Keyboard & Trackpad / Screen & Audio Quality
Keyboard & Trackpad
Due to such a small chassis footprint Monster’s chiclet-style keyboard hearkens back to the netbook generation, and that's not necessarily a good thing. It is compact and quite restrictive since Eurocom only had a limited amount of space to work with. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation where the key size has been maximized, resulting in very little distance between each of the individual islands. You’ll quickly find yourself making errors and over-reaching for certain keys, particularly when going from a standard keyboard to this one. Using it for extended periods of time gives a sense of claustrophobia and accuracy is next to impossible for anyone with slightly oversized hands.
There are however several redeeming qualities here. The keys exhibit an excellent amount of feedback, keyboard flex is virtually nonexistent no matter how hard this area is pressed and the space bar’s allotted footprint is quite generous. The inclusion of a non-slip palmrest pays dividends, particularly when gaming or using a word processing application. It keeps your hands firmly placed in a strategic location, regardless of how much sweat is involved. Nonetheless, expect your word per minute rate to be cut in half when using the Monster.
An interesting aspect of this condensed keyboard is the juxtaposition between the items which were sacrificed to optimize space and those which came through unscathed. On one hand, all of the left-hand functions (Tab, Caps Lock and Shift) along with the right justified Enter and Backspace buttons are perfectly sized, making them accessible and easy to find for touch-typists. However, the right Shift button is minuscule and the arrow keys are crammed into an extremely confined space.
From a gaming perspective, the WASD and function buttons are quite small and actually locating them can in a pinch becomes a lesson in frustration. In addition, the lack of backlighting makes it very hard to situate your hands when using the Monster in a dark room.
If you’re a gamer, the trackpad won’t be used all that much while playing and that’s a good thing. Its buttons are a bit hard to press and make a loud "clack" sound when pressed and its finger tracking has a serious case of Tourettes. Everyone needs a bit of resistance on their trackpad to ensure pointer accuracy but the textured, rubberized finish makes this one feel like the onscreen pointer is moving through a vat of molasses.
Double taps are all but ignored unless performed with excess pressure and pinch-to-zoom becomes a hopeless exercise. Then, at other times, it picks up phantom inputs or causes the pointer to jump around like some spasmatic rabbit, regardless of the sensitivity setting.
If we had one recommendation for Eurocom, it would be to ditch the textured finish and use a standard, slightly resistive surface here.
Eurocom’s Monster uses a small 11.6” screen which certainly won’t win any awards for color reproduction or contrast but it is still quite acceptable for most uses. Regardless of the professional calibration (a $50 option) we still found certain hues to be under-saturated and blacks lacked richness and depth. This is to be expected from a TN panel but it is still unfortunate since the matte screen on our unit cost an extra $120. At the very least, an IPS panel should be offered as an add-on for true connoisseurs.
On the positive side, this panel is a perfect companion for gaming, exhibiting no apparent ghosting and extremely quick response times. Luckily, the lack of color saturation becomes a secondary concern in these scenarios.
As with all TN panels, this one’s viewing angles are anything but stellar. Any deviation from perpendicular on both the vertical and horizontal axis will lead to washed out colors and drastic reduction in contrast.
The true limiting factors here are size and brightness. The Monster just isn’t big enough to house a larger display and its tiny 11.6” panel feels horribly constrained, reducing in-game immersion and making us yearn for slightly more real estate. And although reflections are nonexistent with the matte option, the screen lacks sufficient backlight output, resulting in a washed out appearance when used in environments with a lot of ambient light.
The Monster doesn’t incorporate the stand-alone sub-woofer of Alienware’s M14x and some other gaming notebooks but it is still capable of delivering adequate sound reproduction. Its speaker output remains blissfully distortion-free until volume reaches extremely high levels while bass and treble remain tightly under control. At no time did we hear the telltale vibrations that typically cloud most notebook speakers when they’re pushed above a certain volume.
Under no circumstance the Monster’s down-firing speakers match the sonorous output of its immediate competition but there’s been an effort to optimize certain aspects of the audio experience. The THX Optimizer software allows for some impressive headphone performance and its Surround options do broaden the soundstage. This was also the only notebook I’ve reviewed to date which was able to communicate with my Sony noise canceling earphones without signal distortion.
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