MSI Creator Z16 laptop review: Gamer meets creator
“The MSI Creator Z16 has its charms, but it can’t quite beat its rivals where it matters.”
high refresh rate screen
Excellent content creation performance
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Clicky, Comfortable Keyboard
slim, sleek chassis
not bad gaming machine
small, weak touchpad
Average Battery Life
Everyone wants to take a shot at MacBook Pro. The Creator Z16 is MSI’s attempt to take on the 16-inch model, and on paper, it looks like a useful option.
It has the same 16:10 high-resolution screen and ultrathin chassis. It even has the same sky-high price, with a starting configuration of $2,549.
But the MSI Creator Z16 will need to go above and beyond to entice buyers away from the MacBook Pro, or even Windows rivals like the Dell XPS 17, Asus VivoBook Pro X16, or any number of others. The Creator Z16 has a unique set of features, but its appeal will likely be limited to those who have unparalleled interests in both PC gaming and content creation.
The MSI Creator Z16 is a strange bird. Inspiration from the MacBook Pro is definitely front and center, whether it’s the “Space Grey” color, rounded corners, or even the 16-inch 16:10 screen size. But many of those features have become standard in the tech world that closely follows Apple’s lead.
What makes the Creator Z16 special? Well, MSI is known first and foremost as a gaming company, and it shows. Despite its intended target audience for the manufacturer Z16, MSI wasn’t able to completely shake those PC gaming trappings.
The most obvious element is the RGB backlighting in the keyboard, which is powered by SteelSeries. Per-key RGB backlighting is a special effect for gaming laptops and peripherals, and it’s worth watching here. Sure, it’s not difficult to convert it to a steady color, but it’s awkward to pay for something extra that most non-gamers wouldn’t want.
There are other holdover vents from its gaming roots. I can appreciate good airflow in a system, but the Creator Z16’s extra vents force other elements of the laptop into awkward places. The wide range of vents above the keyboard forces the touchpad down to squat excessively. Meanwhile, vents on the sidewall force the port to lower the device even further. It’s not an inconvenience, but it does make for an odd looking setup. Again, this is a common thing to see in gaming laptops – not in laptops for content creators.
There are undoubtedly some who would appreciate the slight gaming effects on the Creator Z16. When it comes to performance and performance, there are benefits as well. But from an aesthetic point of view, MSI has to do a few more refinements before the Creator Z16 is ready to compete.
MSI has however managed to make the Creator Z16 impressively slim. It’s just 0.64 inches thick, which roughly matches the MacBook Pro 16-inch. This makes it thinner than options like the Dell XPS 15 and ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4. It’s quite heavy compared to all these laptops at 5.07 pounds. That’s enough extra weight to easily tell the difference when carrying it in a bag or even moving it from room to room.
The side and top bezels are quite small, but the laptop has a large bottom chin, especially compared to the Dell XPS 15. It’s nothing too much, but it’s certainly not the trendiest looking laptop out there either.
The MSI Creator Z16 sports a 16-inch screen with a resolution of 2560 x 1600. It’s a 16:10 format, which exactly matches the size and shape of the MacBook Pro 16-inch. Then again, it’s no coincidence.
However, there is a slight decrease in resolution. While in casual work the screen looks quite sharp for this screen size, you’ll notice that many of the Creator Z16’s rivals use a higher resolution. The MacBook Pro 16-inch has a 3072 x 1920 resolution, while many Windows rivals offer higher-resolution 4K screens.
The MSI Creator Z16 has a few key features, however, that give it an upper hand over the MacBook Pro 16-inch and many other laptops. Firstly, it has a 120Hz refresh rate. Yes, it’s another holdover from MSI’s gaming roots – and it helps the manufacturer deliver the Z16 to a more legitimate PC gaming experience.
But smooth animations are also a boon for everything you do. Whether it is the cursor speed or the scrolling of a webpage, it is all enhanced by a high refresh rate. We’re going to start seeing more of this in the future, especially on OLED panels, but so far, it remains a unique one that gives the Creator Z16 an interesting advantage.
