MSI and Tobii have teamed up to launch the 17-inch MSI GT72S Tobii (priced at $2,599), the first gaming laptop to feature integrated eye-tracking hardware. The technology opens up new ways to interact with some of your favorite titles, such as Assassin's Creed Rogue.
Beyond the eye-catching tech, you've got a rock-solid gaming PC, complete with an Intel Core i7 processor, an Nvidia GeForce 980M GPU and a colorful display. Though we wish that its eye-tracking technology provided even more functionality out of the box, the MSI GT72S Tobii offers a new range of entertainment experiences, without charging a premium over similarly specced competitors.
Design: More than meets the eye
The black, brushed-aluminum uniform of MSI's Dominator line of laptops suits the MSI GT72S Tobii well. The laptop is simultaneously sleek and ominous, with a shiny, chrome MSI emblem and backlit dragon coat of arms. I'm usually not a fan of plastic on the hinges or the front lip of the notebook but the company has made sure to give each a nice curve in lieu of the typical boxy design.
Upon opening the GT72's lid, you discover that the laptop is more than meets the eye. My gaze settled on the glossy black bar positioned between the hinges, with its three prominently placed eye-tracking sensors. From there, you'll notice the large speaker grille and its red underlay at the top of the deck. Buttons for Power, GPU, Fan Speed, XSplit Gamecaster and SteelSeries Engine run down the far left of the setup adjacent to the large keyboard. The slightly raised, black palm rest with large touchpad completes the presentation.
At 8.4 pounds, 16.9 x 11.6 x 2.3 inches, the Tobii matches the Asus G751JY (8.4 pounds, 16.4 x 12.5 x 0.9~1.7 inches) pound for pound, but is much thicker. Both notebooks manage to make the 1.4-inch thick Alienware 17 seem slim, but neither is as heavy as the 9.2-pound, 16.7 x 12.7 x 1.6-inch Acer Predator 17.
Tobii Eye-Tracking: It catches your eye
The eyes might be the windows to the soul, but on the GT72S Tobii, they're also pretty good controllers. MSI has teamed with the eye-tracking company Tobii to embed the manufacturer's hardware, which consists of a trio of sensors located directly below the display. With Tobii's preinstalled EyeX software, you can perform several actions, including using your eyes to move the mouse, launch apps and operate the Snap feature in Windows 10, all with remarkably accurate results.
Before I started giving the laptop the stare down, I had to go through a short calibration process. Launching the EyeX software, I was prompted to look at the screen between the recommended range of 17.7 and 35.4 inches, or arm's length. From there, the sensors read my eyes, which showed up on the software as two large white dots. Once the sensors had a read on my eyes, I had to complete a couple of quick exercises, in which I blew up asteroids just by looking at them. After my profile was complete, I was ready to take the training wheels off.
While the eye-tracking software is primarily for gaming, Tobii made sure the sensors serve a purpose even when you aren't saving the world or wrecking your friends. The screen dims, for example, when you aren't looking at it and lights up almost instantaneously once your gaze returns. Gaze Trace is hands down my favorite feature, since it displays your eyes' movement using a transparent blob. This looks cool and helps you keep track of where the mouse is going.
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The tech can also give you a hand in launching programs, allowing you to look at an app to select it; you can then open it with a quick tap on the touchpad. You can also scroll through a Web page or document by focusing your eyes on the desired content and using your fingers to swipe up or down. It's a similar function for zoom, except you perform the pinch-zoom feature on the touchpad instead.
Overall, it's cool to have the ability to navigate your computer with your line of sight. However, I'm hoping Tobii is working on a way to eliminate reliance on a mouse or touchpad completely, creating an authentic eyes-on, hands-off experience.
Gaming with Tobii: Keep your eyes on the prize
Tobii's eye-tracking technology is currently compatible with 29 games, including the upcoming title Tom Clancy's The Division. For my tests, I went with Assassin's Creed Rogue and made my way through the first several levels. The default game settings took actions usually controlled by the right analog stick on a controller or shoulder button and shifted them over to my eyes, putting my pupils in charge of both positioning the camera and aiming.
