Ultraportable street fight: Samsung baits MacBook Airs with new Series 9 expansion

While its fair to say that Windows notebook manufacturers in the MacBook Air age have acted a tad laggardly in making the most of the ultraportable form factor — at least in a way that makes sound financial sense to regular users who don’t commonly intend to drop $4K on a thin-and-light notebook no matter how wickedly swish it might be — it’s fair to say that a resurgence looks to be on the cards.

We’re seeing signs of it from a few quarters. At the low to mid-range (where Windows notebooks are starting to face baby-steps competition from Google’s Chromebook initiative at least in the US) Intel’s imminent Ultrabook platform looks set to redefine what Windows users can expect from an affordable thin-and-light machine with the spec calling for models at “mainstream price points under US$1000” which puts it bang on par with Apple’s entry-level MacBook Air (on US pricing).

While it’s too early to say how successful the Ultrabook fleet will ultimately be (especially with rumours this week pointing to OEMs squabbling over component pricing) we’d have to say we very much liked the look of the ASUS UX21 Ultrabook we played with recently in the APC Labs. As a proof of concept it certainly made the case.   

But perhaps the most compelling ultraportable competition which the MacBook Air faces today comes from the Windows set is Samsung’s impression-making Series 9 (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). Of course at $2499 the initial model wasn’t exactly hitting those affordable pricepoints which mainstream users will gravitate towards (and which the MacBook Air does hit). Indeed one reader commented on our site that it was “exceptionally poor value”.

And so responding to market demand and once again taking the fight right to Apple (as it has in the smartphone and tablet categories with the Galaxy S II and Galaxy Tab 10.1 respectively) Samsung has expanded its Series 9 family with three new models available today. While the new Core i5 NP900X3A-B02AU and Core i7 NP900X3A-A03AU still carry ‘premium’ pricetags of $2299 and $2799 the new entry-level Core i3 NP900X1B-A01AU offers a second-generation 1.3GHz Intel Core CPU with 4GB RAM and 64GB solid state storage in an 11.6-inch form factor and all for $1000 less than its $2499 predecessor.    

Yes it’s clearly the baby of the bunch with specs like that but we certainly wouldn’t mind toting one round as a secondary PC. Of course at $1499 it’s still $400 more expensive than its nearest MacBook Air competitor ($1099) and while the Series 9 features a Core i3 CPU the low-end Air offers a Core i5 (although it includes 2GB RAM to the Series 9’s 4GB).

Decisions decisions…