Speed and design marred by lack of attention to detail to input methods (December 12th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: Samsung
- Speed - Tight, refined design
- Terrible trackpad - Overly springy keyboard - Fragile AC adapter
Samsung has such a wide variety of products with similar names, it can be hard to identify a premium product from it by name alone. While the Samsung Series 7 Ultra notebook does have a superlative in its name, there's not a lot else there that proves the pedigree of the product on first glance. Let's get this out of the way first: Samsung's 13.3-inch Samsung Series 7 Ultra is a high-end product, with case detailing matching its excellent computing performance. So, the laptop looks great and crunches numbers nicely, but is it an entire package?
Tech-wise, the ultrabook from Samsung utilizes aluminum throughout its casing, and is being positioned by the Korean company as an ultraportable with multimedia prowess. Underscoring this, the Series 7 Ultra centers on a 13-inch, 1080p PLS 10-point multi-touch display with a 1920x1080 resolution and 350nits of brightness, driven by a AMD Radeon HD 8500 GPU. Users have the option of Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors and up to 256GB of SSD storage. We tested the i5 version with a 128GB SSD, and 8GB of DDR3 RAM.
When the news hit the wire in January about this laptop, we weren't sure what to expect. Samsung has an arsenal of computers, all the way from mass-produced $400 boxen aimed at the Wal-Mart shopping crowd to $3,000-plus workstation replacements. The Series 7 Ultra is a hybrid between a portable workstation and an ultrabook, leaning towards performance a bit more than the ultrabook line generally does. The aluminum body is well-constructed, with no machining marks or other visible flaws. Like most aluminum finishes (and touch screens for that matter) visible fingerprints are an issue.
The case hides a single USB 3.0 port, a Ethernet port with fold-down door, a miniDisplayPort, full HDMI, and two USB 2.0 ports. This is confusing to us -- the cost of having USB 3.0 on all three ports couldn't be so much as to prevent inclusion in a laptop that retails for well over $1,000, so why compromise?
Battery life is good for the machine as compared to most of its competitors. We managed seven hours of life from the battery routinely, with some less-demanding runs stretching out to eight. Vigorous use, including gaming, shrinks real-world runtime to five hours. The charger is the typical DC charging 1/8-inch diameter prong, which we found to be delicate after a single relatively minor incident has bent it at the plastic head. It still works, but isn't straight anymore after only a light jostle that burlier chargers, or Apple's MagSafe plug (for all its flaws) would have shrugged off.
The keyboard has an initially uncomfortable spring-on-key press action, which is a bit hard to describe. You almost feel like the key is hitting your finger on the way back up, the bounce-back is so strong. It doesn't take long to adjust to it, though, so its not a major problem, but does bear mentioning.
Unfortunately, the trackpad is simply abhorrent. Button press sensitivity is way too high! While the pad has sufficient precision for pointer placement, the button sensitivity is jacked up in the hardware, and even the Windows adjustment control panel for the feature isn't enough to turn it down to acceptable levels. Trackpads aren't new technology -- this is a feature that should be refined by now, and is in the hands of other manufacturers. In the process of testing, we switched to a mouse and the touchscreen for everything, as the trackpad button feature is just that bad.
The JBL sound system in the computer is touted as a big feature, but frankly it isn't that special when compared to similar machines in the price range. As we've mentioned before: thin and light is important, but the trend has taken a toll on overall audio quality. The JBL system is passable, but for any audio work requiring significant undistorted volume from the audio we would really recommend headphones or just about any external speaker set, either wired or wireless, to boost the audio from the slim laptop.
We've gotten to a point in the industry where a laptop is as much a style choice as it is a practical one. Design is important now, where once it was just performance. There is plenty of style and plenty of speed baked into the Samsung Series 7 Ultra which we like a great deal -- but unfortunately, there is a lack of attention to detail in the user input devices.
Where the keyboard bounce is a surmountable bother, a better trackpad is a must for future incarnations of this line, and perhaps is now deal-breaker for some. If Samsung revises the trackpad or the user chooses to not use it in favor of alternative input like the touchscreen, the laptop is a solid four stars. As it is, the issues with an input device so critical to the routine operation of the machine cut its rating to three.