Motile M142 review: Ryzen finds a home in this surprisingly good budget notebook

Walmart's house brand never feels cheap. There's a lot to like about this Motile M142 low-cost laptop, including the surprisingly solid AMD Ryzen 5 inside it.

Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG

The Motile M142 14-inch notebook PC may be the best budget laptop you’ve never heard of, by a company that understands low prices. That’s because the Motile M142 is Walmart’s house brand, and it’s one that the retailer itself often passes over to promote brand-name PCs. 

Yes, the M142 cuts some corners. At about 6.5 hours, its battery life is comparatively poor. The screen is somewhat dim, and lacks touchscreen capabilities. Given the price, however, it’s a laptop we wouldn’t mind recommending to friends and family with tight budgets.

The M142 has one notable thing going for it: AMD’s mobile Ryzen 3000-series chips. For years, seeing an older AMD A-series chip among the listed specifications meant a lackluster experience. With AMD’s mobile Ryzen, that’s changed. The M142 generally outperforms our current best budget laptop, the Acer Aspire 5 A515-54-51DJ, and for a price that’s about $100 less.

Walmart Motile M142 basic specs

  • Display: 14-inch (1920x1080) non-touch IPS
  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 3500U
  • Graphics: Radeon Vega 8
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB BiWIN SSD
  • Ports: 1 USB-C, 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, HDMI, ethernet
  • Camera: 720p front-facing, IR camera (Windows Hello)
  • Battery: 46.7Wh (reported)
  • Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Dimensions (inches): 12.6 inches x 8.4 inches x 0.75 inches 
  • Weight: 2.48 pounds, 2.92 pounds with charger
  • Color: Rose Gold, Silver, Black
  • Price: $699 MSRP, $399 at Walmart

Motile M142 chassis: sturdy, lightweight

Don’t let the price tag or the Walmart brand turn you off: The Motile M142 (also known as the M142-RG) looks and feels like a laptop that costs several hundred dollars more than it does. From the bold, brand-forward box to the simple, metallic construction, you’ll be pretty impressed initially. (Note that Walmart tends to adjust its pricing frequently. While the M142 dropped as low as $329 for the holidays, it varied between $349 and $399 just over the course of this review.)

At well under 3 pounds, the M142 is surprisingly light. The chassis felt completely sturdy under my fingers, with no flex and a solid hinge. There’s venting throughout, though you should expect the M142’s fan to turn on frequently and somewhat loudly, with a faint high-pitched undertone that some might find irritating, though I didn’t.

Motile M142 Mark Hachman / IDG

There’s substantial venting within the Walmart Motile M142, with risers supporting the laptop to lift it slightly above the desk.

Though a traditional clamshell design, the M142’s display folds a bit farther back than most, to about 30 degrees off the horizontal. If you’re exceedingly tall or sit upright, the M142’s deep recline may feel more comfortable.

Motile M142 Mark Hachman / IDG

The Motile M142 reclines farther than most.

Though it’s a consumer notebook through and through, the M142 retains the business notebook’s predilection for ports, with a smorgasbord of USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, and even the fold-out “dropjaw” ethernet port. 

In any low-cost notebook, you will find some shortcuts made here and there to save cost. Two stand out immediately: Walmart saved a few pennies with USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, rather than the more common USB 3.1. This means that external hard drives, especially, will transfer data a bit more slowly than normal. Pay attention to what port you’re using if you’re connecting an external hard drive, as the USB 2.0 port won’t transfer data as quickly. The ports are marked to tell the difference.

Motile M142 Mark Hachman / IDG

A dedicated ethernet port and USB ports adorn the left side of the M142’s chassis...

The other shortcut is the display. Motile’s 1080p IPS screen has a maximum brightness of only 210 nits, when we consider 250 to 260 nits to be an appropriate baseline for everyday, prolonged use. A second unit we received generated only 190 nits, which will look pretty murky except in a dimly lit office. Under bright light, the M142’s display will begin to wash out, even though it preserves viewing angles.

You can always connect to an external display, and the Motile M142 supported an external 4K monitor with no issues. I was also able to configure that display in HDR mode.

Motile M142 Mark Hachman / IDG

...with HDMI and more USB options on the left.

Another issue is that the display lacks touchscreen capabilities. Again, this may or may not matter for different users. Personally, not being able to reach up and tap an on-screen option feels a bit weird. 

