Windows 8 touch-screen laptops to date have largely fallen into two categories — really high-end systems, from $1,200 to $1,600 or more, with slim, sexy designs; or else entry-level models that cram in a touch screen, but at the expense of design, with middling, plastic bodies.
Samsung’s 13-inch Series 5 UltraTouch threads the needle excellently, with an upscale, metallic body, an Intel Core i5 CPU, and good battery life for $849 (note that we also saw it listed on the Home Depot Web site, which is apparently selling laptops now, for $50 less). A less expensive Core i3 version runs about $150 less, but the i5 is where you want to be for a system you can use as your main laptop for several years.
The Series 5 UltraTouch doesn’t have any secret tricks up its sleeve, like a screen that detaches, rotates, or flips around, it’s just a reasonably solid, reasonably priced ultrabook that looks like a more expensive product (perhaps from Samsung’s own higher-end Series 7 and Series 9 lines). Only the twitchy touch pad, with separate buttons, rather than a single clickpad, keeps it from being an easy got-to-have-it recommendation.
Unlike some other Windows 8 laptops, which were designed (or redesigned) from the ground up, this Series 5 looks and feels a lot like the pre-Windows 8 Series 5 laptops we’ve looked at previously.
The matte brushed-aluminum finish does a great job of resisting fingerprints and looks sharp, and this 13-inch model is significantly thinner than 14-inch Series 5 laptops we’ve reviewed — but those larger models do manage to fit in a tray-loading optical drive.
The front edge of the system creates the illusion that it’s a bit thinner than it actually is. The sides taper toward the front, while expanding toward the back, where they can accommodate ports and connections. No one will mistake this for a MacBook Air (or Acer Aspire S7) in size and weight, but it’s certainly competitive in the under-$900 category.
This Series 5 carries Intel’s official Ultrabook sticker, while the last Series 5 I reviewed had an AMD processor, so it was lumped in with the larger category of fauxtrabooks — laptops that are thin and powerful, but don’t meet Intel’s official specs for the ultrabook designation. While the Series 5 has a standard platter hard drive, it skirts the solid-state drive (SSD) requirement by adding a small SSD cache to the hard drive.