Vibrant display. Very lightweight. Useful stylus and features.
High price for the specs. Disappointing build quality. Mediocre battery life.
- Bottom Line
The Notebook 9 Pen is a solid, if somewhat unremarkable 2-in-1 laptop with a useful stylus and pleasing screen. But its price is a bit high for what you get.
Few areas of the PC market have drawn as much attention from consumers and manufacturers alike as 2-in-1s, convertible laptops with rotating screens that can fold back into Tablet mode. As such, it's currently a very competitive space, but Samsung is committed to remaining in the mix. Following the larger Notebook 7 Spin 2-in-1, the Notebook 9 Pen ($1,399) arrives as a light, transformable laptop with a built-in stylus. It has a quick new processor and a vibrant display, but otherwise isn't a terribly remarkable machine compared with the competition. The Editors' Choice Lenovo Yoga 920 offers a battery that lasts twice as long and a premium metal build for a little less money, making it difficult to look past as our top recommendation.
The Notebook 9 Pen is a simple, sleek laptop, all metallic silver with a glistening Samsung logo on the lid. The whole notebook shares the silver color, including the keyboard. The material is a magnesium alloy named Metal12, but it unfortunately feels more like plastic, inexpensive for the price. It's not a particularly sturdy, and machines in this price range generally boast a more premium feel. The Yoga 920, for example, is all metal and super thin. The same goes for the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, as well as the sleek HP Spectre x360 13. (Our 4K review unit of the Spectre x360 13 is pricier, but the high-quality build is present in all units).
The build doesn't feel so flimsy that it might break if given a less-than-severe beating, but it's just disappointing compared with the similarly priced competition. The material does keep the system light at just 2.2 pounds, which was undoubtedly the deciding factor in its use. If keeping as light a bag as possible is your main goal, the Notebook 9 Pen may be your best bet—the other systems mentioned come in closer to or just above 3 pounds, though that's still pretty petite. It measures 0.6 by 12.25 by 8 inches (HWD), so it has a nice and small footprint, leaving plenty of room in your bag.
Flip It and Reverse It
Like the other systems, the Notebook 9 Pen is easily convertible. Its dual hinges allow you to rotate the screen back from standard laptop all the way into Tablet mode, or any point in between. As you may have guessed from the name, this laptop comes with an S Pen stylus. It's included in the price and stored on the right side of the front edge. Pressing in on the end pops it out of its slot so you can grab it, though I wish storing it was as easy. It's difficult to tell at a glance whether or not you're inserting it upside down, and if it's the wrong way, it can get jammed in the slot pretty effortlessly. You'll get used to it—if there's any resistance at the very end, it's in the wrong way—but I still accidentally got it stuck a couple times and needed to pry it out with another object.
Pulling the pen from the slot brings up a digital menu, identical in design and similar in options to the menu on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. The unification of the menu design across smartphone and PC products is worth observing, and is something Samsung touched on multiple times during my interview with them at CES. It speaks to their big picture approach for gaining mindshare and familiarity across product lines, and I'd expect more design cues and features to align across categories going forward. The options on this menu include New Note, View Notes, Smart Select, Screen Write, and Show Window (for second displays). Smart Select allows you to crop a section of the screen and turn it into an editable image, or even a gif. The latter is a cool feature (also available on the Note 8) for making a quick animated image—just select what you want, let it record for a few seconds (15 at most), hit stop, and save the gif. Screen Write is more traditional, capturing the entire current screen so you can doodle or take notes on top of what you were viewing.
The pen is of course most useful in Tablet mode, in which you can place the laptop down flat on a table or in the crook of your arm to draw or write. The different options are useful for professional work like marking up a web page or document, or something more casual like making a quick joke to a friend. As with the Note 8, jotting down a quick handwritten note may be easier than typing, but there may be users who never need to use the function. Since the stylus is enough of a selling point on this system to make it into the name, you'll probably want to think how much utility you'd realistically get out of the stylus.
Samsung knows a thing or two about making screens, and this laptop's display is clear and vibrant. The 13-inch touch display bears a full HD resolution (1,920 by 1,080), and you're not getting QHD or 4K here, it is shared by much of the competition at this price and is suitable for the size. The quality of the screen helps you forget it's not a higher resolution, too, and is overall one of the laptop's highlights.
