Metabox Alpha WA50SJ Laptop: Australian Review

Gaming laptops are great, but they're generally pretty expensive and you're usually restricted to the components chosen for you. You don't have to buy a laptop from a big brand-name manufacturer, though — there are companies out there that specialise in building you a notebook from scratch, using a prebuilt chassis, adding the components that you select and customising both the hardware and that laptop's design to suit you. Metabox is one of those companies, and the Alpha WA50SJ is one of its entry-level notebooks.

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What Is It?

Specifications
  • Screen Type: IPS LCD, 1920x1080 Full HD
  • Screen Size: 15.6-inch
  • CPU: Intel Core i7
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce 850M
  • RAM: Up to 16GB DDR3L
  • Storage: 256GB/512GB SSD
  • Battery: 62.16 Watt-hour
  • Connectivity: 3.5mm headphone/mic, 3x USB 3.0, USB 2.0, eSATA, SDXC, HDMI, VGA
  • Audio: 2x 1.5-Watt, JBL Audio

The starting-from-$1289 WA50SJ is Metabox's new entry-level, everyday, work-and-play notebook. Metabox is a company that takes Clevo barebones laptop bodies and fits them out with any of a huge range of processors, graphics cards and other computing hardware, tailoring laptops to suit individual customers' needs. Being an entry-level model, the WA50SJ isn't exactly packed to the gills in terms of gaming hardware, despite Metabox's gaming roots — but it does still have a gutsy Core i7 inside, with a few different variants available.

The body of the Metabox Alpha WA50SJ is pretty standard Clevo fare — it's not exactly Lenovo Yoga thin, but for the components inside it's not quite as bulky as the MSI GT70. It's simple; the champagne gold lid might turn off someone looking for a business-friendly laptop, and that same pattern continues inside on the notebook's wrist rest. Crucially, you can spec out different design variants from Metabox, including a carbon fibre wrap that looks amazing in the photos I've seen.

If you were expecting anything especially groundbreaking from the WA50SJ, you'll be disappointed. It's not that kind of laptop; it's all about simple, dependable, reliable performance in a body that doesn't try to do anything controversial. The power button is on the top right inside, the keyboard is logically laid out, the clicking trackpad is large and surprisingly responsive, and the strong screen hinges allow a generous amount of screen tilt — about 130 degrees of motion.

What Is It Good At?

If you want ports, you got ports. On the Metabox WA50SJ's left side, along with the DC power jack and a huge exhaust fan outlet, you'll find VGA, Ethernet, eSATA, HDMI, and USB 3.0. Around the other side there's headphone and microphone jacks, a USB 2.0 port and USB 3.0, and a DVD/Blu-ray disc drive. Compared to the meagre selection you get on most Ultrabooks and entry-level productivity notebooks, it really is great to see such a diverse selection, and although it's becoming increasingly less relevant having VGA might come in handy for some users.

The power contained within the WA50SJ is more than enough for the everyday user, too. That midrange Core i7-4710MQ quad-core is plenty powerful for the standard suite of productivity tasks, but it'll also handle photo and video editing with aplomb — that's what having a 3.5GHz boost clock and up to 16GB of RAM gets you, even though that takes a pretty heavy toll on battery life. The GeForce 850M GPU is less than perfect for modern games, but it does a decent enough job especially considering the WA50SJ's price.

The screen, too, is one of Metabox's strong points. A 15.6-inch LED-lit display, its 1920x1080 pixel resolution means plenty of detail without requiring too powerful a GPU to run it, and the matte finish does wonders for everyday readability in a variety of viewing conditions. The bezel isn't the prettiest thing in the entire world, but the importance of having a matte screen can't be discounted if you're planning to use the WA50SJ in a bright working environment or when you're travelling.

The laptop's general build quality is, for an off-the-shelf model, impressive. There's barely any flex in the keyboard, even through its center, and the trackpad's tactile clicking feedback is good without disrupting the usability of the touch-sensitive tracking itself — which still isn't MacBook-grade but gets 90 per cent of the way there. There's no creaking in the hinge or flex in the chassis, and you get a sense that the entire device is quite well put together.