The other notable feature of this display is found in its touch capabilities. Although this has become quite common in Windows laptops, such as the Dell XPS 15, it is lacking in the MacBook Pro 16-inch. I don’t expect manufacturers to rely too much on touchscreens, but it’s a nice addition to use casually.
As for image quality, the MSI Creator Z16 has a few different color modes to make up for. Content creators will be attracted to the display P3 mode. It produces the best color saturation and accuracy, which was impressive. At 100% sRGB, 91% AdobeRGB, and 93% P3, it’s as colorful as the MacBook Pro. A delta-e of just 0.76 is a fantastically low average of color error. It all makes for the kind of performance that professional color graders and photo editors would love.
The brightness and contrast didn’t blow me out of the water. The screen maxed out at 385 nits and had a contrast ratio of 800:1 at 100% brightness. This is where OLED laptops like the Asus VivoBook Pro 16X or the Samsung Panel featured in the Dell XPS 15 really shine.
The keyboard and touchpad are a mixed bag on the MSI Creator Z16. On one hand, the keyboard offers a comfortable typing experience with large keycaps, clicky keys, and a fairly standard layout. Full-size arrow keys are nice, although it may take some time to get used to them.
One minor oddity in the layout is the lack of a function key on the left. Instead, MSI has opted for an extended control key. You still have a function key on the right side of the layout, but only as a semi-key shared with another control key.
As I mentioned in the design section, the keyboard features per-key RGB backlighting, though the SteelSeries software isn’t the most usable. For what it’s worth, the indicator light on the caps key on my review unit didn’t light up when it was on.
The touchpad is where I have my big issues. It’s too buggy and implemented poorly. Due to the position of the keyboard (again, see above in the design section for more details), the touchpad is slid down to a squat shape. It’s one of the smaller touchpads you’ll find on a laptop designed for creatives. Most designs follow the MacBook Pro’s lead by offering an enlarged touchpad that leaves plenty of room.
However, the touchpad’s click is the most frustrating part. While the tracking and gestures are all smooth on the glass surface, the click mechanism is not well executed. It decelerates when you apply pressure, and then a secondary push is needed to register a click, and I found the mechanism to be too loud and stiff. Over the course of weeks of use, I got used to the faulty touchpad, but returning to a MacBook Pro or XPS laptop felt great.
If it were a gaming laptop, the touchpad would have lost its importance. On a device where the touchpad is expected to be your primary input, this is disappointing.
The MSI Creator Z16 has a fairly limited set of ports. On the left, you’ll find a USB-A 3.2 Gen2 port, Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, a headphone jack, and an A/C power adapter. On the right, you have another USB-A, USB-C, and a micro-SD card slot.
This is disappointing on many levels. There are two different approaches that rivals’ laptops take. Laptops like the MacBook Pro 16-inch Stick with just four Thunderbolt 4 ports supply a ton of power to the device, removing the need for a separate power adapter and simplifying setup. The other option is to throw the entire kitchen sink inside, including HDMI, USB-A, and SD card slots. The MSI Creator Z16 is somewhere in between. It doesn’t include HDMI, requires an A/C adapter to supply full power to the device, and has only a micro-SD card slot instead of the full size.
This will present an inconvenience for creatives who work primarily with a single camera and will be forced to use adapters and dongles when uploading raw material.
The MSI Creator Z16 has some powerful components packed into its slim chassis. MSI does not sell any cheaper configurations Manufacturer’s of the Z16, which isn’t a bad thing. It is a high end tool for a professional audience. The $2,549 starting configuration still gets you an Intel Core i7-11800H, RTX 3060 (with up to 65 watts of graphics), 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. This base configuration also comes with the same 1440p 120Hz screen.
My review unit was a slightly spruced-up model, with up to 32GB of memory and up to 1TB of storage, which raised the price to $2,727 (you can get it on Amazon for as little as $2,599). If you want to spend more than three grand, you can get it with an extra terabyte of storage and a higher-clocked Core i9 processor.
What you get with the Creator Z16 is a very powerful (and expensive) laptop, regardless of the exact configuration. It’s within the same range in most benchmarks like the XPS 15 and 17, as well as the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4.
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