Sunday December 04, 2022

MSI Creator Z16 review: thin isn’t everything

The Z16 is a nice laptop, but it won’t be for everyone. They take the same specs as a gaming laptop but pack them into a smaller chassis that looks more like something you might bring to a boardroom.
The Z16 can be used for gaming, as it has a RTX 3060 discrete GPU, a heavy-duty cooling system called “Cooler Boost”, and a heavy-duty cooling system. However, it also has a subtle appearance that is more subtle than any MSI gaming laptops. It has a silvery-gray exterior, a barely-visible dragon logo, and rounded corners that are MacBook-esque. The screen is 16:10 QHD+ and has a 120Hz refresh rate, which is my preferred aspect ratio for productivity devices. It comes with Windows 10 Pro. The video conferencing features, especially the speakers, are a significant upgrade to what I expect to find on a gaming laptop. This system would make a great multimedia machine.
It’s priced more like a workstation than a multimedia machine. It’s a fine laptop, but it’s a little pricey. It is significantly cheaper than the top laptops in this price range. My test unit (the cheapest on MSI’s website, though I have found a few cheaper SKUs around other retailers), has a Core i7-11800H processor, a GeForce RTX3060 GPU, a 2560 x 1600 touch screen, 32GB RAM, 1TB storage, and a $2,599.99 price (currently listed at $2349.99 MSI claims is a limited-time offer).
The MSRP for a comparable Dell XPS 17 is the same, while a 16-inch MacBook Pro, with similar RAM and storage, costs $500 more at $3.099. The Z16 is still a very expensive laptop. A comparable Dell XPS 17 with a larger screen but lower resolution is available at Walmart for a few hundred dollars less. However, a Gigabyte Aero 15 model with similar specs is available at Best Buy for $1899 and you can easily upgrade to a 16GB model at Best Buy. It has some flaws, which are not typical of a laptop this price. This product is a great choice for those who can afford it.

4.85 pounds, 0.63 inch thick
First, be aware that this laptop is very loud. The Z16’s fans started working the moment I started Cinebench and continued to work throughout the benchmark run. Although the noise was not audible from the next room, it was loud enough to be distracting while I was working at the same table.
MSI has been very proud of the new cooling system. It is said to have “the world’s thinnest 0.11mm fan blade.” These fans were not able to handle these specs, even with the MSI High Performance profile (which optimizes Z16’s power limits as well as cooling behavior for heavy workloads). This control center was much easier to use than previous MSI laptops. The Z16’s Cinebench score of 30 minutes was lower than that of the 10-minute Cinebench score. Also, the CPU maintained a temperature of 95 degrees Celsius throughout the benchmark. This was not a MacBook scenario where it took everything we gave it, but it was hard at work.
The heat wasn’t as severe in our real-world Premiere Pro 4K test, which the Z16 completed within three minutes and nine seconds. This is a very competitive score and it was faster than any Windows laptop I have ever tested. The Z16 scored 769 on the Puget Systems benchmark of Premiere Pro, which measures live playback and export performance. That was easily beaten by the Aero 15.
The temperature was more manageable during Geekbench Suite, and, notably, the Compute benchmark which leverages GPU more than the CPU. Geekbench Compute was, curiously, the only test where the MacBook Pro models didn’t blow the Z16 out the water.
Although the Z16 isn’t the best in its class, it does offer some graphics power. This is more than you would expect from an ultra-thin, big-screen, lighter device. It looks attractive, but let’s not forget about the battery life.

An audio jack is available to plug in peripherals, as well as four stereo speakers with 2W.
The battery life is poor. I was still able to work for less than five hours at medium brightness, even with the Z16’s Battery Saver profile enabled and the GPU turned off. This average is close to four and a quarter hours. My workload isn’t even close to what the computer can do — I was mostly juggling between a dozen Chrome tabs and occasionally running Zoom calls overtop. If you are doing more on your battery, you should expect to get less.
As a portable laptop, the Z16 is not realistic with its battery capacity. Although we wouldn’t expect a laptop of this size to last all day, it is disappointing compared to larger-screened competitors. The last Dell XPS 17 that I reviewed was able to get between seven and eight hours of use. Even the more powerful 16-inch MacBook Pros can last twice as long. We are no longer living in an age where heavy power can be used to reduce a device’s battery lifespan, even for thin or light products.

