Gaming laptops are a weird concept to me. I have an enormous tower sat by my leg every day to pump out high end games and let me stream them. It has enough fans in it to power a small jet plane, more ports than I'd ever care to use and enough flashing lights to satisfy the child that I secretly am. The idea of cramming that all into a tiny box the size of one of my monitors is a little baffling at the very least.
The last laptop I owned had a similar amount of processing power as smartphones that have been off the market for a few years. It struggled to run browsers or much of anything and led to me getting Steam about 4 years later than most other people I know. Getting together a sturdy gaming build or a gaming laptop was just too prohibitively expensive in the past, so I was totally turned off of the idea. Fast forward to last month and the shiny new company Thunderobot offered to send me out their new ST-Plus laptop to review. Being the eternal pessimist I am, I cautiously accepted. Considering I was just about to set off for E3, it seemed like the ideal way to put the laptop through it's paces as the gaming withdrawal started to bite and I had a terrifying pile of work to run through while out in LA.
Let's start with appearances. For a first entry into the market, the laptop looks surprisingly premium. It's a mere 2.5cm thick making it significantly slimmer than most other offerings in the 'gaming laptop' area and while not being made of brushed aluminium, it has a similar look albeit in plastic. There's definitely a style impressed on it with the Thunderobot logo on the lid and a few accentuating lines thrown in for good measure. It really does feel like they've shot for a reasonably stylish appearance without creating the need to add a premium for it onto the retail price a la Razer. This couples with a decently sized 15.6" screen creates a really nice addition for the high end of the mid-sized laptop market. There's a reasonably broad bezel around the edge of the screen, which also accommodates the 1MP webcam, which could be a little slimmer but isn't terribly off-putting.
Here's where things get a little surprising. The specs of this little beast are surprisingly good for the price, billed on their site as €1,299 but available to purchase as low as €800 from a quick web-search. For that buy-in, you get an Intel i7 7700HQ CPU, an NVidia 1050 ti, 8GB of DDR4 RAM (2400mhz) coupled with a 128GB SSD and a 1TB HDD. That's quite a punch for such a low price point. The graphics card and CPU combo would set you back around €500 for the desktop versions alone, let alone when you take the rest of components into mind. I was a little staggered when I realised what the specs were. Even at the billed €1,299, that actually isn't terrible value. If you can manage to snap it up for a lower price then this becomes almost a no-brainer.
Ports? This laptop has them. With the ST-PLUS you get 2x USB 3.0 ports, a Type-C 3.1 port, a 2.0 USB port, 2x Mini Display ports, a HDMI output, your standard headphone and microphone ports along with your expected ethernet input. That's not a bad offering for a laptop at all and almost rivals desktop rigs that I've had in the past. Their layout is pretty sensible with the USB ports evenly distributed on both sides of the base, giving good access for all of your inputs without overcrowding.
The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable to type with. I'm a bit of a mechanical keyboard purist, so I was a little hesitant about not packing my keyboard to take with me to use. However, the built-in keyboard has really solid hit detection, no ghosting and feels really solid with each keystroke and gives solid feedback to let you know you've hit each key. I was almost instantly up to my usual typing speed with it which is a rarity for me moving to another keyboard. The only small down-point for the keyboard is that, which is has all of the pretty lights that are the current trend for keyboards, they aren't reactive to key presses directly and light up in 3 chunks across the board. There are a set of software powered rotations you can set to run to create a miniature rave under your fingers, which admittedly my fellow passengers didn't much appreciate on my flight, but they do appear 'cheap' and I swiftly reverted to a solid backlit option instead.
The touchpad is pretty solid and serviceable. It has good sensitivity and didn't drop inputs often (which could easily be explained with my lack of familiarity with using them). It supports all of your expected movements (2 finger dragging to scroll, pinching to zoom etc) and definitely does the trick. But, let's be honest, no-one is likely to be gaming with it any time soon and will either be packing a controller or a stand-alone mouse to go with it.
As far as performance is concerned, it could handle whatever I threw at it easily. Witcher 3 looked fantastic on Ultra and only had the odd stutter that you'd expect from running on a 1050 ti rather than a beefier 1080 series card. It was every bit as nippy as the specs would suggest and you can rest assured it would handle any titles currently out on the market with ease. However, this is where the laptop part of the setup really kicked in. The heat that came off when running a high-end game was more than considerable. While this did mean that the heat was piling out of the side of the laptop, it did mean that an awful lot of heat was being generated. The laptop itself kept within sensible limits throughout testing but the temperature being pushed out by the fan located at the right-back corner was almost painful to the touch. While it wasn't concerning to experience, it did create a small limitation on how it could be placed when used on your lap. It would likely be remedied by a cooling pad but is worth noting regardless.
Some of the rub here comes with battery life. The battery isn't the biggest, which perhaps is to conserve the small form factor or the lightweight nature of the laptop, weighing in at 2.5kg. This does mean that gaming on the go is a little limited. Depending on how intense the game you are running is, you can expect between an hour to 2 hours of battery life. For more general browsing and typical usage you're more likely to stretch this out to 4-6 hours which isn't overwhelming but definitely serviceable. This doesn't make it a terrible battery life for a gaming laptop honestly but far from the best.
Ultimately, this is a pretty good setup. The specs are pretty impressive for the price, the feel and usability of the laptop are really nice and I can't really knock it on too many areas. While the RRP of €1299 makes it a tough choice when there are MSI models with a few extra perks around the same mark, if you can pick it up for a lower price as I've seen online (closer to €800), then this makes a fantastic pick. The gaming laptop market is a tough one to break into with it being crowded by the likes of Alienware, Razer, MSI and other well established manufacturers already. However, there is a definite niche left for those without money to burn but the need for solid equipment that can get the job done. Hopefully Thunderobot can find their place with the ST-Plus at the lower price-point.