Samsung Notebook 9 Pen vs. Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Samsung's Notebook 9 Pen vs. Surface Book 2: Here's how they stack up

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen review
Dan Baker/Digital Trends
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Microsoft’s Surface line has served as banner-bearer for the Windows 10 PC industry for the last several years. The Surface Pro represents what detachable 2-in-1s should look like, the Surface Laptop redefines the modern traditional notebook, and the Surface Studio is the pinnacle of the all-in-one. That leaves the Surface Book as something of an outlier that combines elements of all three — a tear-off tablet display, a viable clamshell form, and a pen- and Surface Dial-enabled display for creative professionals.

But the rest of the Windows 10 PC manufacturers haven’t stood still, pushing out their own versions of each kind of machine. Samsung is one of them, focusing mainly on premium notebooks and recently leveraging its expertise in pen software from its Galaxy Note line of smartphones. Does Samsung have the chops to take on the industry’s leader in design and innovation? In our Samsung Noteboook 9 Pen vs Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 shootout, we take a look at that very question.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

surface book 2 vs

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen

samsung notebook 9 pen vs hp spectre x360 200x150

Dimensions 13.5-inch i7: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.59-0.90 (in) 12.2 x 8.1 x 0.57-0.64 in
Weight Starts at 3.38 pounds 2.19 pounds
Keyboard Full-size backlit keyboard Full-size backlit keyboard
Processor Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7 Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7
RAM Up to 16GB Up to 16GB
Graphics Intel UHD 620
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050
Intel UHD 620
Display 13.5-inch PixelSense Display 13.3-inch IPS display
Resolution  3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi) Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 158 PPI)
Storage Up to 1TB PCIe SSD Up to 512GB PCIe SSD
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Connectivity USB-A 3.0 (x2), USB-C 3.1, Surface Connect, SD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack USB-A 3.0, USB-C, HDMI, microSD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack
Windows Hello Infrared facial recognition Infrared facial recognition
Fingerprint scanner
Operating System Windows 10 Windows 10
Battery 70 watt-hour 39 watt-hour
Price $1,200+ $1,400+
Availability Now Coming soon
Review Full review: 8/10 Full review: 6/10

Design

There’s no doubt about it: the Surface Book 2 has one of the most innovative PC designs around. It’s a bona fide notebook with a display that detches to become a surprisingly thin and light tablet, providing a great surface for inking (no pun intended) while enjoying all the lapability of a more traditional notebook. The Surface Book 2 is also robustly built, with a fit and finish that rivals the best notebooks.

In terms of aesthetics, the Surface Book 2 manages to be both striking and conservative at the same time. It looks like a Surface, with the same silver-gray and simplified color scheme adorning its magnesium chassis, but it also stands alone and is recognizable in a crowd. The iconic fulcrum hinge — required to balance the weight of the display, which contains the actual PC parts — gives the Surface Book 2 some real girth in the rear but also identifies it in a heartbeat.

The Samsung Notebook 9 Pen, on the other hand, is rather nondescript. It’s mostly unchanged from Samsung’s previous 2-in-1 generations, with only the switch to a black, glossy display and the power button being repositioned to the side giving it away. Although it’s not terribly different, we wouldn’t call the Notebook 9 Pen unattractive — its silver color scheme is good looking enough, with small bezels and a simple, dare we say conservative look.

It’s magnesium alloy chassis is also sturdy while being very light (maybe a touch too light). There’s some flex in the palm rests and keyboard, but nothing egregious. As stated, the Notebook 9 Pen is very light, well over a pound lighter than the the Surface Book 2, in fact. And while it’s not the thinnest 2-in-1 around, it’s still significantly thinner than Microsoft’s unusual design.

When it comes to design, most notebooks fall short when compared to the Surface Book 2. The Samsung fares no better, and so Microsoft takes this round handily.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2

Performance

Microsoft chose the fastest eighth-generation Intel Core processor around, at least at 15 watts. The Core i7-8650 is a very fast quad-core CPU that can ramp up for high-demand tasks while spooling down to sip power when the current tasks allows. And all of that power is contained in the display, meaning you can tear it off and use it as a very fast — and completely silent, thanks to no fans — tablet complete with Surface Pen support. In its base configuration, the Surface Book 2 13 uses Intel UHD 620 graphics, but you can configure it with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU in the base. That makes for a very fast 13-inch class 2-in-1 indeed.

Samsung chose the next CPU down for the Notebook 9 Pen, promising similar performance. And in fact, that was mostly the case, with both machines scoring similarly in our synthetic benchmark tests. Furthermore, the Notebook 9 Pen seemed just as quick in real-life usage. One difference, however, is that Samsung’s 2-in-1 suffered from some thermal issues, with the chassis getting unusually hot and the fans unusually loud — even during basic productivity work. And, of course, the Notebook 9 Pen is limited to integrated graphics only.

If you stick with the base Surface Book 2, then performance is similar albeit with far less noise than the Samsung. However, given that Microsoft has graced the machine with a real, mid-level gaming GPU, the winner in this category is clear.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Keyboard, Mouse, and Pen

The Surface Book 2 has one of the better keyboards you’ll find on a notebook today. It has some serious travel (1.55mm to be exact), a crisp and precise bottoming action, and a consistent feel across all of the keys. The layout is fairly standard, with a useful row of shortcut keys and the unique detach button for popping off the display. In short, it’s a much better keyboard than the Notebook 9 Pen’s, which although it enjoys similar 1.5mm travel has a soft bottoming action that we found imprecise and squishy. Both keyboards are rather inconsistently backlit, but the Surface Book 2’s lighting actually made the keys harder to see in normal lighting — turn down the lights and it’s more useful.

Moving on to the touchpad, the Surface Book 2 is at the top of the Windows 10 heap there as well. Its Microsoft Precision touchpad is large and perfectly responsive, with flawless gesture support. Samsung’s Microsoft Precision touchpad, on the other hand, was a bit broken. It’s smaller than we like, and the buttons were too stiff.

Finally, we like Samsung’s S Pen software, which adds some real value to the inking experience, with the more modern 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity versus. Microsoft’s latest Surface Pen is also excellent when mated with the latest machines, with 4,096 levels of pressure to go with tilt support and the fasted response outside of the iPad Pro. Toss in the fact that Samsung’s S Pen is also much smaller and flimsier, and the Surface Book 2 presents a stiff challenge. Toss in the fact that you can place the Surface Dial directly on the display to gain access to some unique controls.

We liked Samsung’s S Pen functionality, but given the Surface Book 2’s superior keyboard and touchpad, we’re compelled to once again give it the win.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2

Connectivity

Microsoft has made only a small concession with the Surface Book 2, finally adopting the USB-C port but still eschewing Thunderbolt 3. That goes along with two USB-A 3.0 ports, a 3.5mm combo audio jack, an SD card reader, and the Surface Connect port for power and external expansion. The Notebook 9 Pen is even more old-school, with two USB-A 3.0 ports, a USB-C 3.1 Gen1 port (again with no Thunderbolt 3 support), and an HDMI port.

Both machines offer SD card readers (with Samsung’s being of the micro variety), to go along with 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Both also offer both infrared facial recognition for Windows 10 Hello support, and the Notebook 9 Pen adds a fingerprint reader.

Microsoft’s Surface line has generally suffered from poor connectivity, and the Surface Book 2 is no different. It loses this round, although both machines fail to offer the advantages of Thunderbolt 3.

Winner: Samsung Notebook 9 Pen

Display

If there’s one thing that Microsoft consistently gets right with its Surface machines, it’s the display. The Surface Book 2 continues that trend, offering excellent brightness and contrast to go with a seriously sharp display (3,240 x 2,160 or 260 PPI). The color gamut is only average, however, and accuracy is actually a little less than average. Nevertheless, for productivity purposes, you won’t find many more pleasant displays.

The Notebook 9 Pen’s 13.3-inch Full HD display was only okay in comparison, with far less contrast and brightness but a slightly wider color gamut. It was also closer to true life in terms of its gamma, meaning videos will theoretically look better, and its colors are also more accurate.

This is another category where few notebooks can match a Surface of any kind. Microsoft wins again.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2

Portability and Battery Life

The Surface Book 2 packs in some serious battery life, a total of 70 watt-hours between the tablet and base. Toss in the efficiency of Intel’s eighth-generation Core CPUs, and that results in some serious longevity. The machine has some of the best scores we’ve see in 13-inch class notebooks, in all of our tests — looping video, web browsing, and our aggressive Basemark web benchmark runs. Consider that the Surface Book 2 almost matched Microsoft’s estimate of 17 hours when repeating a local video.

The Notebook 9 Pen’s battery is a much less impressive 39 watt-hours, and while the Samsung managed to remain competitive with most other 2-in-1s, it couldn’t keep up with the Surface Book 2. It lasted more than two hours less on our video test, less than half as long when web browsing, and two and a half ours less churning through the Basemark test.

On the other hand, the Samsung is also over a pound lighter, and it’s considerably thinner. It’s much easier to toss into a backpack and carry around.

Picking a winner here really comes down to what’s more important to you: Battery life or heft. We tend to favor battery life, because given the Surface Book 2’s considerably longer lifespan away from a charger, you’re less likely to have to carry your power brick around with you. Therefore, we’ll give Microsoft the win, with the caveat that if you need something truly thin and light, then the Samsung might be more up your alley.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2

Availability and Price

The Surface Book 2 13 and the Notebook 9 Pen are both premium notebooks, but Microsoft’s 2-in-1 can hit some very stratospheric prices. Interestingly, it also has a lower base price, with a newly introduced model with the Intel Core i7-8650U, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and Intel UHD 620 graphics only coming in at $1,200. With the same basic configuration of 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, the Surface Book 2 is priced at $1,500 compared to the Notebook 9 Pen’s $1,400. Note that Samsung includes the S Pen, wherease the optional Surface Pen is an additional $100.

That makes the Samsung the less expensive of the two for roughly equivalent performance and significantly less battery life. Of course, you can also spend a mind-boggling $3,000 if you max out the Surface Book 2 with 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU.

We’re going to give the win to the Samsung Notebook 9 Pen here, simply because it’s less expensive with the same configuration and doesn’t require you to fork over extra cash for a pen. The Surface Book 2, though, comes in at a surprisingly lower price if you’re willing to accept a smaller SSD — you can always add an SD card to give you some extra storage.

Winner: Samsung Notebook 9 Pen

The Surface Book 2 retains its crown

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Ultimately, we found the Microsoft Surface Book 2 13’s combination of innovative design, performance, battery life, and input options to be superior to the Samsung Notebook 9 Pen’s. That’s not so much a knock against the Samsung machine, though. The Surface Book 2 beats out most other 2-in-1s, particularly if you’re willing to spend some extra money and equip the GTX 1050 for some real gaming and creative application chops.