MSI Modern 15 laptop review: A capable budget laptop with a lot of compromises

Is this affordable 15.6-in notebook an ideal option for budget creativity and student life?

Product shot of the MSI Modern 15-21 by 9.
(Image: © Mike Jennings)

Live Science Verdict

The MSI Modern 15 is affordable, it's got the processing power for everyday student and home computing, and its keyboard is satisfying. However, its battery life, screen, and connectivity fail to impress, and it's not good enough for creative work.


  • +

    Cheaper than many rivals

  • +

    Ample everyday computing pace

  • +

    Responsive and satisfying keyboard

  • +

    Light design with military testing


  • -

    Poor battery life

  • -

    No high-end content creation ability

  • -

    Pallid display and disappointing speakers

  • -

    Spongy trackpad and slow connectivity

Why you can trust Live Science Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best ones for you. Find out more about how we test.

Key specs:

CPU: Intel Core i5-1235U or Core i7-1255U

GPU: Intel Iris Xe

RAM: 8 GB or 16 GB

Storage: 512 GB

Screen size: 15.6 in 1920 x 1080 IPS

Weight: 3.85 lbs (1.75 kg)

Dimensions: 14.1 x 9.5 x 0.8 in (358 x 241 x 20 mm)

It's important to get reliability if you're a student heading to campus or a creative professional who needs a notebook on shoots, and the MSI Modern 15 tries to fit the bill at a budget price.

The Core i7 version (B12M-026UK) of this 15.6-in device costs $799 in the U.S. and a tiny £549 in the U.K. For that money you get an Intel 12th Gen processor and a chassis that's undergone military testing for durability.

That's ideal when you're looking for the best student laptop or a tempting, affordable photo-editing notebook, but the MSI Modern 15 lines up against strong competition like the Acer Aspire Vero and HP Envy x360 13.

MSI Modern 15 review: Design & features

Close up of ports on the right side of the MSI Modern 15 laptop. (Image credit: Mike Jennings)
  • Military testing and a lightweight body
  • A crisp keyboard ideal for all-day working
  • Connectivity is fine, but could be faster

We'll get right to the point: the MSI Modern 15 won't win any design awards. That said, its metallic plastic is pretty mature, so people won't cast critical glances its way either.

Despite the price, the MSI has been subjected to MIL-STD-810G testing, so it'll withstand shocks, drops, and temperature changes. So this means it should handle the scuffs and scrapes of campus and work life. That's reassuring, because the base feels flimsy. The Modern may have that testing, but we'd use a protective sleeve out of the house just in case.

There are some other areas where the MSI is ordinary. At 1.75 kg it's not weighty, but it's 20 mm thick – the Acer and HP are slimmer and arguably better-looking, too.

Close up of ports on the left side of the MSI Modern 15 laptop. (Image credit: Mike Jennings)

MSI's rig has a microSD slot, which is a boon for photographers, and it's got three full-size USB ports and a USB-C slot. However, two of those full-size connectors use sluggish USB 2.0 and the USB-C socket doesn't support Thunderbolt, so there's no excess speed for file transfers. The MSI has an HDMI output, and internally it's got Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 – fine for campus connectivity and T.V. outputs. Sadly, there's no Wi-Fi 6E or wired internet.

Rivals offer more. The Acer has faster USB connector and wired networking but no microSD. The HP Envy has two Thunderbolt connectors and Wi-Fi 6E alongside microSD.

The 720p webcam is basic, too, with mediocre quality and no privacy shutter. It doesn't support Windows Hello and the laptop doesn't have a fingerprint reader either, so you don't get biometric sign-in support. Acer's rig has both options and the HP has a pin-sharp 5mp shooter. Now, while those competitors are usually pricier than the MSI, they justify their higher costs with better connectivity inside slimmer, sleeker designs.

The MSI Modern 15 keyboard includes a number pad. (Image credit: Mike Jennings)

The MSI's keyboard is snappy, with the speed and consistency to handle all-day essay-writing sessions. The buttons feel a little hollow, but the MSI easily matches its rivals. It's got a number pad and a backlight, which improves its versatility. We can't say the same about the trackpad, which is too soft. We'd recommend a USB mouse, especially for precise creative tasks.

MSI Modern 15 review: Specs & performance

MSI Modern 15 laptop can handle everyday office tools easily, but gaming is a different matter. (Image credit: Mike Jennings)
  • Low-power Intel chips deliver reasonable everyday performance
  • You'll have to spend more for proper content-creation pace
  • No serious noise or heat issues

The model we've examined includes the low-power Intel Core i7-1255U, which has two Hyper-Threaded performance cores that peak at 4.7 GHz. It's got 8 GB of dual-channel DDR4 memory and a 512 GB SSD that only delivers mediocre read and write speeds.

Adversaries Acer and HP use the same kind of processor, and there's no surprise when it comes to the MSI's performance – its Geekbench single- and multi-core results of 1,654 and 6,931 are normal for this CPU.

There's hardly any difference between the MSI and its rivals. There's enough speed here to handle everyday Office apps and student tools. Multi-tasking between browser tabs, media tools, and communications utilities won't be an issue. It'd also be a decent laptop for coding on a budget. And, while Intel Iris Xe graphics chip can handle light gaming and content creation, that's it. 

