User Interface, Display and Audio Quality
Once you move beyond the ghastly silver paint, the keyboard on the N55 is perfectly serviceable, though nothing special. Key feel is crisp, and there’s little keyboard flex to be found, but the robust feel found in a Sony or Lenovo keyboard is also missing. Most users will find this laptop simply adequate for long typing sessions, and that’s fine. This is a multimedia laptop, not a workstation.
This being a large, 15.6” system, there’s plenty of room available, and it’s used to cram in a numpad as well as various function keys. That, however, is also a weakness. While the main alphanumeric keys are perfectly comfortable to use, the numpad is extremely cramped, which can make using it a bit annoying. Worse, some additional buttons are placed in odd areas.
The power button, for example, is located directly above the numpad. Fortunately, a momentary press of it doesn’t produce any result, but a button placed on its own would clearly be preferable. Meanwhile, the volume buttons are located at the far left of the keyboard, taking up valuable space that could have been free if they were placed elsewhere.
Large seems to be the theme of this laptop, and the touchpad doesn’t spoil that. It’s huge, and though it lacks texture, it remains easy to use. My main gripe is (as usual) the rocker button. Instead of providing two separate touchpad buttons, ASUS uses a rocker that is swivels on the center, creating a left or right mouse click depending on where you press. This remains an nasty solution that provides poor button feel due to the dead-zone in the center of the rocker.
Display and Audio Quality
Usually a premium consumer laptop is going to come with a nice, big glossy display. Not this time. The ASUS N55 instead comes with a matte display, an extremely unusual move given the target audience of this laptop. Using this laptop in a variety of lighting conditions is easy as a result, but the downside is a notable reduction in the “pop” of images on this display than there would have been if gloss was used instead. While matte displays are often preferable in portable products, the inclusion of this type of panel in a large multimedia laptop is odd. Movies and games would look better under gloss.
Even so, the display is fundamentally strong. In test images black level performance proved well above average, gradient banding was smooth, and contrast appeared well above the norm. Throw in a standard resolution of 1080p and what you have is one of the better laptop displays on the market today. For some users, this may be a defining feature, as quality displays are difficult to find even at luxurious price points.
Without the external subwoofer plugged in, the sound from this laptop is decent. It’s loud and reasonably clear compared to most other laptops, although as is often the case, a pair of $30 speakers would easily be better.
With the external mini-sub plugged in, however, the sound quality is easily among the best I’ve ever heard from a laptop. The lows off-loaded to the sub, the laptop speakers became crystal-clear, and even turning the volume to maximum resulted in no distortion. Music sounds great on this laptop, but movies also benefit, as this is one of the few laptop sound systems that can give you a kick (albeit a very small one) when an explosion occurs in your favorite action film.