I've been using a second generation Samsung Series 9 laptop for about a week now and here are my early thoughts.
First off, this is the most visually attractive Windows laptop on the market today. There's just nothing ugly about it -- no "nice except for the ..." problems that all other 2012 Windows laptops suffer.
Photo from Samsung, and used without any license
The chassis is super-thin. It's thinner than the 13" Macbook Air and where the Air prefers straight lines and wedges, the Series 9 is designed around a few thoughtfully crafted curves. There's the obvious curves at the ports area and the hinge and base of the lid, but this motif also extends to the gentle recess of the keyboard and the rounded rectangle carve-out for the trackpad. These lines help to give the Series 9 an even thinner profile than the Air without looking anything like an Air clone.
The bezel around the screen is quite small. It's 3/8 of an inch on the right and left sides and 1/2 an inch on the top. Further, the actual LCD goes right up to that edge so you don't get the giant bezel "black eye" look that so many laptops suffer. Surprisingly, with 180,000 more pixels than the 13" Macbook Air, the Series 9 13" is smaller by almost 1/2 inch in width and 1/3 inch in length. When closed, it's also thinner by about 1/6 of an inch at its thickest point.
The laptop's Samsung branding is mostly under control -- something that many Windows laptops make a mess of. The off center, slightly raised SΛMSUNG label on the outside of the lid is a strikingly bright silver but not so large that it's obnoxious. They could have done away with the nearly as large but not so shiny SΛMSUNG white silk-screened badge on the interior below the screen, IMO. Of course the underside of the laptop is a bit of a mess with silk-screened Intel and Windows logos, but out of sight is nearly out of mind.
There are a couple of seams I don't like, including where the inside hinge cover meets the screen bezel, but the main seam for the base of the chassis being wrapped under the edge and mostly invisible is a welcome move for a Windows laptop and the design is well ahead enough compared to other Windows laptops that I'm willing to overlook the couple of places where it falls short in hiding its seams.
Photo from SamsungTomorrow Flickr account, and used without any license
The aluminum shell coloring on this model is called "Mineral Ash Black". It's a rich gray matte finish that's actually leaning a bit towards dark slate blue (compare with the much truer gray finish of the trackpad, for example.) The edges of the shell give the appearance of having been carved off revealing a bright aluminum interior. It's a nice accent but I would have preferred it to not have been carried through to the cut aluminum edge surrounding the trackpad, where I find it somewhat distracting.
The black keys of the chicklet keyboard have white labels for the primary keys and light blue labels for the Fn keys. When the keyboard backlight is active, the key labels glow a nice pale green (and a blue-ish green for the Fn keys.) There are also three bright blue indicator LEDs that glow rather strong at night. I'd prefer if the power LED, "radios are on" LED, and Fn lock LED weren't quite so strong and blue, but they're not overwhelming and at least it's only three little LEDs and not the mess of huge ones you see on previous Samsung laptops.
So, for a fairly clean laptop, there are a fair number of colors here: the dark matte slate blue shell, the bright silver branding, the brushed aluminum accents, the gray trackpad, the black keys, the white silk-screening, the green backlighting, and the blue LEDs. Surprisingly, the colors mostly all work well and come off as restrained compared to other models.
That's the look, so what about the feel. First, this thing is solid. It's super-solid. There's no flexing and the hinge is fluid, opens quite wide, and holds the screen with no movement at all even at the hinge boundaries. Second, it's really light. It's the lightest 13" laptop I've ever used. At 2.56 lbs, it's nearly half a pound lighter than the 13" Macbook Air and about half way between the 13" and 11" Air weights. Carrying the laptop around the office, both open and closed, is a joy.
The keyboard is shallow but it's not causing me typos except where the key layout differs from my other laptops. There's no comparing any chicklet keyboard to the classic ThinkPad keyboards I love so much, but it compares favorably to other chicklet keyboards I've used (except the ThinkPad Edge keyboard which is actually pretty nice.) Still, if you can't live without deep key travel, I recommend avoiding this machine. If there's any place where this laptop doesn't stand up to competitors, it's the shallow travel of the keys.
The trackpad is made by Elan and it's much better than anything I've used on other Windows machines. It's certainly not as refined or as advanced as you'll get on a Mac laptop, but two finger scrolling, right and left click, pinch to zoom, and tap to click all work quite well. The Elan-supplied trackpad utility doesn't have as many options as I'd like but it did let me set two-finger tap as middle-click so I'm satisfied. As I do with the keys from my ThinkPad x220, I'll also miss the ThinkPad Trackpoint. Fortunately, this trackpad with decent two-finger scrolling works well enough that I'll get by. If you've been avoiding Windows laptops because of the absolutely horrendous trackpads, this one warrants a test. As I said, it's not perfect (like a Mac's is) but it's functional.
I've covered look and feel, so what's left? Ah yes, performance and specs. I haven't run any benchmarks (and don't intend to) but here's what I will say. The Series 9 does what I need it to plenty fast. It boots up in less than 10 seconds! It wakes from sleep in less than 2 seconds.
The screen is a matte 1600x900 which is a small step up in resolution from the 13" Macbook Air but not quite the horizontal resolution I'd prefer. The matte screen is a huge win for those like me who dread the highly reflective glossies Apple is pushing these days. It's also very bright (400 NITS) and I have to run with it turned down a couple of notches during the day except when I'm outside in bright sunlight. In the sun, with the brightness cranked, it's just stellar. At night, the lowest brightness setting is just about right but I sometimes wish for one or two steps dimmer when the room is pitch dark. Colors are reasonably accurate next to my well-tuned external IPS monitors and contrast is great in all but the widest vertical viewing angles where it's still tolerable but not great.
The processor is a second generation dual-core Intel Core i5-2467M clocked at 1.6Ghz and while that's plenty for my tasks, if you're trying to set records or doing really processor intense work all day long, you might want to wait on the upgrade to Intel's Ivy Bridge which I expect sometime later this year. Ivy Bridge should bring a nice boost to power, graphics, and battery life.
Speaking of battery life, I've been spending a lot of time on battery this last week. I've measured anywhere from 5 hours to 6 hours depending on screen brightness and how actively I was using it. This is very close to what I've experienced with my limited Macbook Air usage, and for a Windows machine of this size and weight, it's not bad at all.
The Series 9 comes with a 128 GB SSD, and 4 GB of RAM. I look forward to future versions with larger SSDs but I'm really not complaining here.
There are two USB ports, a 2.0 and a 3.0, and micro HDMI port. The LAN port and the VGA port require dongles. With so many co-workers using Airs and the office video set-ups all including Mac hook-ups, I'd have preferred a mini DisplayPort for compatibility. One of these days we'll all get on the same page with display ports :-)
One last note on specs. The audio on this thing is LOUD. It's loud and pretty clear. The sound field is wide too. Dynamic range isn't great but it's not bad either. I was really surprised by this volume though considering the tiny package. It may be the loudest speakers I've experienced in a laptop. That sound, combined with its decent LCD, and this machine makes for a nice movie-watching experience. The glossy screens will be a bit better for movies, but IMO they're far less nice for non-movie content. The Series 9 is a good balance.
The second generation Samsung Series 9 is well ahead of all the other Windows laptops in looks, feel, and power, and it matches or beats the Macbook Air in many respects. This is the first Windows machine I could say that about with a straight face since I began looking for a Windows Air alternative several years ago. If you're looking for a Windows laptop that can stand its ground with the Macbook Air, this is the one.