The market is flooded with manufacturers touting the latest and slimmest laptops. The Ultrabook seems to be the only thing on people’s minds, and every month we see a new model crop up that promises better battery life while trying to push the limits of both design and weight. The latest contender to weigh in (literally) is the Samsung Series 5 Ultra. At first glance it may look like a sleek and stylish Ultrabook, but upon closer inspection you’ll find that it barely makes the criteria.
Build quality & Design
The Series 5 sports a sleek design with no patterns or other visual treats. The top panel sports a sleek aluminum finish with a metallic Samsung logo on the side. Unfortunately, the metal seems to stop here as opening the lid you’ll find an abundance of plastic surround the screen and keyboard – the palm rest thankfully is brushed metal.
The plastic doesn’t look unsightly in any way, but feels a bit flimsy if you apply a slight bit of pressure to it. In fact, my review unit had the left side popping out, which was rather alarming.
One of the good things about the Series 5 is the abundance of ports on this unit, which is the first red flag that this isn’t a true Ultrabook. While traditional Ultrabooks often sport a minimum number of ports, there plenty of connectivity options available here. On the left side of the unit is the power connector, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports, as well as VGA and HDMI output and a combine headphone/microphone jack. On the opposite side is an optical drive, USB 2.0 port, and 4 in 1 memory card reader. Again, the inclusion of an optical drive is a telltale sign that this isn’t a true Ultrabook.
Screen and Keyboard
The screen on the Series 5 is certainly impressive. It has a matte finish rather than a glossy one, which makes it great for use in outside conditions. While some colors and whites aren’t reproduced as accurately, it’s a small price to play for a laptop screen that you can actually see in direct sunlight.
The keyboard adopts a standard chiclet style which is the same on most other notebooks and Ultrabooks. While I still prefer a traditional keyboard layout, typing wasn’t too much of a problem as the keys were of the right size and spaced out evenly enough. Brightness, audio, Wi-fi and other settings are controlled by the function keys at the top of the keyboard, and Samsung’s on-screen software will let you know when you’ve activated a function key. I noticed that at times there was a slight delay between when a function key was pressed and being activated. One gripe I have is that the keyboard is not backlit, which is something I’ve now come to expect of most notebooks and even Ultrabooks. The other complaint is that I found the palmrest slightly uncomfortable after extended periods of use – the metal edge does leave quite an impression in your hands if you’re using this notebook for a lengthy period of time.
The spacious trackpad at the bottom is great for navigating around Windows, and also supports multi-gestures like two finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom. It’s not clickable though, so you’ll have to tap on the trackpad or use the buttons at the bottom. While the buttons were of a decent size, I found them to be little too ‘clicky’ when used repeatedly.
The Series 5 Ultra has some decent specifications, but won’t floor you over with its performance as you’ll see in our benchmarks.
The notebook comes bundled with a trial of Microsoft Office and Norton Online Backup, as well as Cyberlink software, WildTangent Game Console, and a collection of Samsung software. While the notebook didn’t seem to slow down because of these programs, I recommend removing most of them anyway.
One of the things that make the Series 5 Ultra rather interesting is that it includes an SSD as well as a traditional 500GB HDD. The SSD is used to quickly load the operating system upon bootup, and we were able to go from a complete power-down state to desktop in just under 32 seconds. Closing the lid puts the computer into sleep mode, and resuming took about four seconds, which is very impressive. The included HDD is big enough for additional storage, but also adds weight to the device. Samsung were nice enough to allow users to easily upgrade the RAM and HDD by accessing a cover at the base of the unit that’s secured by a single screw.
The Series 5 Ultra came up with a score of 4.4 on the Windows Experience Index, but for a more in-depth look, I fired up some of our regular benchmarks. First up was PC Mark 7 which scored a paltry 1051, well below the score of other similar Ultrabooks from the likes of Dell and Toshiba. Results continued to disappoint with Geekbench reporting a score of 3267, again falling short of expectations. 7-zip benchmarks came up with a score of 4671, which was fairly decent.
So the Series 5 Ultra certainly won’t blow you away with its performance at times – games should be able to run at average detailing, but cranking things up with result in anything between 12 to 27fps, so don’t try to consider this as your gaming fix on the go.
Battery Life, Heat and Noise levels
Samsung claims that the Series 5 Ultra can clock about 6 hours of use, though I was able to get about 4.5 hours with medium brightness and Wi-Fi on. It might be okay for the executive who moves around the office with their laptop, but for the mobile warrior the battery life may be a bit of a concern. When idle the unit registered a temperature of about 37C, and even during extreme benchmarks only hit about 40C. The fans are barely audible, and you never hear any loud noises from the HDD, which is great.
The Series 5 Ultra is a decent notebook, but it’s certainly not an Ultrabook. The unit may be sleek, but it’s not Ultrabook-sleek, despite what Samsung claims. The device also feels much heavier than other Ultrabooks, in part due to the included optical drive and HDD. If you’re in the market for a decent notebook that offers a number of connectivity options and acceptable performance, then this is the one for you. If you’re shopping for a genuine Ultrabook, then there are much better options to look at.