MSI Creator Z16 Benchmarks
Benchmark
Score
Benchmark
Score
Cinebench R23 Multi
10350
Cinebench R23 Single
1437
Cinebench R23 Multi looped 30 minutes
9991
Geekbench 5.3 CPU Multi
8613
Geekbench 5.3 CPU Single
1555
Geekbench 5.3 OpenCL / Compute
89287

The Z16 is a solidly built and attractive device, despite its shortcomings in performance. It measures just 0.63 inches in thickness. It’s solid and has a comfortable finish, which is a major improvement over other MSI devices I have reviewed. The display is stunning and scrolling is very smooth thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate. The details are clear — I was able to quickly go through a bunch of photos for light editing. I also like the row of hot keys on the right side, which is slightly easier to reach than the function row.
You can log in using fingerprint or facial recognition. But the best surprise was the speakers. They have four speakers and they sound amazing. They can easily reach the volume of an external speaker. I could hear the bass notes as well as the quieter midrange tones, which I don’t normally hear with laptop audio. Did you know that Harry Styles’ Falling’s first chorus has some sweet, subtle harmony? It was only when I heard it on the Creator Z16 that I realized how beautiful it was.
These features make the Z16 both a solid machine for productivity as well as entertainment. These features may not be as important as some of the Z16’s glitches, however. There are some dings that are quite surprising for a device this expensive.
Although there is a kill switch on the camera, I prefer physical shutters. This might be a problem for those who require certain external displays or tablets to do their work, which is at least part of the Z16’s professional target market.

Every smart device requires that you agree to certain terms and conditions before you can use them. These are contracts that no one actually understands. We are unable to review and analyze all of these agreements. We started counting how many times we had to click “agree” for devices to be used when we reviewed them, since these agreements aren’t something most people read and can’t negotiate.
You must agree to these terms before you can use the Creator Z16.
A request for your language
Request for your region
A request for your keyboard layout
Windows 10 license agreement and MSI terms of use
You can also answer the following questions yes or no:
Connect to Wi-Fi
Register with a Microsoft account
Privacy settings (location and Find My Device sharing diagnostic data, inking, typing, tailored experience, advertising ID, sharing diagnostic data)
You can customize the suggestions that your device gives you for tools and services to help you with schoolwork, creativity or entertainment.
To allow Cortana to provide personalized experiences and suggest relevant ideas, Microsoft will collect information about you (including your location, location history, contacts and voice input patterns, speech and handwriting patterns and typing history), including your search history, calendar details and content and communication history from Microsoft apps, messages and Microsoft Edge.
Upgrade to Windows 11
These are the five mandatory and eleven optional agreements that you must sign to use Creator Z16.

I had terrible problems with the keyboard of my unit. My right thumb’s tap would sometimes not register on the spacebar. My colleagues can attest to this. I was sending Slack messages with missing spaces all the time. MSI did not have a replacement unit but said that they had never heard of the issue. The fact that I received this unit makes me a little worried about the durability.
There is no option for a 4K screen. There are other issues with upgradeability. Teardowns have shown that RAM is difficult to access due to the location of the motherboard. Bloatware is the worst. I started getting popups with antivirus nagware every time I opened this thing. I had to close all tabs and restart the unit to get rid of it. I’m not happy to see this on $1,000 devices. It is unacceptable that MSI sends $2,600 laptops with crapware preinstalled. This is the equivalent to Hulu pushing ads on people who pay for their highest subscription tier. Although it won’t affect your experience in the long-term, I find it unpleasant.

It’s a miniLED RGB keyboard with per-key RGB by SteelSeries.
The Creator Z16’s power packed into a slim and attractive chassis is the main argument for buying it. The Aero 15 and XPS 17 are both noticeably thicker than the Creator Z16. The MacBook, which is almost as thin, is also significantly less expensive.
However, I don’t think that argument is strong enough. For anyone who might need to take this device off their desk for a long time, the battery life is a major compromise. The Aero has a lot of other issues that I have with this device. However, if you are willing to pay a bit more and aren’t concerned about poor battery life, the Aero will be a better choice. It offers similar performance but is much smaller and has better port selection and reparability. Those who don’t need the Z16’s power but still want a general-purpose multimedia machine can expect a longer battery life and a premium experience with the XPS 17. The MacBook Pro will offer a significant improvement on all fronts for those who can afford it. This doesn’t make it a bad device. However, it does mean that it is primarily aimed at people who are thin.

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