One thing that deserves mentioning again is the flexibility with which Metabox lets you customise your laptop. You can choose to have it outfitted in carbon fibre, you can opt for a more powerful processor, you can bump up SSD or hard drive storage capacity, you can add a second hard drive, you can add a mSATA solid-state drive, you can buy another battery and charger at purchasing time. There's a hell of a lot of little extras available that can make buying a laptop less of a hassle, and to Metabox's credit a lot of them are worthwhile. At the moment, for example, you get a free upgrade to a Samsung solid-state drive or Crucial mSATA SSD, as well as two years' free premium warranty support. These are great value-adds.

What Is It Not Good At?

Being an off-the-shelf laptop configured from a barebones model, the Metabox Alpha WA50SJ is a little bulkier than its competitors from Apple or Razer or Alienware. This expandability and extra internal volume really does good things for keeping the WA50SJ cool during operation, even under heavy load, but at 31mm thick at its widest point and nudging 2.5kg this is on the less portable side for a 15.6-inch notebook.

The gold design of the WA50SJ, too, might turn off some. If it were up to me I'd go for the entire carbon fibre layout, although that adds a few hundred dollars to the final price tag. It's not that it's ugly — it's actually quite attractive, in its way — but it just jars slightly with the textured plastic of the screen surround and the base of the notebook for my tastes. Your personal experience may vary, and if nothing else it's certainly a talking point for you to sell others on a Metabox.

Battery life, despite the WA50SJ's 6-cell removable battery, is not fantastic. This is a machine that will best serve its life on a desk at least half the time — if you're doing anything more than watching movies at halfway up the 15-inch screen's brightness level, you shouldn't expect much more than around 5 and a half hours of screen-on time. Dimming the screen, switching to power saving mode and staying away from power-sucking programs will boost life expectancy massively and is almost a necessity towards the end of your workday.

If you stack it with options, which is very tempting when they're all laid out in a list before you, it's hard to keep the price of the WA50SJ near its $1289 starting point. Opting for a pair of (awesome) 1TB Samsung 840 EVO solid-state drives, a gutsier Core i7 processor, and double the RAM of my model as tested, the out-the-door price was nudging $4000. That would be an amazing laptop to purchase and own, but exercising restraint is going to be an important trait to have if you're buying a Metabox machine.

Should You Buy It?

Metabox Alpha WA50SJ
75

Price: from $1289

Like
  • Extensive customisation available.
  • Plenty of performance.
  • Wide range of I/O ports.
Don't Like
  • Comparatively bulky chassis.
  • Gold design may turn off some.
  • Mid-range graphics chipset.

Metabox's minute level of customisation for its laptops, including the WA50SJ, harks back to the old days of Alienware, when you actually had a choice about the components inside your gaming laptop. You can choose some pretty powerful fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processors, up to 16GB of RAM, and you can spec or change out yourself the two hard drive/Blu-ray drive bays to suit your storage needs. It's a straightforward and simple laptop, but that doesn't mean it has to be underpowered or severely compromised.

The Alpha WA50SJ's design and construction isn't quite up to the level of the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, but for an off-the-shelf laptop it's actually quite attractive and well built. The champagne gold finish of the lid on my test unit might turn away a few buyers, but Metabox also offers a far more neutral dark brushed metal design. For a laptop with the WA50SJ's power, components and internal battery specs, it's not unnecessarily large or heavy.

At an entirely reasonable $1289 starting price, the Metabox WA50SJ is a great laptop. You get a hell of a lot more bang for your buck than buying a thin and light Ultrabook or most other laptop makers' mid-range gaming notebooks — a gutsy i7 as standard is a great starting point — and you shouldn't discount the ability to pick and choose your own particular PC's components to suite your needs. That's the kind of thing that makes a laptop last twice as long as its competitors. Metabox even lets you choose what version of Windows you want, whether you want an extra battery or charger, or whether you want your laptop wrapped in carbon fibre.

Buying a built-to-order laptop might seem daunting, but there are some clear advantages. You'll spend less, get more, and end up with a device that you're happy with and that is unique to you. Even the most basic WA50SJ is a pretty impressive machine. I'd happily use one every day.

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