Tech Biz

Ultraportable Matchup: Apple MacBook Air vs. Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

Both have Haswell chips and extra-long battery life, but which is better?

Last month, Apple set a new standard in ultraportable computers when it released the refreshed 2014 MacBook Air. Packing the latest Intel Haswell processors and boasting all-day battery life, the MacBook Air is a force to be reckoned with in the premium tech world. However, Apple’s chief rival in the smartphone market is set to release its own high-end ultraportable, taking direct aim at the iconic, standard-setting MacBook Air. Can Samsung’s ATIV Book 9 Plus dethrone the king?

Apple unveiled the most recent iteration of the MacBook Air at last month’s World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). While maintaining the iconic silver uni-body design that made it famous, the 2013 Air packs a serious punch under its sleek exterior. It is the first Apple computer to use Intel’s fourth generation “Haswell” processors. Apple offers both the 1.3GHz Core i5 and the 1.7GHz Core i7.

The MacBook Air 13-inch base model offers 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage, while a custom-ordered machine maxes out at 8GB of RAM and 512GB of flash storage. Graphics are handled by an Intel HD Graphics 5000 card. The new Air ships with OSX Mountain Lion.

The latest MacBook Air’s dimensions are 12.8-inches x 8.94-inches x 0.68 inches. It weighs 2.96 pounds.

Apple disappointed some potential consumers for failing to integrate its dazzling Retina display into the new MacBook Air. The current LCD panel has a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels – a far cry from the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro’s 2560 x 1600 pixels.

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A likely reason for Apple passing on the Retina upgrade can be found in the new MacBook Air’s most impressive feature – a battery that lasts all day long on a single charge. Thanks in part to the power-sipping Haswell CPU, the new Air is good for up to 12 hours of web-surfing or 10 hours of video playback.

“Apple almost doubled the battery life [of the new MacBook Air]. You can't do that with a Retina display in an ultrathin laptop like the Air,” reported CNET.

The most inexpensive 13-inch MacBook Air is by no means cheap, costing $1099. A maxed-out Air requires a hefty investment of $1848.

While Samsung has yet to confirm a release date or price, the South Korean challenger has designed a beautiful Windows 8-powered machine to go head-to-head with the current-generation MacBook Air.

The 13-inch ATIV Book 9 Plus will also offer Haswell chips, in both the i5 and i7 configurations. It will come with 8GB of memory and 256GB of solid-state storage – but it suffers from slower transfer speeds than the MacBook Air.

“Apple has used PCI Express for interfacing their SSDs (manufactured by Samsung), which has enabled higher data transfer rates in [MacBook Air]. Samsung due to some strange reason chose to stay with SATA SSDs for Ativ Book 9 Plus,” said MuktWorld.

The GPU is an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400 card, slightly less powerful than the Air’s offering.

The ATIV Book 9 Plus is a bit heavier than the Air, weighing in at 3.06 pounds. But it makes up for the added weight by offering an even slimmer profile than its Apple rival. The ATIV Book 9 Plus sports dimensions of 12.58 inches x 8.78 inches x 0.54 inches – 0.14 inches thinner than the Air which redefined how skinny a laptop could be.

The screen is where Samsung has really set itself apart from Apple. The ATIV Book 9 Plus goes above and beyond with a QHD (Quad High Definition) panel that packs four times as many pixels as standard HD. It boasts a staggering 3200 x 1800 pixel resolution – more than the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. Not only is the screen incredibly sharp, but it supports Windows 8 touch navigation. Even more, the display itself can swing back 180 degrees, allowing it to lie completely flat.

A final point is related to the two rivals' ports. Apple relies on its proprietary Thunderbolt display port, while Samsung opts for a universal micro-HDMI slot. While this won’t matter to some users, you will need an adapter if you want to plug the Air into a big-screen display.

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Samsung claims that the ATIV Book 9 Plus will match the MacBook Air with 12 hours of battery life, something that should be taken with a grain of salt considering it packs such a powerful display.

It is hard to say if the ATIV Book 9 Plus can dethrone the reigning ultraportable king. Once Samsung releases a price – and backs up the 12 hour battery-life claim – it will become more clear how worthy of a challenger it is.

At the end of the day, most users already have their hearts set on OSX or Windows. With both computers offering near-identical internal specs, the decision to stay brand-faithful becomes that much easier.