Display, Keyboard and Trackpad
The MSI GS40 Phantom comes equipped with a 14.0-inch 1920 x 1080 “IPS level” panel, with a pixel density of 157 PPI. Considering the hardware in this laptop, namely the GeForce GTX 970M, the choice to go with a 1080p panel is perfect as it will allow most gamers to enjoy the latest titles on near maximum quality at this laptop’s native resolution.
As far as the quality of the display is concerned, it’s average in nearly every way. Measured using my i1DisplayPro, the GS40 Phantom output around 300 nits of brightness at maximum, which when paired with a matte finish is easily viewable in most situations. Viewing angles are okay, but not fantastic, and again should be fine for most situations.
Color quality and accuracy is once again average. Using CalMAN 5’s comprehensive suite of tools, the GS40 reported near-full sRGB coverage using the sRGB display mode, although accuracy falls slightly behind some of the other laptops I’ve reviewed, including the Gigabyte P34W v5. Due to mediocre black level performance, contrast only falls around 1:970, with a general color tone that’s slightly too cool.
In general, though, I expect this display will be perfectly fine for most gamers. This is a gaming laptop after all, not a workstation designed for color-accurate work.
For those that want to tinker, the GS40 includes a software utility called MSI True Color that allows you to change the default display settings. I managed to achieve a very good level of accuracy by choosing the Designer mode, setting it to sRGB with a Neutral color temperature, -4 on the blue slider, -1 on red, and +1 on gamma.
The GS40’s SteelSeries keyboard impressed me. There’s a small amount of flex to the keyboard itself, but each key has decent tactile feedback and travel distance, which makes for a good gaming experience. Gamers used to a mechanical desktop keyboard may find the rubber dome keycaps slightly too mushy, though I was generally fine with this keyboard’s feel during typing and gaming.
All of the GS40’s important keys are of an adequate size; MSI hasn’t attempted to truncate the shift, tab, enter, or backspace keys, and the spacebar is decently wide. In an interesting layout decision, MSI has placed a second backslash key next to the spacebar instead of a context menu key, and I’m not sure why. My only gripe with the layout would be the half-size arrow keys, which aren’t as easy to hit as full-size equivalents.
The top row of F-keys also double as system function keys, allowing you to change the brightness and volume by holding down the Fn key. I’d like to see a way to access these system functions without holding down Fn, and to relegate the F-keys to the secondary function as I rarely use them. While this doesn’t seem to be possible through a software utility, you can disable the Windows key if you keep accidentally hitting it during a gaming session.
Unfortunately, the trackpad included with the GS40 Phantom is garbage. Once again, a gaming laptop manufacturer has opted for an ELAN trackpad, which haven’t impressed me on any occasion. The trackpad simply isn’t sensitive or accurate enough to deliver a good experience, and tracking is incredibly poor. Gestures worked for me on this laptop more reliably than on the Gigabyte P34W v5, which also uses an ELAN trackpad, but that isn’t saying much.
Luckily this is a gaming laptop, so the trackpad isn’t as much of a concern as with an ultrabook. Serious gamers will want to use an external mouse anyway, which I would advise considering the quality of the trackpad that’s included.