Not every Editors’ Choice-winning notebook is a love-at-first-sight machine, and the Samsung Series 5 Ultra is one such notebook. It probably won’t turn heads or elicit any “wows” from those who look at it casually. But if you had a few notebooks lying around your house to choose among, we bet this would be the one you’d reach for most often—for a short trip, a day trip, a long trip, or a trip to the couch.
If you’ve been keeping up with trends in laptops in 2012, you know about “ultrabooks”—a new breed of exceptionally light laptops built around powerful Intel CPUs and that comply with a set of specifications dictated by Intel. And if you’ve seen any ultrabooks in the flesh (or should that be, “in the metal”?), you probably think of them as slim, sleek, and sexy. But one thing that you don’t expect out of most ultrabooks, given how lean they are, is a DVD drive inside. That’s an inclusion that makes the $949 Samsung Series 5 Ultra stand out from the ultrabook pack.
With a 14-inch screen and a little more girth than most ultrabooks, the Samsung Series 5 14″ Ultra juts out in other ways, too. It’s actually closer in size and weight to the almost-hefty but very sexy HP Envy 14 Spectre, another 14-inch-screened laptop that’s priced $450 more at $1,399. And while we liked the Envy 14 Spectre for its forward-looking innovation and unique design, we like the Series 5 Ultra for its creature comforts and healthy selection of ports. It’s simply a practical machine. With it, you won’t end up stranded in a hotel room or an out-of-town office with all the right cords and no ports to plug them into.
The Series 5 Ultra comes in two screen sizes and three flavors. The $949.99 14-inch model (model NP530U4BI), the one we’re reviewing here, has an optical drive and a 500GB “hybrid”-style hard drive. (The drive is equipped with onboard cache for better performance.) If you prefer something smaller, thinner, and lighter, though, and you can do without the optical drive, Samsung offers a 13-inch model (NP530U3BI) in two configurations. The lower-priced ($899.99) 13-inch model comes with the same 500GB hybrid drive as the 14-incher we tested, while the higher-end ($1,099) version moves you up to a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). All three models use the 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor, have 4GB of RAM, and run the Home Premium version of Windows 7.
Granted, the Series 5 Ultra is no ultra-looker; its appearance is less striking than most other ultrabooks. And its benchmark-test scores, in most cases, hovered just above the ultrabook-category averages. Regardless, we liked this laptop. Samsung products typically have good-looking screens, and the Series 5 Ultra was no exception.
We can’t help but wonder, though, how much less it would cost if it wasn’t called an ultrabook—a distinction that, in itself, is worth a premium. We admired the first wave of ultrabooks for their elegant, MacBook Air—like grace and elegance. The Series 5 Ultra is a good-quality laptop, to be sure, but it didn’t remind us much of the MacBook Air or any of the first ultrabooks we’ve come to know. It’s more practical than pretty.
See the full review at Computer Shopper.