If you were to look at Samsung's laptops even a year ago, you'd see gorgeous devices crafted with premium materials on the outside and a steep price tag to match – with components that, well, often didn't.
Since then, for reasons that should be obvious, Samsung's vision for its laptops has shifted slowly to focus more on value than an ultra-luxury experience. (Specifically, crafting a luxury experience at a value price.) The Samsung Notebook 9 is a fine example of this.
However, we're not talking about Ultrabooks here, but the often nebulous realm of mid-range multimedia laptops. Meet the 15.6-inch Samsung Notebook 7 Spin, a laptop like the Notebook 9 in its goal to bring a primo-feeling experience and more power to an approachable price point.
Starting at just $899 (about £681, AU$1,206), the Notebook 7 Spin comes packing one of the best and latest Intel processors, gobs of memory and storage, and dedicated Nvidia graphics behind a crisp, 1080p HDR (!!!) screen. Oh, and it's a convertible hybrid – just in case you like those, too.
Yeah, we'd say Samsung accomplished its mission. And that's why this laptop has made its way into our best laptop list.
That’s in no small part thanks to how Samsung employed a serious design sense in molding the Notebook 7 Spin shell while making use of less-than-high-end materials. Not much has changed about this iteration from the previous in terms of design ID, though.
The same subdued, chrome Samsung logo sits flush left on the laptop’s brushed aluminum lid, and the aluminum keyboard deck feels just as refreshingly cool to the touch as it has for at least one or two generations now. However, the bottom half of the silver-colored chassis is comprised of a soft touch plastic that’s both cheaper and better prevents slipping.
However, back to what’s sitting on upper half. Making liberal use of the room that its 15-inch size affords it, unlike some key competitors, Samsung laid out a full set of curved, backlit black keys – including a number pad.
The keys offer a hearty punch when pressed and released, and were effortless to adjust to over the course of our review. The spacious, glass trackpad is centered with the space bar, which we wish was centered with the device instead, but otherwise performs just fine with single and- multi-touch gestures.
And if you just want to touch the screen you can do that or even convert it into an oversized tablet. This editor is generally a curmudgeon when it comes to convertible hybrids, but we don’t mind it here as an add-in feature, since the hinge is so strong and sturdy it’s barely noticeable.
That said, using this thing as a tablet is just plain silly, even with its neat, curved lip above and below its hinge available to help with grip. Simply put, it’s just too heavy and bulky for that kind of use. The tent-like mode is excellent for bedridden movie binges, though.
What you have here is a laptop designed to be attractive and effective without being ostentatiously expensive, and the Notebook 7 Spin’s design simply exudes that quality. That said, it is rather hefty.
- Want to save money? Consider a Surface Pro 3
For what it’s worth, Samsung has built a rather thin – albeit a little dense – 15-inch laptop, with the Notebook 7 Spin weighing 5 pounds (2.26kg) on the nose and measuring 0.78 inches (19.8mm). Of course, that’s not quite as thin as, say, LG’s new Gram line.
The phone maker’s 15-inch laptop, simply the LG gram 15, weighs less than half that and is more than a tenth of an inch thinner. (Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro is just slightly thinner and half a pound lighter than Samsung’s laptop.)
However, keep in mind that neither of these leading laptops have touchscreens, which adds to the weight. At any rate, let’s see what else Samsung crammed into this machine.
Here is the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
- CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.1 GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 940MX (2GB DDR3L); Intel HD Graphics 520
- RAM: 16GB DDR4 (2 x 8GB, 2,133MHz)
- Screen:15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) LED with touch panel
- Storage: 1TB HDD (SATA3); 128GB SSD (operating system; M.2)
- Ports: 1 x HDMI-out, 1 x USB-C, 1 x USB 3.1, 2 x USB 2.0, 3-in-1 SD card reader, headphone/mic jack, RJ-45 adapter
- Connectivity: 802.11ac (2 x 2 antenna) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
- Camera: 480p webcam with dual array microphones
- Weight: 5 pounds (2.26kg)
- Size: 14.74 x 10.11 x 0.78 inches (374.5 x 256.9 x 19.8mm; W x H x D)
The arrangement you see above is one of two Samsung has made available for the 15-inch version of the Notebook 7 Spin. (There is also a more portable but underpowered, 13-inch variety available.) As of this writing, this mobile machine goes for $1,099 (about £833, AU$1,476).
Samsung’s more approachable, 15-inch Notebook 7 Spin cuts the available memory by 4GB, axes the 128GB solid-state drive and … that’s it, for $899 (about £681, AU$1,206) as of this writing. Those aren’t exactly huge sacrifices to save 200 bucks, making this a pretty excellent value.
Meanwhile, you’ll spend $1,500 (about £1,137, AU$2,012) to get an Intel Core i7 chip into the LG gram 15 and half as much total storage, no dedicated graphics and half the RAM. Of course, it all depends on what is important to you, as we quite loved the Gram.
Simply put, the Notebook 7 Spin is one of the best values we’ve seen in a 15-inch laptop. To really rub it in, the albeit shinier, sharper MacBook Pro would cost nearly three times as much to offer a Core i7 processor, match the amount RAM offered by Samsung and achieve comparable graphics performance.
If you’re focused on getting as much as possible out of as little as possible, it’s kind of (surprisingly) a no-brainer.
Considering this is designed to bring the style and power of premium laptops to a more approachable space, it’s tough to challenge this device with realistic everyday tasks. The Notebook 7 Spin easily handles web browsing across 10 more Google Chrome tabs, with a web chat app and FTP client actively working – and those tabs include streaming video.