The first 5-10 minutes were disconcerting, since my eyes tended to dart all over the screen as I was trying to get a feel for the lay of the land. Instances in which I'd take a quick glance to the left to attempt to scout for incoming enemies would whip the camera around as well, which messed up my point of view. I also had to train myself not to touch the right stick, which would also displace the camera as the sensors attempted to compensate for the move.
The experience became impressively smooth, however, once I settled my wandering eyes. Soon I was traversing a canopy of trees in a full sprint, swiftly changing the camera angle by focusing my eyes on a particular part of the screen.
My favorite moment came when I fought three British soldiers who were constantly trying to surround me and attack my rear. Thanks to some well-placed counters and quick eye positioning, I dispatched the trio with minimal effort. The EyeX software's response time is comparable to what you'd get using a traditional controller, and nearly as accurate. There were several times when I couldn't get the camera at a comfortable angle, which forced me to use the controller to correct the issue.
Display: Beautiful colors, but could be brighter
Never let it be said that MSI doesn't make pretty displays. The 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 matte panel on the GT72S delivered crisp detail and vibrant color. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's bright yellow shirt popped in an otherwise drab office scene during the 1080p "Central Intelligence" trailer. In a later scene that placed the actor in a fat suit, I could see the water beading on his caramel skin as well as a mole on his right shoulder and his wispy, black chest hair.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt game is a sight to behold on the GT72S Tobii. I stopped to admire the pinks, oranges and yellows that painted the sky as the sun began to rise over the horizon when I rode into town for supplies. A shower of glowing red sparks leapt from the blacksmith's forge as I approached, highlighting the subtle streaks of gray in the dwarf's otherwise-blonde beard. Despite the character's small stature, details were sharp enough to show off his rippling biceps as he brought the hammer down on the red-hot metal.
The preloaded True Color software allows you to switch the display's color temperature among six profiles (Gamer, Anti-Blue, sRGB, Designer, Office and Movie). I used the Gamer setting throughout the course of the review, as it delivered the most vibrant hues. Sizing Options is another helpful display utility that lets you adjust text size by quickly hitting a check box.
I wasn't surprised to learn that the GT72S Tobii's screen reproduced a strong 110 percent of the sRGB gamut, which was enough to top the G751JY's 107 percent. However, it was simply no match for the Alienware 17's 174 percent.
The GT72S Tobii performed even better on the color-accuracy test, scoring 0.8 on the Delta-E test (0 is perfect), beating the 2.3 desktop replacement average. The Alienware 17 however, was right on its tail, with 0.83.
When tested for brightness, the panel averaged 281 nits, falling below the 293-nit category average. That's not nearly as bright as the G751JY, Alienware 17 or Predator 17, which notched 331, 319 and 307 nits each.
G-Sync: Smoothing out the rough edges
The GT72S Tobii is the latest gaming laptop to feature Nvidia's G-Sync technology, which syncs the display's refresh rate with the graphics card and caps the frame rate for smoother graphics with less ghosting and tearing. The result is reduced delay between entering and performing a command, which should come in handy for fighting-game aficionados or first-person-shooter fanatics. Variable Overdrive also comes with the package and allows for faster color transitions in variable-rate environments for near-instant rendering that also makes for smoother graphics.
The Dynaudio speakers paired with Nahimic's audio software delivered loud, full sound, depending on which profile (Music, Movie or Gaming) I used.
As I listened to Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" on Movie mode, the rapper's vocals were predictably louder at the expense of the instrumentals. The Music setting balanced everything out for the most part, but I noticed that the trumpet sounded rough while the bass had a blown out quality. Gaming split the difference, producing a clear vocal, rich trumpet and deep bass.
When I switched over to playing Witcher 3, the narrator's deep baritone had a gravitas that moved the story forward. Protagonist Geralt's deep grunts were almost as weighty as his silver sword as it connected with an undead ghoul with a meaty thud.