The keyboard offers a comfortable typing experience, with good travel on the keys without feeling overly bouncy. It's also backlit, though it's worth noting the lighting is strangely a blueish or off-white color instead of a standard clean white. The light doesn't come through the keycaps especially crisply, but is bright enough to still be helpful. The touchpad is smooth to pan and responsive to clicking. There's a fingerprint scanner for sign-in integrated into the right side of the keyboard, rather than off on its own or on the touchpad. I have no issue with the speakers either, which are loud enough for the size of the system and offer solid audio quality.
Ports aren't numerous, but varied enough to cover all the bases. There's a single USB 3.0 port on the right flank, next to a microSD slot and the power button, while the left side holds a USB-C port, an HDMI port, and the headphone jack. That's it as far as ports, but there's no glaring exclusion, and I like the inclusion of traditional USB and newer USB-C—some of the thinner laptops out there have shifted entirely to USB-C, which can be inconvenient for legacy peripherals. Inside, there's a 256GB SSD for storage, which is standard for this type of laptop. You may find yourself wanting more than that depending on the type of work you do, but the Notebook 9 Pen hardly stands apart here—the Yoga 920 and the XPS 13 2-in-1 also include 256GB, while the pricier 4K Spectre x360 13 offers 512GB. The Notebook 9 Pen also includes Bluetooth, and a 720p front-facing webcam on the top bezel. Samsung supports its laptops with a one-year warranty.
Speedy, Short on Stamina
One of the Notebook 9 Pen's high points is its 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U processor. It's an efficient Kaby Lake R model—not quite as exciting as the Coffee Lake series that's coming to laptops soon—and the same CPU found in the Yoga 920. Coupled with 8GB of memory, also like the Yoga 920, the Notebook 9 Pen is proficient across the board for everyday tasks and media projects. It topped the Yoga 920 on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional general productivity test, and was just slightly behind on the multimedia tests. The Notebook 9 Pen is quick overall; this class of laptop may not be powerful enough to make it a real workstation for intensive video or photo projects, but it can handle moderate workloads and your average processing or multitasking job.
One area where the Notebook 9 Pen severely lags behind the Yoga 920, and indeed most of the competition, is battery life. The laptop managed 8 hours and 27 minutes on our rundown test, which is an acceptable time generally, but pales in comparison with the alternatives. The Yoga 920 lasted for 22:38 on the same test, the XPS 13 2-in-1 for 11:46, and the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch for 16:26. The closest competitor is the Spectre x360 13 at 8:18, but shorter battery life is expected when the battery is powering a 4K screen. Eight and a half hours will get you through most of a day with low to moderate use, but if you take a long flight, have your laptop on through much of the day off the charger, or take it out in the field, you'll definitely have to keep an eye out for power outlets. It's a concern users would rather not have, and when a product makes a point to be portable (with weight and convertibility), it's best if the battery can match.
As with the rest of the category, 3D and gaming performance was a weak point. The integrated graphics included in processors (as opposed to the discrete graphics cards present in gaming systems) simply aren't up to the task beyond simple titles. If you'd like to just play Hearthstone and some less intensive 2D games on the side, these laptops can handle them on lower settings, but definitely don't expect this system to serve as a gaming machine, or run titles well in HD.
Solid, Not a Standout
The Notebook 9 Pen doesn't get anything monumentally wrong, but it doesn't justify its rather high price, either. Its build is on the flimsy side, especially looking at the competition, and the battery life could be much better. It's an easy system to use, and it performs well, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy that would draw you to choose it over the alternatives. The pen is useful, but the Lenovo offers an optional stylus of its own for the Yoga, if that's something you're after. Given the design, battery life, and general experience, the Yoga 920 is still our top pick.
Other Samsung Laptops & Notebooks
About the Author
Matthew Buzzi is a Hardware Analyst at PCMag, focusing on laptops and desktops with a specialty in gaming systems and games. Matthew earned a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism and interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming before turning it into part of his career. He spends entirely too much time on Twitter (find him @M… See Full Bio
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