Maingear eX-L 15 Notebook Review: All Dressed Up and Ready to Game
User Interface, Display and Audio Quality
My first thought after typing on the eX-L15 for several seconds was “Damn, this feels a lot like a Lenovo IdeaPad.” That’s a great compliment, as Lenovo has excellent keyboards on most of its consumer laptops. There are significant gaps between each key on the eX-L15, which means that there is more tactile feel while moving your fingers, but each individual key still feels substantial. Travel is smooth, as well, although it does end more abruptly than I’d prefer.
And there’s more good news. The solidarity that defines most of this laptop also extends to the keyboard, which allows for minimal flex. You’ll have to press absurdly hard to find any at all, and in normal typing it’s a complete non-issue. I do have the same complaint about this keyboard that I have about all 15.6” laptops with a numpad –the extra numbers result in slightly smaller keys than would otherwise be possible. Also, the lack of backlighting is disappointing considering the price.
The impressive keyboard is, unfortunately, balanced by a ho-hum touchpad. As is too often the case with large laptops, a significant amount of palmrest surface is not utilized to enlarge the touchpad, which results in a cramped feel. A bigger issue is the touchpad’s texture, which is no different from the material of the palmrest. Although there is a slight depression separating the palmrest from the touchpad, it’s not as definite as I’d like, and could cause an occasional misplaced finger if you’re trying to use the laptop in a dark environment.
Below the touchpad are two small buttons which appear to be separated, but aren’t. This isn’t exactly a rocker design, but both buttons are connected in the middle to a fingerprint reader, a curious additional feature that’s nice to have but isn’t necessary for a gaming laptop. Because the buttons are joined in the middle there is significantly more travel at the edges of the buttons than the middle.
Display and Audio Quality
Normally this is the part of the review where I tell you that I found the display to be fairly terrible, but that it’s acceptable because that’s the industry standard. Thankfully, this is one rare instance where I can report differently. The 1080p display on the Maingear eX-L15 has its limitations, but it’s light-years of head of the average laptop LCD, and an absolute pleasure to use.
The beauty of the display is instantly apparent. During the gaming benchmarks, which I ran before even taking a look at the Lagom LCD test images, I was struck by how vibrant the benchmarks appeared. Textures that normally look washed out and dull were bold and beautiful, as if they were leaping out of the display.
Further testing revealed that much of this beauty is likely the result of the display’s excellent black level performance. The ability to render dark shades is important, particularly in games, which often have dark details such as shadows. Displays with poor black performance create a muddy or washed-out image as the details in dark scenes are lost, but the eX-L15 was able to render games in their full glory.
That’s not to say the display is without limitations. It is glossy, of course, which means using the laptop in brightly lit rooms can be a chore. The display is also not without slight dithering issues, which appear in the form of a grid pattern in the two darkest images of the Lagom black level test as well as a very slight flicker in the darker bands of the gradient tests. However, these problems were completely invisible at a normal viewing distance, and only became apparent when I moved my eyes within about a foot of the display. Needless to say, most users don’t face-plant into their laptop during normal use.
Given the size of the eX-L15, there’s plenty of room for a sound system including a miniature subwoofer, which has a port located on the bottom of the laptop. Overall, the sound is well above average, delivering crisp audio with little distortion. There is, however, a tinny quality to the sound. Although not overwhelming, it’s certainly noticeable, particularly when listening to music at high volumes. This issue is less evident when playing games, which benefit from the (relatively) good bass delivered by the eX-L15.