Gaming and Graphics: A worthy competitor
The GT72S Tobii's outfitted with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M GPU with 8GB of video memory, one of the most powerful mobile graphics cards available. The card did not disappoint, delivering some epic frame rates throughout the bulk of our testing.
I played Witcher 3 on Ultra settings, pushing my way through one of Novigrad's more unwelcoming forests, until I happened on a pack of wolves. I dispatched the first two with my fire spell, the red-orange flames singeing hair at an average of 37 frames per second. The pack leader was stronger, requiring me to drive my sword into its snowy white pelt. When I bumped the graphics down to high, the frame rate rose jumped to 57 fps. At medium, I got an average rate of 72 fps.
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The laptop achieved 159 fps on low at 1080p during the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege benchmark, topping the 152 fps average as well as the Alienware 17 (Nvidia 980M), which scored 124. The 980M-powered Predator 17 came out on top, however, with a frame rate of 161 fps. When the test switched to high, the Tobii produced 92 fps at 1080p, besting the 80 fps desktop replacement average. The Nvidia and Alienware 17 hit 82 and 37 fps, respectively.
During the graphically taxing Metro: Last Light benchmark, the Tobii notched 128 fps on Low at 1080p, easily beating the 99 fps category average. That was just enough to stay ahead of the Alienware 17 (125 fps) and Predator 17 (118 fps). The G751JY, which also has an Nvidia 980M card, missed the mark, at 89 fps.
The laptops' scores faced a dramatic drop when we cranked the settings up to high. The GT72S Tobii tied the Alienware 17 and the category average, at 37 fps, while the G751JY produced 20 fps. The Predator 17 just barely edged out the competition, at 38 fps. All of these frame rates are playable.
Performance: Serious speed
Before you try and write the MSI GT72S Tobii off as just another expensive plaything, don't forget about its 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK processor with 32GB of RAM. The laptop is a multitasking monster that allowed me to play Witcher 3 in a window while streaming an episode of Black Mirror with 13 open Google Chrome tabs and an antivirus scan running. But if that's not enough power, you can always overclock the chip up to 3.6-GHz.
The Tobii produced 13,673 on the Geekbench 3 test, overcoming the 12,541 desktop replacement average. The Predator 17 and G751JY, both outfitted with 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ CPUs, delivered scores of 13,524 and 13,271, respectively. Only the Alienware 17, with its 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK CPU, performed better, scoring 13,906.
When it comes to drive speeds, the GT72S Tobii's pair of 128GB PCIe SSDs locked in a three-way tie with the Predator 17 and Alienware 17's 512GB SSDs. All three systems delivered a scorching 508.96MBps on the File Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files), which is impressive for nongaming laptops, but still manages to fall short of the 524.5 average. The G751JY and its 256GB SSD hit a jaw-dropping 1,018MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro benchmark, the GT62 Tobii stumbled, pairing 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 10 seconds, which is slower than the 3:44 average. The Alienware 17 and G751JY fared a little better, with times of 3:53 and 3:45, but the Predator 17 asserted its dominance, coming in at 3:37.
Welcome to Keyboard Nirvana
It's not the clicky mechanical keyboard of the MSI GT80 Titan SLI, but man, the Tobii has a seriously comfortable keyboard. The island-style keys are well-spaced but have enough room for a full num pad. The scissor switches are mounted high enough that you can almost see them peeking out just below the keys.
With the 2-millimeter key travel and the 65 grams of force needed to depress the keys, it's almost like the keys were using hydraulics: full of springy, bouncy feedback with every letter pressed. I passed it around to my colleagues, and they agreed. I hit 70 words per minute on the 10FastFingers Typing test, which is noticeably higher than my usual 60 wpm.
The customizable backlighting provided by the SteelSeries Engine just made me want to break out my lighter like I was at a rock show. When I wasn't busy creating new lighting profiles and admiring my handiwork, I took some time to create a few macros so I could get out my spells faster in Witcher 3. The software also has a Statistics feature that keeps track of your button presses, which can come in handy for MOBAs such as DOTA 2.
