Samsung Notebook 9 Pro (13-inch, 2019) review: A fine premium 2-in-1 in need of some personality

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The 2019 Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is perfectly fine.

At 2.8 pounds (1.3 kg), the 13.3-inch ultraportable two-in-one is one of the lightest in the category and it’s thin at just 0.5 inch (14 mm) thick. Its battery lasted more than 12 hours, performance is right where it should be and its metal chassis gives it a premium look and feel. And, with a $1,100 price, you’re not overpaying for what you’re getting, either.

Still, there’s something missing.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

When Samsung first told us about the Notebook 9 Pro redesign at CES 2019, it kept hammering on how much work it put into the design. It had conducted a US-specific design study that influenced its choices on things like bezel design, profile taper and corner radii. That’s exactly how it feels, too: A laptop designed by questionnaire and lacking any sort of personality.

Samsung Notebook 9 Pro (2019)

Price as reviewed $1,099
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touch display
CPU 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8565U
PC Memory 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless; Bluetooth 5.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Form pulls ahead of function

Falling short of marketing hype happens, of course. (Just ask Apple how things are going these days.) The Notebook 9 Pro doesn’t have any major issues caused by the design, but the design doesn’t noticeably improve use, either.

For instance, Samsung used a full-size active pen instead of its compact and debatably more useful S Pen. The S Pen stores in the body of Samsung’s other laptops including the new Notebook 9 Pen and never needs to be charged. The Pro’s pen has no garage or holder and requires the unusual AAAA-size battery. The Pro’s pen also lacks all of the S Pen’s Air Command features that give it an edge over other pen-enabled two-in-ones.

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The Notebook 9 Pro’s diamond-cut edges are its main distinctive design touch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Also sacrificed to the design gods are ports. The Pro has three USB-C ports (two are Thunderbolt 3), a microSD card slot and a headphone/mic combo jack. That’s certainly not unusual for premium ultraportables these days, but it does mean you’ll be carrying around adapters. The Pro can charge through all of the USB-C ports, however. Not that you’d know it was charging with the lid closed, though, since there are no indicator lights on the outside at all.

With the keyboard, Samsung enlarged the key caps and reduced spacing between them to improve the typing experience and appearance. There is not much travel to the keys, however, which doesn’t help the experience at all.

The slim power button on the laptop’s right side is also a fingerprint reader. Nearly flush with the body, it’s tricky to use with the laptop sitting on a desk and I frequently had to swipe it a few times to get it to register. Maybe slender fingers work better, but it might have been best to place it up on the keyboard deck.

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