Samsung Electronics is best known for mobile products like smartwatches, smartphones and tablets and of course, HDTV and appliances, but not so much as a computer company. I wasn’t expecting Samsung to be so computer-heavy this year at CES 2017, but they really were. Of course, Samsung will always have new TV announcements and the latest and greatest in home appliances and recently smart home at CES, but PCs have been a less common occurrence in recent years.
CES 2017 was without a doubt an exception to that this year with a multitude of new PCs ranging from Chromebooks all the way up to gaming notebooks. Samsung appears to be broadening their efforts in the PC space into areas that have the most potential for growth, rather than just putting out computers for the sake of being present in the market. Previously, Samsung had one high-end line of ATIV notebooks, a very innovative modular PC called the Art PC and some entry-level Chromebooks, but that looks to be changing with these new products. Samsung looks like over time, they want to be a real competitor to players like Apple, HP Inc, Dell and Lenovo with these offerings, and this is just the beginning.
Gaming notebook branded “Odyssey”
The first newly-announced product is Samsung’s Notebook Odyssey, the company’s first-ever gaming notebook. The company is releasing the new gaming notebook in two display and chassis sizes, both 15.6 and 17.3”.
The core of the notebook is Intel’s new 7th Generation Core processors, specifically the 45-watt quad core processors usually found in gaming notebooks. Interestingly, Samsung is only offering these notebooks in 1080P resolutions, even on the 17.3” model. There are two types of gamers out there, quality and FPS junkies and these are for FPS junkies who want the highest frames per second and are OK trading off resolution quality. I would have liked to have seen Samsung add some of their display magic here as they’re an undisputed leader in displays and a higher-resolution option, but they did not.
Both Odyssey models come with DDR4 RAM and PCIe SSDs paired with 1TB HDDs. Samsung hasn’t appeared to have decided what GPU will go in the 17.3” variant as the product page still states “TBD” which likely means they are probably deciding between a GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 since the 15.6” variant comes with a GTX 1050. The 17.3” variant also has a customized RGB LED keyboard and 93 Wh battery which is more than double the 43 Wh in the 15.6” variant. The 17.3” variant also ships with Thunderbolt 3 via Type-C while the 15.6” did not.
Considering the starting price of $1,199 for the 15.6” Odyssey, you can tell that Samsung is trying to hit a broader audience with their gaming notebooks. The biggest differentiator above price is the upgradability where both Samsung-branded memory and storage can be upgraded with a few screw-turns on the bottom of the unit. The design ID reminds me of a cross between HP Omen and Razer Blade, a positive, but the specs are not as high either. HP’s Omen is about $300 cheaper and has nearly identical specifications as well as a much more established gaming pedigree. The Alienware 15 is admittedly $150 more expensive than the Odyssey 15.6” notebook, but it also features a faster GPU, 50% bigger battery and a hard-core gaming brand experience and heritage gamers notice. It also lacks the SSD that the Odyssey comes with standard, but when it comes to a gaming notebook CPU and GPU come first. Dell also offers an Inspiron 15 gaming notebook for $799 that has similar specs and makes this notebook seem less competitive price-wise. I really want to believe that Samsung has a potential product line success here, but the specs, brand reputation and pricing are not on their side. They are going to need to do something on specs, pricing and brand marketing if they want to compete with the likes of Dell and HP Inc. in gaming.
15” Notebook 9
In addition to their gaming line, Samsung Electronics unveiled a new thin and light notebook that they are calling the new Samsung Notebook 9, 15”. This notebook features Intel’s 7th Gen Core processors with the Intel Core i7 7500U and sports a 1080P display powered by a 950MX dedicated GPU. Samsung is claiming that the Full HD display can display HDR video, a huge positive, but doesn’t call it an HDR display could create some confusion. The laptop ships with a robust 66 Wh battery and features a new rapid charge capability which fully charges the laptop in under 2 hours and gets 3.5 hours of power in just 20 minutes. The overall battery life that Samsung is claiming is 15 hours on a single charge, but it’s probably going to be closer to 10 or 12 from my experience with battery life numbers, but these are very impressive charging and battery life numbers. I’m looking forward to taking a spin of my own.
One thing I’m really glad to see Samsung do is integrate a fingerprint sensor on this notebook for fast and login via Windows Hello, which isn’t something I’ve really seen Samsung do in the past with their notebooks. Samsung doesn’t promote this, but they also have a TPM chip for security, too. It also has Thunderbolt 3 via USB Type-C which is a must on any modern laptop today. Samsung managed to squeeze all of this into a fairly light 2.73-pound notebook which is just over 1Kg.
Very solid and differentiated Chromebooks
Finally, Samsung Electronics unveiled their new Chromebooks, which they are best known for in computers, called the Chromebook “Plus” and Chromebook “Pro”. The Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro both offer a foldable/convertible laptop experience like the one that ASUS Chromebook Flip offers but with a large 12.3” 2,400 x 1,600 resolution display. The Chromebook Plus also features Samsung’s own pen technology and a bundled pen for drawing and taking notes all while weighing only 2.38 lbs., or just over 1 Kg. A Google representative explained to at Samsung’s small event that their new pen capability uses AI technology to not only speed up local pen latency, but also in the cloud for pen ink search. Pen ink search is where you pen a note into Google Keep and then you can search on it. Pretty cool, right?
The only noticeable difference between the Samsung Chromebook Plus and the Chromebook Pro are the processors, going from an ARM Holdings-based Samsung OP1 processor for Chromebooks to an Intel x86 Core m3 processor. This increases the price from $449 to $549 and since Chrome is a processor architecture agnostic platform, the difference between the two should be negligible in most situations, but I see Intel targeted at enterprise and ARM targeted at consumer and likely education. I believe these new Chromebooks are a positive move for both Samsung and Google who need more creative and lighter devices to compete with the likes of ASUS and Acer. Samsung has always offered a good line of Chromebooks, so elevating the experience to a higher resolution and convertible display with an S-Pen is welcome.
Overall, Samsung Electronic ’s PC offerings appear to be a mixture of refreshes, redesigns and new product lines. I suspect that Samsung will need to reassess their gaming notebook value proposition if they want to be competitive with Dell and HP Inc., but maybe this is a learning exercise for a bigger splash later like they did with Art PC and Notebook 9 13”. While I haven’t used it, Samsung appears to have a competitive notebook with the Notebook 9 15” refresh, however, I do believe they still have some very stiff competition from the likes of the aforementioned companies in this segment as well. Even so, priced accordingly, this laptop can compete with them. Their new Chromebooks are their strongest suit and offer a new experience with their integrated pen, pen note search, and high resolution display that can be folded into a tablet. They seem to have the most potential for driving Samsung’s computer sales and offer a differentiated experience from what’s already on the market, which I believe is Samsung’s best opportunity.
Samsung has come in and out of the computer market a few times over the years. It’s a tough market, but with the PC market refusing to go away at 250M units with big growth in gaming and 2-in-1s, it’s likely Samsung realizes this is a market they must be successful in.
One interesting thing to contemplate is the following- what if Samsung Electronics, in the enterprise market, could provide a common security, deployment, image process, and management layer across smartwatches, smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks and PCs. This is what enterprises really want and that would be very powerful. After the Viv and Joyent acquisition and the expansion of their strategic alliance program, it makes me wonder.