The 4.4 x 2.5-inch Synaptics touchpad is large, agile and responsive. I had no problem performing three-finger flick, pinch-zoom or two-finger rotate. The two massive, but discrete mouse buttons were a little stiff but got the job done.
The search for an above-average webcam continues. Despite having the ability to capture video and stills at 1080p, I was underwhelmed with the GT72S Tobii's camera quality as it pertains to sharpness.
The visual noise present throughout my test shot made everything blurry, as the whole image was out of focus and many of the overhead lights appeared blown out. The webcam did manage to convey color fairly well, as evidenced by my green-blue sweater.
Heat: Temperatures rising
As long as you don't use it on your lap, the MSI GT72S Tobii stays cool to the touch. After 15 minutes of doing battle with a pair of cave trolls, the space between the G and H keys hit 94 degrees, just below our 95-degree comfort threshold. The middle of the laptop's undercarriage hit 105 degrees while the touchpad measured a much cooler 77 degrees. When I was in the thick of the battle, the fans roared into life, which was rather distracting in an otherwise quiet space.
How many ports do you think is enough for a laptop? Take that number and add a few more and you've got the MSI GT72S Tobii. The right side of the notebook is a little scant on ports, offering only one USB 3.0 port and a Blu-ray burner.
But you'll find four additional USB 3.0 ports on the left, with a 3-in-1 card reader and jacks for headphone, microphone, optical out and S/PDIF. Take a gander at the back to check out the HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port, mini DisplayPort. USB Type-C and the DC power jack.
Long battery life and desktop replacements typically don't mix. That's why I wasn't surprised when the GT72S Tobii lasted only 3 hours and 26 minutes on our battery test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness), which is short of the 4:24 average.
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It's better than the G751JY's 3:17, but nowhere near the Alienware 17, which lasted 6:07, or the Predator 17 (6:54).
Software and Warranty
The Tobii is light on bloatware and third-party offerings, but big on gamer-centric utilities and apps. For instance, you get MSI's Afterburner software, which allows you to overclock your GPU quickly and easily. The Dragon Gaming Center runs system diagnostics, instantly access a game using the Windows key and switch among the three performance modes (Green, Performance and Sport). System Control Manager places controls for Wi-Fi, Camera, Bluetooth, Volume and Display Brightness in one central location. Lastly, there's Burn Recovery, which can restore the laptop to default settings in case of an unfixable mishap.
Third-party applications include Flipboard, Fresh Paint and Nvidia GeForce Experience, a suite of apps designed to enhance your gaming experience by boosting the battery, launching titles in optimal settings for the best frame rates and live streaming. Killer Network Manager lets you set up network priority for your open apps. MSI also teamed with Xsplit to give gamers a free one-year subscription to Gamecaster, allowing you to record or live-stream your best gaming exploits.
The MSI GT72S Tobii ships with a two-year limited parts and labor warranty.
Innovation, thy name is MSI. Integrating Tobii's eye-tracking system into one of MSI's iconic notebooks was a bold move that can potentially change the way you work and game. Delivering smooth, agile functionality, it largely pays off, mostly dodging the gimmick label. I say mostly because 29 games is a pretty small catalog, especially when only two of the titles are triple A. And until Tobii comes up with a way to totally ditch the mouse and touchpad for nongaming functions, I foresee many gamers sticking to the rivers and the lakes that they're used to.
However, when taken on its merits as a gaming laptop, the MSI GT72S Tobii is still a winner. The $2,599 laptop offers an overclockable Intel Core i7 CPU with an equally powerful Nvidia GeForce 980M card, whip-fast SSDs and a downright lovely display. If you're looking for a notebook with a brighter 4K screen and longer battery life, there's the Alienware 17, priced at $2,649. There's also a cheaper, $2,000 model that has a 1080p display. Overall, if you're looking for a great gaming laptop that's on the bleeding edge of technology, the MSI GT72S Tobii is the way to go.