 9 15 Ext review: Quite possibly the best 15-inch Ultrabook

What happens when you combine some of the best qualities of the Dell XPS 15 and the HP Spectre x360 15 and make it all weigh less than three pounds? The Samsung Notebook 9 15 Ext.

Best Samsung Laptop
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Recommended Award

Falling into the category of a traditional Ultrabook with no touchscreen, the Notebook 9 15 is a stunning achievement in design and efficiency by a company that deserves more credit for its Windows 10 PCs than it gets.

How can you describe a 15-inch laptop that weighs only 2.7 lbs (1.22 kg), has a NVIDIA GeForce 940MX GPU and gets 10 hours of battery life? In this full review, I'll explain what else Samsung got right with this $1,400 laptop — and why it may be the best 15-inch Ultrabook available.

About this review

The Samsung Notebook 9 15 Ext (NP900X5N-X01US) was purchased from photo and video site B&H for $1,397. There is only one configuration option for this model, though a lower cost version with no discrete GPU and only 8GB of RAM (versus 16GB) is available for $1,149.

Hardware and features

For those looking for a 2-in-1 laptop that can transform into a tablet or has active pen support, the Notebook 9 is not your device. In every way, Samsung made the new Notebook 9 15 to be a very traditional Ultrabook. It's thin, light, and has lots of ports, and it's built for business and productivity. It's the ideal laptop for students, businesses, and anyone else who spends a lot of time writing.

Nonetheless, Samsung put some impressive hardware into such a small and nimble package. Here is what the Ext version of the Notebook 9 15 packs:

Samsung Notebook 9 15 Ext technical specifications

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CategoryNotebook 9 15 Ext
OSWindows 10 Home
Processor7th-Gen Intel Core i7-7500U dual-core
2.7 GHz, Turbo up to 3.5GHz
Internal storage256GB SSD PCIe NVMe (PM961)
RAM16GB DDR4 2,133 MHz
Display15-inch 1080p LED IPS, non-touch
GraphicsIntel HD 620
Discrete graphicsNVIDIA GeForce 940 MX
Windows HelloYes (Fingerprint)
Keyboard backlitYes (multi-stage, auto)
Portsone Thunderbolt 3 via USB Type-C
two USB 3.0 Type-A
one USB 2.0 Type-A
one HDMI
headphone and microphone port
WirelessIntel dual-band AC-8265
Bluetooth 4.2
Weight2.73 lbs / 1.24 kg
Dimensions (W x H x D)13.7" x 0.6" x 9.0" / 34.8 cm x 1.5 cm x 22.9 cm
ColorsSilver ("Light Titan")

Everything about the hardware choices here made by Samsung is excellent. The processor is the latest "Kaby Lake" Core i7, and while it's only dual-core it still packs a punch. The RAM is soldered on so there is no way to upgrade it, but it's speedy at 2,133MHz, and 16GB of RAM is enough for this class of device.

For storage, it's no surprise that Samsung uses its very own Samsung PM961 solid-state drive (SSD), which is equivalent to 256GB of the commercial Samsung 960 EVO SSD. It's an excellent SSD. While 256GB is a bit limiting, you can upgrade it if you need more space.

Samsung opted for Intel's dual-band AC-8265 wireless card for Wi-Fi. That card supports Bluetooth 4.2, MU-MIMO, 802.11r, 802.11k, and 802.11v along with more standard 802.11ac. It's the latest card from Intel, which is well known for its excellent drivers. That card is soldered on as well, however, so you won't be able to swap it out.

The NVIDIA GeForce 940MX is an attractive card. It's older and is used by manufacturers to add some added graphics boost to newer laptops. It's not made for gaming per se, but it will certainly aid in photo editing, web browsing, some video work and even playing some casual games, such as like Pinball FX2. HP also uses this same GPU in the HP Spectre x360 15 but it also uses a 4K display versus Samsung's more conservative Full-HD choice.

Build quality and design

I have used Samsung's previous Notebook 9 15 from 2016, as well as this new refresh. It's clear to me Samsung is listening to its users' feedback. Specifically, the company added a fingerprint reader and made the keyboard backlit. These are both unique additions, and it is evident that Samsung is still attuned to user needs when making PCs.

The Notebook 9 15's design for 2017 has changed significantly. Gone are the tapered edges and black keys. Instead, Samsung rounded all the corners and edges, giving the device a more uniform and symmetric look. The keys are also now silver to match the chassis.

Due to the silver metal — what Samsung calls "Light Titan" — users will inevitably compare the Notebook 9 to an Apple MacBook. While I see the similarities, especially between quality and design consistency, I think the generalization is too broad. It is, however, one of the nicest laptops I have used based on quality and design.

The Light Titan metal does not show any grease or dirt, which means the Notebook 9 rarely needs a wipe down. It's just a very clean machine.

