User Interface, A/V Quality, and Thermal Design
We’ve already touched on the GT72’s far superior physical buttons, replacing their capacitive GT70 counterparts which we so frequently maligned. But a few other minor improvements to the user interface have also snuck into this updated model.
For starters, though the SteelSeries keyboard is mostly identical to that of the GT70, some subtle adjustments have been made. Most notably, the Enter and Backspace keys are now wider, which makes for more comfortable operation and a quicker adjustment coming from other keyboard layouts. The keyboard also completely avoids all flex, with a solid feel across the breadth of its layout. The rest of the keyboard continues to escape any degree of serious criticism: the keys are flat-surfaced, featuring a comfortable medium-length stroke and an only slightly soft impact. Feedback is partially a subjective matter anyway, but the Steelseries model here once again feels generally good to use—and as a bonus, it’s also quiet.
The keyboard is once again backlit, featuring three distinct zones of colorful illumination. The zones and color profiles can be toggled with a quick press of the corresponding button to the left of the keyboard—another nice feature. The backlighting appears even and high-quality.
The touchpad, on the other hand, has seen a near-complete redesign. As opposed to the countersunk, somewhat small touchpad on the GT70, the GT72’s is larger and completely flush with the rest of the surface of the palmrest. The slightly rubberized texture continues across the surface of the touchpad, but we didn’t find this to be a problem in general use; it merely proved comfortable. For lack of a haptic dividing line between touchpad and palmrest, the border actually illuminates along with the keyboard when backlighting is on. The buttons below the touchpad, meanwhile, are once again superior to those on the previous model, with quieter clicks that are still no less decisive and a superior texture and appearance to that of the glossy faux-metallic plastic on the GT70. Our only minor criticism here is consistent with that of all notebooks featuring seamless palmrest and touchpad surfaces: that is, that it can be occasionally difficult to determine by feel just where the touchpad is located. Naturally, while gaming with a mouse, this is not a concern.
The GT72’s CMN N173HGE-E11 17.3” Chi Mei display is a 1920×1080 (1080p) matte panel that’s of a popular family amongst modern gaming notebooks. That’s thanks to the fact that it’s not only of relatively high quality, featuring very good contrast and reasonable brightness (around 300 cd/m²)—plus great viewing angles for a TN panel—but also because it’s cheap. When such panels can be sourced for as low as $70 by the end-user, it’s hard to comprehend why notebook manufacturers would ever opt for lower-end compromises simply to save 20 or 30 bucks in production. It’s far from the best we’ve seen, with an undeniably cool temperature that probably begs some calibration from those who have the resources and the conviction, but we have little more to criticize about it here than we did its sibling component found in the GT70 (the N173HGE-L11). It would be nice to have IPS across the board, but this is at least a very good TN option.
Audio is, once again, absolutely top-notch. Thanks to high-quality drivers and a dedicated subwoofer on the bottom, the sound profile is full-bodied and volume is more than sufficient. Bass is well-represented, whereas the high frequencies remain clear even at high volumes. Overall, it’s simply an excellent sonic experience, and one which should completely preclude any concerns about needing to resort to external speakers.
Thanks to the GT72’s completely redesigned case, thermal management has seen serious improvements. As opposed to the single-fan design of the GT70 with limited ventilation on the bottom of the machine, the GT72 features dual cooling fans (one for CPU and one for GPU), plus the previously-detailed thoroughly-vented bottom panel.
The results of these changes—in conjunction with better efficiency from the GTX 980M over the previous GTX 880M—produce a machine which is not only cooler during gaming, but also far quieter than its predecessor. Of course, it’s still loud under load, but no longer is it a nuisance; with audio turned on, we never found ourselves bothered by its operation. There were also no problematic hot spots on the machine during our gaming sessions. Though we never recommend gaming on the lap, the GT72 proves that it can handle it by remaining comfortably temperate during such testing. Meanwhile, the keyboard and touchpad maintain merely tepid profiles even under the harshest of conditions. Clearly, the redesign was both an aesthetic and practical success