We always appreciate the security and convenience of Windows Hello, which is present in the 720p front-facing camera. It was a bit slow to recognize me, and the visual quality of the camera is pretty lousy. But the basics are there.

Motile M142’s keyboard: Not crummy, but crumby

Typing on the Motile M142’s keyboard was quite comfortable, although the action might not be quite as springy as you’d like. The large keys provide an acceptable amount of travel, though they seem to offer a bit less resistance than other keyboards I’ve tried, meaning that my fingers bottomed out with less effort. 

Motile M142 Mark Hachman / IDG

Even from a foot above, you can see how gunk might work its way into the M142’s keyboard.

We were concerned that the keyboard keys are surrounded by wide, deep gaps that could allow crumbs, dust, and other grit to drop directly into the housings. Granted, no keyboard with moving parts is immune to dirt. Chiclet keys that you’ll find on other keyboards, for instance, are like vertical pillars that emerge from a floor, with tiny gaps that can allow access to dust and other microdebris.

With the Motile M142, the keyboard is more like a series of raised platforms. If nothing else, they look like channels which could accumulate crumbs and other junk rather easily over time—and they did, over the days I tested it. You may want to re-invest some of the Motile M142’s savings into a can of compressed air

Motile M142 Mark Hachman / IDG

A closer look at the M142’s keyboard. The LED light at the corner of the touchpad indicates that the touchpad has been disabled.

Otherwise, the layout is mostly straightforward, with the standard navigation arrow keys in the lower right. An unusual “speedometer” key in the function row (F5) toggles between the normal or “basic” mode and the “quiet” mode, which turns off the somewhat omnipresent fan. The keyboard also includes a pair of buttons for adjusting the backlight brightness up or down. There are three modes from which to choose, including off and two brightness levels.

The M142’s Windows precision trackpad rates as pretty good, taking up the entirety of the space between the space bar and the bottom of the laptop. I found it comfortable to use and responsive, though it’s only clickable across half of the surface or so. Interestingly, the button to turn off the trackpad is found on the trackpad itself: Two quick taps on the upper right-hand corner toggles it on and off. A green indicator light on the keyboard itself (as well as a pop-up message on the display) lets you know that the touchpad has been disabled.

Motile M142 audio: THX helps a little

We’re used to dismissing laptop audio, but the Motile M142’s array is powered by THX, the company that made its name with surround sound and other audio technologies for cinema. It was THX, not Walmart, that shipped us this review unit. THX actually tuned the audio and the display of the Motile M142.

THX’s intervention did seem to help in some ways. Our first review unit, oddly enough, had three audio apps: the THX app itself, the Realtek Audio Console that ships with or is downloadable for most Windows PCs, and an app governing the Creative SoundBlaster chip—which isn’t included. THX called the latter a glitch and gave us a second machine for testing. (The second machine worked acceptably, though the “speedometer” function seemed to be disabled.)

Motile M142 THX Mark Hachman / IDG

THX branding is prominent on the Motile M142.

It’s rare to find a laptop that sounds great when playing back audio from the default speakers. The Motile M142 isn’t that laptop, nor is it especially designed to be. By default, the speakers sound serviceable enough, though a bit faint. Really, the audio experience is optimized for headphones, and the THX Spatial Audio for Headphones app communicates that pretty well.

THX tells us that the software is a virtual audio driver, which should provide the same audio enhancement benefits via the 3.5mm jack as well as through Bluetooth or even USB headphones. That seems to hold true.

In our experience, the THX audio enhancements certainly lend themselves to a richer soundscape overall, including the option to turn on THX Spatial Audio in addition to the basic Stereo. THX provides different presets for games and movies, as well as audio, but doesn’t differentiate between rap and classical, for example. The app also offers an equalizer, though with no presets—a bizarrely common trait on Windows PCs, though a rarity on smartphones. Bass enhancement and a dialogue booster are also available. 

Motile M142 THX app Mark Hachman / IDG

The THX app offers some flexibility in the soundscape, but it’s up to you to tweak the audio levels.

Audio enhancements are definitely something to consider when buying a laptop. Should you buy the Motile M142 strictly for THX alone? No, not to my ears. Even the spatial audio demos available on THX’s page didn’t sound especially “positional”—just sort of a “wall of sound” ambient expression. Let’s just say it was reasonably competitive with other enhancements we’ve experienced, such as the Dolby Audio offered by a Microsoft Surface.

Keep reading to hear about the surprising performance ups and downs.

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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