If you want proper content-creation ability expect to spend more on a laptop like the Dell XPS 15. And while the U.S. version of the MSI now has Intel 13th Gen CPUs, they won't have a big impact. If you opt for the more affordable Core i5-1235U version then say goodbye to any content creation ability and accept that you'll only be able to run everyday office tools.

Thermally, at least, the MSI is decent. Push the internals and you'll only notice modest fan noise, but it's virtually silent in most situations. And while during our testing we found that there's a bit of excess heat above the keyboard if you stress the CPU, it's not dangerous and the rest of the chassis remained cool.

MSI Modern 15 review: Screen & speakers

While the screen is decent, the speakers are sub par (like most budget laptops, honestly). (Image credit: Mike Jennings)
  • Good contrast means acceptable everyday quality levels
  • Poor color breadth and accuracy put paid to creative work
  • Tinny, underwhelming speakers

The 1920 x 1080 resolution is fine for everyday use, and the matte finish means you won't be bothered by reflections. The contrast level of 1,330:1 is decent and gives the Modern a solid basis for everyday work – you have enough punch and depth to make everyday tasks look decent.

Don't expect more than that, though. The brightness level of 266 nits can only handle indoor use, so you won't get much work done in the park after a lecture.

This display doesn't have the ability for serious creative work, either. It only rendered 56.8% of the sRGB gamut, so it can only produce some of the shades required by everyday games and applications. It makes the screen look a little washed out. Unsurprisingly, it's worse with the Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 spaces, and its Delta E of 5.22 is poor so accuracy suffers.

This screen can only handle everyday tasks and media viewing – anyone serious about photo editing will want something better. The Acer suffered similarly, while the HP had an OLED touchscreen that's far more useful for creatives.

We also recommend different audio kits for games, T.V. shows, or movies. The speakers have reasonable volume, but they're tinny and lack bass. An affordable Bluetooth speaker would be better.

MSI Modern 15 review: Battery life

Average battery life at best. (Image credit: Mike Jennings)
  • You'll struggle to get through to lunch with this laptop
  • A seven-hour lifespan at best

MSI builds this laptop with two different batteries. In the U.K., it's sold with a tiny 39.3Wh battery, while U.S. buyers get a larger 52Wh unit… and honestly, neither are good.

We've tested that U.K. model, which lasted for nearly five hours in an everyday work test. Drop the screen brightness or play a movie and you might get six hours.

If you've got the larger U.S. battery, add an hour to those figures. And if you want to push the internals with light gaming, you won't get two hours from this notebook.

No matter which model you've got, you'll struggle to see lunchtime. That's a long way from other rivals – the Acer lasted at least seven hours in a work benchmark and the HP lasted even longer.

MSI Modern 15 review: Price

The MSI Modern 15 laptop is an affordable option. (Image credit: Mike Jennings)

Weaknesses like poor battery life are no surprise when you consider the MSI's price. In the U.S. the i5-1235U model costs $499 and the i7-1255U version is $799. In the U.K., they cost £529 and £549. There's no doubt that those prices are affordable, but some of the MSI's competitors are surprisingly well-priced too.

Take the Acer, which has better battery life and more connectivity than the MSI. In the U.S. its Core i5 and Core i7 models cost $499 and $862. In the U.K., at least, the Acer's prices of £699 and £799 put it beyond the MSI.

The HP is reliably pricey, but that's no surprise considering its convertible AMOLED display and better battery life. Its Core i5 and Core i7 models cost $799 and $949 or £799 and £1,099 in the U.K., so it's always more expensive.

Should you buy the MSI Modern 15?

A good multi-tasker, the MSI Modern 15 is capable of every day general use. Content creators may want to look elsewhere. (Image credit: Mike Jennings)

It's impossible to get everything right on a budget laptop, but the MSI Modern 15 does have some positives. The Core i5 and Core i7 processors are capable everyday CPUs for home and student use – the latter in particular is a good multi-tasker and adds some basic content creation ability.

Elsewhere, the MSI has reasonable build quality, it's not heavy, and it has plenty of USB ports. The keyboard is comfortable, too. On the other hand, its battery life is bad, the screen is underwhelming, and faster connectivity is easy to find.

The MSI is a capable everyday performer for students and home users – especially those who need to save money or do lots of typing. However, this probably shouldn't be on your list if you want lengthy battery life, loads of ports, or photo-editing ability.

If the MSI Modern 15 isn't for you?

Want more ports, more biometrics, and a better battery life without parting with lots of cash? Then the Acer Aspire Vero is ideal. It's very good for the environment, too.

If you're a creative who's comfortable spending more money then the HP Envy x360 13 has a fantastic display, a convertible design, and all-day battery life. It's a solid photographic choice.

Although not known for being low cost, the quality of Apple products are highly regarded. So, if you’ve got your eye on a MacBook, then the cheapest way to get an Apple laptop is to go for the MacBook Air M1. It’s a powerful machine with impressive battery performance.

Mike Jennings

Mike is a freelance technology journalist and consultant who is fascinated with gaming, futuristic technology and motorsport. Previously, Mike has worked as a writer for PC Pro magazine writing and published articles on technology for many other media outlets, including TechRadar, Wired, PC Advisor, Stuff, The Inquirer and Red Bull Gaming.