It is only natural for a person’s tastes and preferences to change over time. So after years of thirsting for big, chunky gaming laptops with shiny lights, I’ve started leaning towards more subdued all-rounders that don’t scream “Look at me.” And for the last few generations, MSI’s Stealth 15M line is one of the best at balancing good performance with a discreet look. But unfortunately it feels like MSI is rolling out with the 2022 model. While there aren’t many major flaws, things like the Stealth’s screen, battery life, and sound just aren’t as nice as I would have liked.
For a gaming notebook, the Stealth 15M is about as incognito as it gets. It has a simple, slightly boxy build with a matte black finish (which is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, by the way). The only visual flair, at least on the outside, is MSI’s dragon logo, which is getting a new holographic treatment for 2022.
- understated design
- Comfortable Spectrum Keyboard
- Solid port selection
- Weak battery life
- Dim screen
- Low Resolution Webcam
- Small touchpad
Then you open it up and you get MSI’s beautiful Spectrum backlit keyboard, a large speaker grill that runs the width of the deck, and a small touchpad. Along the sides, MSI has a good selection of ports, including four USB 3.2 ports (two Type-A and two Type-C, one of which supports DisplayPort), a full-size HDMI 2.1 connector and a combo headphone/mic jack. And at just under four pounds (3.96 lbs), the Stealth is actually a tad lighter than many other 15-inch gaming laptops (and some 14-inch systems, too).
Display, sound and webcam
On paper, the Stealth 15M’s screen looks like a perfect match for its specs. It is a 15.6-inch IPS panel with a refresh rate of 144 Hz. It even has a matte finish to prevent distracting reflections. The problem is that movies and games look a bit lifeless, as it has some dull colors and a tested brightness of around 250 nits. Of course, if you like gaming in dark environments, that’s no problem. But the mediocre light output also means it can be difficult to read text in sunny rooms, especially if you’re someone who prefers apps in dark mode.
As for audio, the Stealth has dual two-watt speakers that can get quite loud, although they lack a bit of bass. Don’t get me wrong, they are fine, I was hoping for a bit more given the size of the grille. And then there’s a 720p webcam above the screen which is usable but doesn’t deliver the quality you’d want for live streaming. It’s more about showing your face in Zoom meetings, and that’s about it.
But then again, while nothing is extremely bad, I feel like MSI is doing the bare minimum here. The speakers are just ok, the webcam doesn’t even capture full HD and that big chin under the screen makes the whole laptop look a little dated.
When it comes to performance, the Stealth packs a lot of punch thanks to an Intel Core i7-1280P CPU and an NVIDIA RTX 3060 GPU. Our review unit even comes with a 1TB SSD and 32GB RAM, the latter of which is arguably overkill given the rest of the system specs. You’ll want to make sure you find out where the Stealth’s fan speed settings are in the MSI Center app though, because when this thing is running, there’s more than just a subtle whoosh waiting for you.
In Shadows of the Tomb Raider at 1920 x 1080 and the highest settings, the Stealth averages 106 fps, which is just a little bit better than the 102 fps we got from the similarly sized Alienware x14. Meanwhile in Metro Exodus, the Stealth matched the performance of the Alienware, with both machines hitting 55 fps at full HD and ultra settings. So not exactly amazing horsepower, but still more than enough to play modern AAA titles with lots of graphical bells and whistles enabled.
Keyboard and touchpad
One thing I really like about the Stealth 15M is the Spectrum keyboard. Not only do the keys have a soft, gentle touch, they let out just the right amount of light from the sides, adding a bit of glare without scorching your retina. And of course you can turn everything off if you want to go completely undercover. Below that, you get a touchpad just four inches wide and two and a half inches long, which can feel a little cramped at times. That said, having a substandard touchpad isn’t as important as it is on a more mainstream notebook. Most gamers will probably carry an external mouse with them, as touchpads really aren’t ideal for gaming.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Stealth 15M is its battery life. It comes with a 53.8 Wh power cell, which feels frustratingly small compared to the Alienware x14, whose battery is 50 percent larger at 80 Wh, despite both systems being roughly the same size. That results in a pretty disappointing longevity, with the Stealth lasting just four hours and 15 minutes in our local video rundown test versus 9:45 for the x14 and 5:42 for the more powerful Razer Blade 15.
After using the Stealth 15M for a while, I’m not really mad, I’m just disappointed. I love the overall design and aesthetics and the Stealth strikes a great balance between performance and portability. In many ways, it feels like a more mature take on a thin and light gaming laptop.
The problem is, it almost feels like MSI has neglected the Stealth line. Compared to previous years, the main upgrades for 2022 are a refreshed CPU and GPU, along with a new badge on the lid. That’s not nothing, but I know MSI can do better and I really hope the Stealth gets a completely redesigned soon.
Ultimately, assuming you can tolerate the short battery life, the Stealth 15M’s value depends a lot on its price. I’ve seen this thing listed as high as $1,700 from retailers like walmart, which is just too much. At that point, you’re much better off going for a notebook with a slightly smaller screen like the Alienware X14 and getting similar performance, or opt for Asus’ Zephyrous G14 while also saving a few hundred bucks. But if you can grab the Stealth for? less than $1,400, many of the system’s compromises become a lot tastier. I wish this version of the Stealth felt more like James Bond and less like Agent Cody Banks.
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