For the past week, I’ve been using a preproduction unit of MSI’s Summit E15, slated for release later this year. It’s part of the Summit series, MSI’s first attempt to break into the premium business laptop space.
That’s not the easiest market to conquer. Workers and companies have a number of portable, durable, and highly regarded options to choose from, from Dell Latitudes and Lenovo’s giant heap of ThinkPads to beautiful high-end devices like the MacBook Pro and HP’s Elite Dragonfly.
We don’t know exact pricing for the Summit E15 yet, but it’ll be between $1,699 and $1,899. That puts the product somewhere in the middle. It’s more expensive than many popular consumer laptops, but it’s still targeting the lower end of the premium business notebook space. Devices like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the HP Elite Dragonfly, and the Macbook Pro 16 can run over $2,000 in their highest-spec configurations.
While MSI still has some kinks to work out, I can say the E15 isn’t quite the Dragonfly when it comes to build quality. But it’s certainly a well-made and attractive device that’s easy to carry around the office.
There’s certainly no danger of mistaking the Summit series for MSI’s Modern line — it has the sleek and subtle vibe of a premium business notebook, much like HP’s EliteBooks. The body is aluminum, and the finish (MSI calls it “India ink”) has a smooth and comfortable texture. I was initially skeptical when MSI advertised “military-grade durability,” but it certainly feels durable. There’s no flex in the lid and very little in the keyboard.
That’s a good sign for a device this size — it’s 3.94 pounds (but it feels lighter) and .67 inches thick. It’s not at all a problem to carry around the house with a stack of papers or slide into a stuffed briefcase for a commute.
There are some nice touches to the design. On the lid, you’ll see MSI’s lustrous new logo. It’s minimalist and modern, and it’s definitely more suitable for a boardroom than a dragon and shield (the company’s usual branding). The backlit keyboard is subtle but looks nice against the black deck.
The keyboard itself feels a bit flat, though MSI says there’s 1.5mm of key travel. It has a decent click and isn’t too loud for an office environment. I also like the key font, which is friendly and easy to read. There are some helpful hotkeys, including one that cuts the webcam, one called “Flip-N-Share” that turns the screen upside down if the laptop is laid out flat, and one that pulls up MSI’s Center for Business and Productivity, where you can tweak various performance settings.
The touchpad is my least favorite part of the chassis. It’s easy to press, but the material and the click both feel a bit plasticky. It was also frustratingly unresponsive and occasionally stopped working entirely. That’s another thing MSI assures me it will fix before mass production.
And the other thing that’s a bit of a bummer is the 2W speakers. They’re just not very loud. I did a few Zoom meetings on the E15, and even with the volume all the way up, I had trouble hearing the audio if there was literally any noise around me (say, an air conditioner or a barking dog). If you’re a remote worker, that’s worth bearing in mind.
Inside the E15, you’ll find Intel’s new 11th Gen Tiger Lake processors. My configuration came with a quad-core Core i7-1185G7, the top end of that line (as well as 16GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and a GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q GPU). You can select a UHD 4K display, which MSI says covers 100 percent of the Adobe RGB gamut, an FHD touchscreen, or an FHD non-touch display (which my model has). It comes with a four-cell 82Wh battery and a 90W USB-C charger. The port selection is excellent, including two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports that support power delivery and DP1.4a, two USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, one HDMI, one microSD, and one combination audio jack.
Security is an important element of business laptops, and MSI is touting a number of features. The Summit series is outfitted with TPM 2.0 security chips as well as Windows Hello face and fingerprint authentication, and you can lock the USB ports and SD slot. There’s an LED next to the webcam to indicate whether it’s on or off, which worked as advertised. (There are also LEDs on the keyboard to let you know whether the ports are locked, the speakers are muted, and the microphone is on or off. Those didn’t work on my unit, but MSI says that’ll be fixed for the final release.)
Software-wise, you can set up a BIOS password, which will be required at boot-up or when entering BIOS settings. And the systems will, in the future, support Intel’s vPro platform, which offers additional security and management features — expect that model sometime after Q1 2021.
MSI’s drivers aren’t finalized yet, and the company says performance on this unit isn’t comparable to what you’ll see from the real thing. So I’ll be able to update you on how well all this stuff works later this year, when the final unit is ready.
Until then, assuming that MSI is able to iron out the kinks I encountered, I’m optimistic about the Summit series. It doesn’t quite feel like a MacBook Pro or an HP Elite Dragonfly, but it’s certainly well built and looks like it’s on the way to being a competitive option in the business-laptop space. I’ll likely be reviewing the device at some point in the next few months, so feel free to let me know in the comments what questions you have and what you’d like to hear about.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge