Subjective Overview of the N53JF

The N53JF is a nice looking laptop—some might even say it’s the most attractive of the midrange laptops we’ve recently reviewed—but aesthetics are highly personal. Where the XPS 15 had rounded corners and a slightly thicker chassis, the N53JF is more traditional. The large speaker bar up top may be too much, and stickers abound on the palm rest, but the brushed aluminum palm rest and lid are attractive. Compal’s NBLB2 is old school in appearance (i.e. not good in our opinion), and the Clevo is okay but feels a bit cheap. I’d say personally I like some of the design elements of the N53JF more than the other laptops, but I do prefer the backlit keyboard and solidity of the Dell XPS.

ASUS makes the same mistake we’ve lamented with so many other laptops: there are no glossy finishes except for the LCD and bezel. I understand the idea of coherency—i.e. keep the entire viewing area glossy—but you will routinely put fingerprints on the bezel when you open up the laptop. Dustin also disliked the webcam “shutter”, but I’m not so negative on the feature; it may break, since it’s just a plastic slider, but if you’re like me you’ll have the webcam in the off position 99% of the time anyway.

The most controversial design element is probably going to be the speaker bar across the top of the keyboard area. Simply put, it’s huge, and that might give you the impression that ASUS is using better than average speakers. Perhaps they are, but subjectively the sound didn’t impress me all that much. Audio is clear, but there’s a major emphasis on the highs, to the point where a lot of my music sounded scratchy—like there was static on the high range. This was present on CDs, MP3s, and lossless FLAC audio files, so it’s not just a problem with overly compressed music. The lack of a subwoofer also hurts relative to the XPS 15’s excellent sound, so in the end the audio is just okay. Cranking up the volume, the overpowering highs become even more so, and certain music and sounds would create some resonance and distortion above ~80% volume. You can see pictures in the gallery above showing the dissection of the N53JF that show the two speakers underneath the large grille; they look to be pretty typical 1” (or smaller) tweeters, making the aesthetics of the grille even more questionable. Frankly, I expected a lot more from speakers bearing the Bang & Olufsen badge.

The keyboard is another “average” area. ASUS eschews the chiclet style that is used on so many other laptops for a change, but I’m not sure their flat keys are any better. There’s a fair amount of flex on the keyboard, no backlighting, and the number keypad has a half-sized “0” key that overlaps with the cursor keys. It’s certainly not my favorite keyboard ever, not by a long stretch, but it’s also not as bad as the Acer/Gateway floating islands. The palm rest and trackpad are decent sized and the latter works as well as other touchpads I’ve used, with support for all the latest multi-touch features. Again, ASUS uses a glossy rocker switch for the buttons, which is the wrong decision in our opinion, but it’s not so bad that we can’t live with it. Like I said, it’s simply an average layout.

The other item to discuss is the display, and here’s where things get a little confusing. Astra32 (and our display calibration utility) both report the N53JF LCD and the Dell XPS 15 1080p LCD as being an AU Optronics B156HW1 (B156HW01 v5 for the N53JF). While both are 15.6” 1080p displays, the backlighting and contrast are clearly better on the Dell panel—even without using any hardware, it’s immediately noticeable that the contrast in particular is nowhere near as good on the ASUS panel. Maximum brightness is also lower, so we’re not sure if AUO simply has different versions of the same panel where one model has a wide gamut and better contrast. The net result is that we like the 1080p resolution, but compared to the Compal, Clevo, and (no longer available) Dell 1080p offerings this LCD is definitely the low man on the totem pole. That still makes it a far better choice than any of the 768p displays we see everywhere else!

One other aspect of the design that bears mention is the access to the internals, which is actually another step back. A single smaller cover provides access to a couple of wire connections, while a larger panel hides the RAM and HDD slots. The problem is that the screws securing the larger panel are hidden beneath the rubber feet on the bottom of the notebook. If you never access the SO-DIMM slots and you don’t plan on upgrading to an SSD in the future, it’s not a big deal, but hiding screws on the bottom of a laptop in this manner is silly. We’re not talking about a laptop that’s designed for looks (i.e. MacBook’s unibody chassis), and there are plenty of other screws visible on the bottom, so hiding these and forcing users to remove and replace the feet (which will inevitably wear out the stickiness if you do this more than a couple times) is unnecessary. We went ahead and dismantled the laptop a bit more to show the internals, mostly because we had already removed the other 26 screws that hold the chassis together. The keyboard comes off relatively easily, and again I have to comment on just how flimsy this particular keyboard feels; please, add a stiff backplate on the keyboard next time ASUS.

Ultimately, what you get with the N53JF is a decent notebook that fails to surpass the competition in some key areas. ASUS uses a lesser LCD and the keyboard isn’t quite as good as we’d like; they make up for this by including a Blu-ray combo drive. On paper, we suspect they also spent some money to get the “improved” Bang & Olufsen speakers, but the result failed to impress. They’re not terrible, but if the speakers (and branding) added even $25 to the total cost, that money could have been put into getting a higher contrast LCD instead.

ASUS N53JF: Four Times Lucky? ASUS N53JF: Performs as Expected
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  • anactoraaron - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    That they would pack in USB 3.0, bluray and then put in that below average 1080p display. Not that it matters with Sandy Bridge on the horizon. Best advise is still to wait.
  • ET - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    It's nice to see 1080p becoming more prevalent at this size laptop, but why can't we see some higher res displays at 20"+? I had a 19" 1600x1200 CRT eight years ago, and resolution hasn't gone up since then, and even dropped from 1920x1200 to 1080p in recent times. Laptops these days have some high DPI displays and I'd love to see some on the desktop.
  • Ushio01 - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    1920x1080 monitors are replacing 1680x1050 TN panels in the mid range monitor segment just as 1680x1050 replaced 1280x1024 monitors with the advantage of either 120hz TN or IPS screens. 1920x1200 monitors still exist and are just as expensive as always along with the 2560x1440 and 2560x1600 in the high and very high end segments.
  • jabber - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    1080p will be a curse for us all in a couple of years time.

    Never will a standard have been surpassed and found wanting so quickly.

    They should have made it 1440p at least.

    Now us computers users have to suffer from the display world being lazy and sticking to a screen depth not much more that what we were used to 10 years ago.

    Thats progress.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    I think the main bottleneck for the resolution picked for the HD standard was the capacity of dtv broadcast/blueray/hddvd disks without any compression artifacts. Bumping the frame sizes up 77% would have needed a significantly higher compression level and would've resulted in the videophiles who're currently reviling netflix/hulu/etc's streaming offerings for low quality to have slammed the new standards; potentially rendering them stillborn at birth, and almost certainly slowing adoption down significantly.

    The other hangup would be the size of the TV screen needed to get full use of the resolution in the living room. 1080p is generally not worthwhile on less than a 40" screen because the angular size of the pixels at 720p are too small to resolve at couch distance. The smaller pixels of a 1080p screen won't be visible as individual pixels until about 56". At the time the standards were being written 56" was an enormously large TV. It's still larger than most TVs sold today.

    Until that changes (and bluerays, or the bandwidth needed to stream them at full quality, become commodity items) I don't expect anything to change on the consumer video market. When that happens I expect the new standard will be one of the 4k resolutions; probably either 3996×2160 (1.85:1) or 4096×1714 (2.39:1). We'd also need a higher density video cable standard. DP 1.2 will carry the 2d version of either signal, but would need doubled again to support 3d. Hopefully lightpeak will be mainstream by then and able to carry the data.
  • TegiriNenashi - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    2.39:1 ? That is insane.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    It's the wide-wide screen mode at theaters today. IT would render all but the largest desktop computer displays too short to be useful for anything except consuming content. The video industry would see this as a feature.
  • TegiriNenashi - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    I don't think letterbox has any future in the movie industry itself. Avatar 3D was rendered at 1.78 : 1. Let the 2.39:1 die, the sooner the better!
  • Hrel - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    here here
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - link

    Hear, hear?

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