by Jerry Jackson
The ASUS K50IJ series is one of the latest budget notebooks designed to provide better performance than a netbook and a larger screen for only a modest price increase. Every laptop manufacturer on the market offers a multimedia family PC with a 15-inch screen because these laptops make excellent desktop replacements. The real question is, does the ASUS K50IJ offer enough performance and features at its bargain price of $699? Keep reading to find out.
Build and Design
At first glance the ASUS K50IJ might not look like anything special. Even the ASUS website describes the K50IJ as being "designed to provide a no-frills computing experience to users while on the move." Well, with glowing prose like that how can we be anything other than impressed?
In all seriousness, the K50IJ isn't a poorly built laptop. The chassis is pretty solid with a mixture of glossy and matte plastics and doesn't suffer from the flex or squeaks that are common to cheap plastics. The glossy palmrests are nice and large with good support and the full-size keyboard with dedicated number pad is comfortable to type on during a full day at work. The one and only obvious area of weak build quality are the plastic covers over the screen hinges ... which can pop off with just a little bit of pressure.
Overall, the K50IJ is a reasonably nice looking desktop replacement. I use the term "desktop replacement" because most people in the market for a 15-inch notebook aren't planning to haul their notebook everywhere during frequent airline travel. The nearly six-pound weight of the K50IJ makes this laptop an unlikely candidate for road warriors.
When closed the K50IJ doesn't feel as sturdy as you might expect as the screen lid shows some flex under very light pressure. Additionally, the screen hinges don't provide much tension when the lid is closed so the lid will "flop" against the chassis until the screen lid is about two inches open. Overall, this notebook PC should survive regular day-to-day use and abuse on a desk but might start showing some wear and tear after months of travel inside a school backpack.
The bottom of the notebook features the battery located behind a single access plate that must be removed in order to release the battery. There are no access panels on the bottom of the laptop for upgrading the RAM, hard drive, or wireless cards. While the lack of upgradeability might be a major flaw for some users, it's safe to assume that most people buying this laptop won't be making upgrades. In fact, the K50IJ only has a single RAM slot and comes with a 4GB RAM module, so it's impossible to add more RAM to this system. Unfortunately, if you want to upgrade the hard drive to a faster drive or SSD then you'll have to disassemble the entire chassis.
Screen and Speakers
The 15.6-inch high definition (1366 x 768) panel on the K50IJ-C1 rates average or slightly above average with vibrant colors and excellent contrast. The backlighting in our review unit is nice and bright with an even spread to the backlighting. Yes, it is a 16:9 screen ratio, but this is starting to become standard as LCD fabricators switch to 100 percent 16:9 ratio production, so we're going to have to get used to it. Horizontal viewing angles are extremely good, so you won't have any trouble sharing a movie with a friend or two. Upper vertical viewing angles are average as the colors start to wash out when viewed from above and colors begin to distort and invert as you move the screen back.
The Altec Lansing branded stereo speakers are located beneath the left and right palmrests on the front edge of the notebook. These "lap-firing" speakers tend to produced muffled sound when you have the notebook on your lap (since sound is being directed at your crotch) but the sound is surprisingly good when the laptop is on a desk and the speakers can bounce the sound up toward the user. In short, the speakers are okay, but we would have liked to see a dedicated subwoofer in a notebook this large. As always, we recommend a good set of earphones or external speakers for a better listening experience.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on our review unit of the K50IJ is very comfortable in terms of the typing experience as each key is nice and large with good spacing and proper cushion and feedback. The only issue I had with the keyboard was some flex/bounce under heavy typing pressure, but under normal typing pressure the flex wasn't much of an issue. If you aren't banging on the keys you probably won't notice the flex. The keyboard isn't backlit, so using it in a dark room isn't very easy.
The Elantech-based touchpad is large and comfortable to use with a nice texture and multi-touch capabilities, but my praises end there. Sensitivity isn't particularly good and the touchpad lags during fast movement. The multi-touch gestures don't work as well as some of the other multi-touch touchpads we've reviewed, but the two-finger scroll on the Elantech touchpad did work fine. The touchpad buttons are nice and large, but suffer from extremely shallow feedback and noisy "clicks" when pressed.
Ports and Features
The port selection on the K50IJ-C1 is hardly impressive. In fact, it's downright sad to see a notebook this large with so few ports. The K50IJ includes four USB ports, VGA out, a 3-in-1 card reader, audio jacks, Ethernet, a power jack and optical drive ... that's it. There is no HDMI, FireWire, eSATA, or ExpressCard to be found on this laptop. On that note, it's fair to say that most average consumers don't use the HDMI port, FireWire, eSATA or ExpressCard on their notebooks, but most 15-inch notebooks include these ports.
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