Now, don’t expect to play the next Call of Duty (but maybe the new World of Warcraft expansion) on this laptop without seriously lowering your expectations. This is by no means a gaming laptop, but the Nvidia graphics make it a fine big-screen Hearthstone device. And, the graphics chip makes video streaming and Flash-based web gaming apps, like Roll20, smooth as butter.
Here’s how the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- PCMark 8 Home: 2,659 points
- 3DMark Cloud Gate: 6,072 points; Sky Diver: 5,166 points; Fire Strike: 1,364 points
- Geekbench Single-Core: 3,245 points; Multi-Core: 6,014 points
- Cinebench CPU: 254 points; OpenGL Graphics: 49 fps
- The Division (1080p, Ultra): 6 fps; (1080p, Low): 18 fps
- GTA V (1080p, Ultra): 9 fps; (1080p, Low): 28 fps
- PCMark 8 Battery: 4 hours and 4 minutes
These figures indicate some speedy, reliable performance from Samsung’s top-level 15-incher, and on that it delivers with aplomb. The Fire Strike score of nearly 1,400, coupled with the nearly-playable frame rate in the lowest possible Grand Theft Auto V settings, tell us that this thing can play some games (and that GTA V is very well optimized). Just not too many, is all.
Your web browsing experience will be just fine – if you’re on Chrome, just watch your tab count. Streaming video will be a breeze, too, both thanks to the Core i7 processor and 802.11ac Wi-Fi working in tandem.
You’ll be hard pressed to stress this thing with your basic workload, even if that involves several browser tabs, high-bitrate audio streaming and a constantly-updating chat app. Again, it’s remotely intense games that will most likely buckle this laptop.
To put it all in perspective, however, the LG gram 15 performed markedly worse for its slightly weaker processor, half the RAM and lack of dedicated graphics.
Samsung promises up to 9 hours on a single charge from its Notebook 7 Spin, though our tests didn’t come exactly close to that, as per usual across all of our reviews. Whereas our PCMark 8 run rated the device for just over 4 hours of lasting time, our own local video playback test had the laptop last for 5 hours and 54 minutes.
Now, considering that the notebook’s fast-charging battery can regain 2 hours of its capacity in just 20 minutes, and a full charge in 90 minutes time, that’s not bad battery life at all. If the laptop can get you through most domestic US flights, at this size no less, that’s commendable in our book.
One dynamo of a display
While the Notebook 7 Spin’s screen may only put out 1080p picture, Samsung made sure to future-proof it as much as possible with toggleable high dynamic range (HDR) technology. The LED screen, already sharp and bright at 250 nits, allows for more of the sRGB color spectrum to be displayed for better defined dark scenes and more nuanced, realistic colors in games and streaming video that support the tech.
That said, our less-than-discerning eyes couldn’t tell a massive difference between video with and without HDR enabled – by pressing the Function key + F10 – save for a slightly cooler color temperature. Someone that watches a lot of, say, Daredevil on Netflix, might notice a more apparent difference here.
(An HDR photo of a gorgeous lake before a mountainside put it into better perspective, with blues in the cloud cover gaining and losing depth and nuance with HDR on and off, respectively.)
The issue here is that only YouTube offers streaming HDR content to PCs so far. Even then, the content needs to have been created with HDR-ready equipment to deliver the wider color gamut and contrast.
But, as this screen technology invades more of these devices, it’s only a matter of time. Until then, you can enjoy slightly deeper and more vibrant colors as well as more nuanced contrast throughout your use of Windows 10 – especially if you work in HDR content creation.
For streaming videos and movies that specifically make use of this HDR screen, you’re going to have to wait.
At any rate, the ability to position this screen in any of the standard “yoga” configurations as well only sweetens the deal. (Though, using a 15-inch, 5-pound tablet with keys on the back? We’re good.)
Samsung has created one of the best values in computing today with the 15-inch Notebook 7 Spin. In this package, you’re getting components that most other leading brands would charge $1,200 or much more for – in a package that isn’t cased in premium materials, but has a sense for modern laptop design trends.
Simply put, we love the amount of power, versatility and style you’re getting out of the Notebook 7 Spin for what it costs, even at its high end. Did it even have to be a convertible hybrid? Of course not, but its hinge is firm and strong enough so that you won’t even notice this dubious capability should you decide to never use it.
While we appreciate the inclusion of dedicated graphics, the chip in question can’t push the notebook quite far enough to access a vast library of PC games at playable frame rates on low settings. Just that extra push into the GTX 950M could’ve made that happen at the expense of, say, a couple hundred gigabytes of spinning storage and hugely boost its already vast versatility.
If you’re looking at larger, premium laptops like the 15-inch MacBook Pro, LG gram 15 or Dell XPS 15 and refuse to pay what they’re asking for the power you need, you can stop searching. The Samsung Notebook 7 Spin is one of the best values we’ve seen lately in computing, straddling a line between mid-range and premium surprisingly well for a traditionally luxury technology brand.
Even if you’re averse to giant hybrid convertibles like us, the laptop’s sturdy frame and hinge make it feel as if the feature doesn’t even exist – should you not use it. Sure, this tech makes the laptop far heavier than most would like, but you can’t deny the sheer amount of features on offer when stacked up against the market leaders.
With a stylish design using less-than-premium materials, the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin is an easy choice for the one who’s looking to the MacBook Pro for the “wow” factor but would rather not pay a small fortune for real power, too. Bargain hunters with taste: this laptop is for you.