It is hard to put into words just how light the Notebook 9 is compared to other 15-inch laptops. The Dell XPS 15 and HP Spectre x360 15 both weigh around 4.4 lbs (2 kg), making the Notebook 9 nearly 2 lbs (0.9kg) lighter.

It's borderline absurd.

The laptop feels hollow, and it's so light that it boggles the mind when using it. When you open it up, there is even extra space on the inside. In theory, the company could have put a larger battery in, but that would have made it heavier and more expensive. Plus, this laptop already gets crazy battery life, making any additional power unnecessary.

While the metal is cool to the touch, it is exceptionally thin and appears to be a combination of plastic and metal layered together.

Samsung makes opening and servicing the Notebook 9 very easy, but you can only swap out the SSD because everything else is soldered to the board.

The bottom of the Notebook 9 is rigid, but the top display has some flex in the middle when closed. That's just a side effect of going for thin and light. Luckily, the keyboard deck is also very sturdy for typing.

Perhaps the most surprising "test" is that the display for the Notebook 9 can be opened with one hand with ease. While I wouldn't recommend buying a laptop just for that, it's a testament to Samsung's design abilities.

This LED is blue for power, green for charged, and red when charging. Nice touch.

Finally, on the top left keyboard deck, there is a small LED with three color stages: blue for powered on, green for fully charged, and red for charging. It's a subtle and nice addition that more manufacturers should adopt. On the top right side is the elongated and tactile power button.

Display is the sum of its parts

A non-touch Full HD (1920 x 1080) display that is just 15 inches — not the usual 15.6 inches — in 2017 is not cutting edge. Companies such as Dell and HP are putting out 4K displays in all sorts of laptops, and even Samsung has a "pro" version of this notebook with a touch-enabled 4K screen.

Nonetheless, Samsung did an outstanding job here with the Notebook 9's display. It's sharp, exceptionally bright, and the color saturation is excellent.

Samsung includes some nifty tools to control the display's color profiles, such as dynamic, standard photo editing, and reading. For those who want a more hands-off approach, there is an auto mode that will choose the best color profile based on the content you are viewing.

An "outdoor mode" lets the brightness ramp up to just over 400 nits, ensuring legibility in the sun. The display itself, while technically glossy, absorbs reflections very well, making it almost a hybrid matte-glossy screen. It's the best of both worlds. This glossy screen is one that I don't mind using.

There is also an optional high-dynamic-range (HDR) setting that ramps up the display contrast even higher, making it ideal for watching movies, videos or viewing photos.

The bezels are also relatively thin on this laptop, particularly on the sides where they are millimeters in width. The top bezel is a little thicker, but Samsung rightly puts the 720p webcam in its place with a few microphones.

Speaking of that webcam, it's only OK, unfortunately, at 720p. It gets the job done, but Samsung makes good cameras and this one does not live up to expectations.

I should remark that the display hinge is also one of the smoothest and most effortless to open and close. Samsung also made that hinge open to 180 degrees so it can lay flat. It's an odd thing that isn't very practical, but it also does not have any negatives that I can find.

For some reason the Notebook 9 15 Ext does this.

Putting aside the lack of touch or high resolution, the Notebook 9's display is one of the best Full HDs on the market. In short, the display looks better than its specs suggest, and that's a good thing.

Keyboard is backlit

The biggest oversight in last year's Notebook 9 15 was a keyboard that did not have backlit keys. The decision seemed odd for what is a premium Ultrabook. For 2017, Samsung delivered a fix in this year's refresh.

The Notebook 9 15 features an excellent spacious, chicklet-styled keyboard.

The backlight is a bit peculiar, however. It is yellow-green. It works well, but you will only want to use it when it is dark and not semi-light out. Like HP's all silver Spectre x360 13, the Notebook 9 has silver keys making any LED light contrast difficult. That is why Samsung smartly offset it with a yellow-green hue, but it can still cause some difficulty when there is light in the room. The system is multi-stage, and it even turns on when the sensor detects it is dark enough. I appreciate all those things, and it is an improvement from last year.

Although tough to see in photos the keyboard backlight is a unique greenish-yellow.

The Notebook 9's keyboard is outstanding. The keys are a little slippery, being metal, but the chicklet design, smooth travel, and even, key return make it one of the best keyboards on the market. The full-size Backspace and Enter keys work well, and the arrow keys, while small, get the job done.

While I would still rank the Surface Book's and Spectre x360's keyboards more highly, the Notebook 9's is close enough and sits right up there with those devices.

New fingerprint reader

Another missing feature in last year's Notebook 9 was Windows Hello, Microsoft's biometric authentication system for Windows 10. For 2017, there is an included all-metal fingerprint reader that sits on the keyboard deck right below the vertical Home key row.

FPC makes the fingerprint reader and not Synaptics, but that's not an issue. The reader worked every single time with no misreads. The placement is ideal, and it is easily discernable from the other keys.