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Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XA review: Creatives will love this prosumer-level OLED laptop

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Editors' note, Nov.  26: After due consideration of the competition, we've retroactively awarded the Aero 15 OLED model an Editors' Choice for creative work. Our original review follows.  

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8.2

Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XA

The Good

An OLED display combined with multiple profiles gives the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED bonus points for people doing color work, and its performance is up to the needs of people doing photo and video editing on the go.

The Bad

Bad webcam placement and subpar battery life for a work laptop.

The Bottom Line

The Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED is an all-around winner for prosumer creatives who don't need pen or touch support.

As reviewers, there are some laptops we want to ditch as soon as we finish with them so we can move on to something better and there are some we never want to let go of. The Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED doesn't quite fall into the latter category for me, but it comes closer than almost any other creative-focused clamshell laptop I've tested so far in 2019: It's got an excellent OLED screen that's calibrated with multiple profiles, ranks pretty fast for both photo editing and gaming and has a satisfying design that fits both work and play.

The Aero's gaming heritage is obvious; for instance, it has RGB lighting for the keyboard, its ControlCenter software has readouts for speeds and temperatures and it's equipped with Killer networking for optimizing network bandwidth and minimizing latency. But unlike other repurposed-for-creatives gaming laptops, this one actually has extra features that make it a little more suited for color-conscious creatives.   

Read more: Best laptops, desktops and tablets for designers and creatives in 2020

While it's not cheap, it's not overpriced given what you get. The OLED version of the Aero -- there are a couple of models with a 1080p 240Hz screen instead -- comes in configurations that run about $1,700 to $4,000 (£1,900 - £3,400 and AU$2,500 - AU$5,900). You have a choice of processor (Core i7-9750H or i9-9980HK); memory (8GB, 16GB, 32GB or 64GB, though there's no 64GB option in the UK); storage (256GB, 512GB or 1TB, though there's no 256GB option in the UK); and graphics processor (Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, RTX 2060, RTX 2070 or RTX 2080, though there's no 2060 option in Australia).

Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED

Price as reviewed $2,499, £2,499.99, AU$3,799
Display 15.6-inch 3,840 x 2,160 OLED 60Hz
PC CPU 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H
PC memory 16GB 2,666Hz DDR4
Graphics Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q
Storage 512GB SSD, SD card reader
Ports 1 x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, 3 x USB-A 3.1, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x combo audio
Networking Killer Ethernet E2600, Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650, Bluetooth 5
Operating system Microsoft Windows Pro (64-bit)
Weight 4.9 lbs/2.2 kg

I'd avoid the lowest-end configurations, because the combo of 8GB RAM and 256GB storage is quite confining, but for photo editing the i7 and GTX 1660 Ti are fine if you have to make budget trade-offs. For video editing, 3D rendering and AAA gameplay, on the other hand, you'd want to max it out as much as possible.  

Our $2,500 test configuration, the XA model with a six-core Intel Core i7-9750H, 16GB RAM and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q, performed relatively well. Its primary competitor is the Asus Pro Duo, a dual-screen OLED laptop that costs the same for a similar configuration but downgrades to an RTX 2060 in favor of a 1TB SSD. The Asus's primary display is a touchscreen, which is one thing I miss in the Gigabyte. But the Asus has some drawbacks relative to the Gigabyte that are hard to overlook: The keyboard is uncomfortable without the wrist rest, it's got mediocre battery life and it's relatively heavy.

On-target color

Though not as robust as the color management of a mobile workstation, which generally has profiles stored in hardware, it's one of the broader systems I've seen in a prosumer laptop. For example, it comes with a Pantone-certified software profile for print work, plus four color temperature software-calibration profiles (D5800, D6000, D6500 and D6800), which you can swap among via the ControlCenter rather than using Windows' system. Oddly, the Native profile it loads is sRGB rather than just a full-monitor gamut, which is what "native" usually means in this context. 

Since all OLED laptops use the same Samsung panel, the software profiling and supporting hardware are what differentiates them from each other. In this case, it makes it a lot more out-of-the-box flexible than the one-profile-fits-all versions of other OLED laptops I've tested. 

