The good: Beautiful, sleek design and a razor-thin all-metal body make the 15-inch Samsung Series 9 the most stunning and portable larger-screen laptop we've seen; the keyboard and big, bright screen are great, too.
The bad: A lack of higher-end features, such as an optical drive, and the dongle-requiring Ethernet and HDMI ports mean that this larger Series 9 isn't all that much different under the hood from its tinier 13-inch sibling. Also, it only has 128GB of SSD storage, and battery life is good but not spectacular.
The bottom line: The latest Samsung Series 9 goes extra-big, and the gamble pays off with the most portable and comfortable 15-incher you're likely to find. However, its high price and lack of higher-end features don't make it the best value.
Are larger-scale ultrabooks the laptop version of "Dead man walking"? Well, it's a disconnect if you like ultrabooks for what they were originally promised to have: small-scale portability. Taking the thin splendor of a brilliantly executed 13-incher and going supersize feels a little like making the laptop version of Amazon's Kindle DX. Then again, the iPad succeeded at transcending being a big iPod Touch, so maybe anything's possible.
I felt more than a little deja vu handling the 15-inch Samsung Series 9 NP900X4B-A02, a larger version of the 13-inch Series 9 laptop that I fell in love with exactly one year ago. Actually, that's not entirely accurate: the new 15-incher is a large-scale version of the second-gen Series 9, which we took a peek at earlier this year.
The second-gen Series 9 is far better built, sleeker, and smaller, managing to slide into a footprint befitting a 12-inch laptop. Its big brother, this new 15-incher, goes in the opposite direction, a trend in ultrabooks we're seeing in laptops like the HP Envy 14 Spectre and Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 (even though Samsung doesn't call the Series 9 an ultrabook, it clearly is).
The larger version makes me feel like I've shrunk a bit, but it's still a gorgeous piece of equipment from a structural standpoint. The chassis, keyboard, and touch pad -- even the screen hinge -- have exactly the sturdy, clean design that anyone ponying up for a pricey, fancy laptop would hope for. The screen's big and bright, too, just like its predecessor's. What's not to like?
Well, first, the price: the 15-inch Series 9 NP900X4B-A02 will cost $1,499 when it debuts in late April. That's less than the $1,600-plus for last year's Series 9 13-incher, but it's still way up in the stratosphere. It's not unreasonable for a larger laptop, provided it also has better specs and performance than a tiny ultraportable computer.
That's problem No. 2: under the hood, the 15-inch Series 9 is really just the same as its soon-to-arrive 13-inch sibling. It has a Core i5 processor and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), and even that big screen has the same 1,600x900-pixel resolution. An included 8GB of RAM is the only notably lofty spec. There's no optical drive (of course), and there aren't even any extra full-size ports like Ethernet and HDMI; you'll need dongles or special cables, and only the Ethernet dongle comes in the box.
Still, there's no denying that the larger Series 9 is a beautiful computer. However, is it worth the $1,499 price, especially when even a MacBook Air costs less, and perfectly capable if slightly less sexy full-size laptops can be had for half of that? That's up to you. After all, Samsung makes a less thin but equally powerful Series 5 Ultra that's still reasonably slim but costs over $500 less. Also consider that, for $100 less, the next-generation 13-inch Samsung Series 9 will offer much of the same functionality, in a smaller size with half the RAM. I certainly would love a 15-inch Series 9 if it fell in my lap, but it's a lot of money for what you get. In this instance, you're truly getting a super-size ultrabook. You're paying for thin.
Larger-screen ultrabooks will be a trend throughout 2012, but I'm still not sure I get the motivation for larger, thinner laptops...even though this Series 9 is probably one of the best of them, if you're judging purely on style and feel.
Note: our review version came with Windows 7 Professional installed, but the retail version will ship with Windows 7 Home Premium.