As tested (using Portrait Displays' Calman 5 Ultimate and an X-Rite i1Display Pro), the display is very accurate for a nonpro screen. It covers 100% of DCI-P3 and about 93% of the Adobe RGB color gamuts, all the white points come within 250K of their targets, gamma is very consistently close to 2.2 above 20% gray (OLED gamma has a discontinuity roughly below 20% because it has different shadow-detail characteristics than monitors with less perfect blacks, for which a gamma of 2.2 became standard) and the gray scale is reasonably neutral. For colors, it's very accurate at maximum brightness -- I was told it was calibrated to 100% brightness for Adobe RGB and it might be even better at lower brightness levels -- and with just a little tweaking could probably hit anyone's accuracy threshold.

Because of different implementations, brightness varies across the OLED panels, too. I somehow managed to register a peak brightness of over 600 nits for a 10% window in HDR mode, though most often that will be closer to about 415 nits, and full-screen maximum brightness for normal work is around 350 nits. 

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Watch this: Top 5 laptops with the best battery life (2019 edition)

But why, oh, why?

The laptop's design is generally very good, with one whopping exception: the unusable webcam. It's on the back of the keyboard deck, on a slightly angled beveled edge -- perfect only for torso shots. It's hard to imagine someone thinking the up-nose camera Dell was roundly mocked for was a good idea, but Gigabyte seems to have managed. It has a physical privacy shutter, though.

The other aspect of the design that I'm not thrilled with is the placement of the AC adapter plug. It's relatively close to the middle of the right side, which is fine if you can run the cord toward the back, but if you need to run it toward you it blocks the card slot and possibly the USB-C connection.

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The power connector is too far forward and can block the SD card slot -- and possibly more -- if you have to run the power cord toward the front of the laptop.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Aside from that, it's quite nicely done. Game-y, but not gaudy with it. It's relatively thin -- venting all around helps keep it cool -- with all the connections that can reasonably fit on it, and while it's no ultralight laptop at 4.9 lbs or 2.2 kg, that's quite competitive for a 15-inch with its specs. The screen has extremely narrow bezels, and it's got a rubbery bumper around the edges that ensures some space between the keyboard and the display. It feels solidly built, but I'd have to abuse it for a while before knowing where its weak points lie in that respect.

The keyboard isn't quite as tactile as I like, but it's not mushy and has a decent amount of travel and a traditional layout, including a numeric keypad. Not my favorite feel for gaming, but fine for typing and creative work. Plus, the ControlCenter software lets you create keyboard macros, which can come in handy for video or photo editing and the like. The touchpad is pretty typical, and has a fingerprint sensor built in.

Performance is about what you'd expect given the processor, graphics and memory specs; definitely enough power for photo editing, HD video editing, light 3D work and so on. Though its battery life is a little better than average for a gaming laptop in its class, it's disappointing for work -- less than 4 hours even without running anything stressful and about 6.5 hours in our streaming video test, even with its AI smarts enabled. But that comes with the territory, and you can probably stretch it if you need to with some tweaks. It can get pretty hot on the bottom if you push performance to the max, but that's true of them all.

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Razer Blade (2019, OLED) 19,641Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED 20,844Alienware m15 R2 21,592Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018) 23,558Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581G 24,211
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018) 966Razer Blade (2019, OLED) 1,073Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED 1,082Alienware m15 R2 1,158Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581G 1,445
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (Streaming)

Razer Blade (2019, OLED) 174Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581G 249Alienware m15 R2 265Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED 402Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018) 689
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581G 3,378Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED 3,625Razer Blade (2019, OLED) 4,330Alienware m15 R2 5,013
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Shadow of the Tomb Raider gaming test

Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED 67Razer Blade (2019, OLED) 68Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581G 69Alienware m15 R2 82
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

System configurations

Acer Predator Triton 500 (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design; (2) 512GB SSD RAID 0
Alienware m15 R2 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design; 1TB SSD RAID 0
Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018) Apple MacOS Sierra 10.13.6; 2.9GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 4GB Radeon Pro 560X / 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 630; 2TB SSD
Asus ZenBook Pro Duo (UX581GV) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.7Hz Intel Core i7-8559U; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060; 1TB SSD
Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD
Razer Blade Advanced (2019, OLED) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD
01-gigabyte-aero-15-oled
8.2

Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XA

Score Breakdown

Design 8.4Features 8.5Performance 8.2Battery 7