- Nice looking design
- Good speakers
- Runs cool and quiet
- Disappointing screen
- No keyboard backlighting
- So-so graphics performance
Quick TakeThe ASUS N53SM is a moderately impressive 15-inch laptop that just falls short on specs.
This 15-inch desktop replacement packs a quad-core processor, Bang & Olufsen speakers, and a two-year warranty for under a grand. Find out why it doesn’t make the cut in our review.
Build and Design
The N53SM is billed as a premium multimedia notebook and has the design to compliment the claim. I like the brushed aluminum lid and palm rest; the silver metal speaker cover is also a nice touch. The glossy screen bezel and touchpad buttons are unfortunately glossy and become an eyesore with fingerprints and dust; I sincerely wish notebook designers would abandon using glossy materials.
Build quality is superb; the chassis is stiff as a board and there’s no flex when pushing down on the palm rest. The plastic used is a step up in quality from what we’re used to seeing on budget notebooks. The lid is also strong and no ripples appear on the screen when twisting it. These are impressive attributes for a consumer notebook. At 6 pounds and 1-1.5 inches thick the N53SM is average for a 15.6″ notebook.
A large access panel on the bottom of the chassis allows access to the two memory (RAM) slots and the 2.5″ storage drive bay. The battery is removable. No surprises here, which is a good thing if you care about upgrading your laptop at some point in the future.
Ports and Features
The ASUS N53SM has an average number of ports for a consumer notebook; it has two USB 3.0 ports and HDMI but not eSATA, DisplayPort, or an ExpressCard slot. On the plus side, you do get an optical drive for watching DVDs or burning files to discs.
Left: Cooling exhaust vent, HDMI, Ethernet, 3-in-1 media card reader, 2x USB 3.0 ports
Right: Headphone/S/PDIF port, microphone, 2x USB 2.0 ports, DVD burner, wireless on/off switch
Screen and Speakers
The N53SM is available with one screen, a 15.6″ panel with a glossy surface and 720p (1366×768) resolution. It’s the kind of panel expected on a ~$500 machine but not one double that. The screen has a cold/bluish hue and poor color reproduction – colors appear washed out. The glossy surface helps contrast but isn’t enough to make up for the panel’s quality; black levels are more gray rather than true black. The primary issue with the display though is the resolution; 720p simply doesn’t provide enough “room” to work with. Significantly more scrolling is required in web pages and Word documents compared to a 720p display; such a low resolution prevents using two windows side by side as well, so productivity suffers. There’s no good that can come out of such a low resolution – normally I’d say it keeps the price down, but that reasoning doesn’t work on a notebook this expensive.
The speakers on the other hand are audibly superior to “typical” notebook speakers. ASUS worked with Bang & Olufsen to create this system and it’s well done. The speakers aren’t particularly loud but have sufficient volume to entertain a few people watching a DVD. Unlike stereotypical notebook speakers with flat sound, these have depth and a touch of bass. The placement of the speakers under the display is also ideal as they face the user; too often notebooks come with speakers hidden under the palm rest which results in muffled sound.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The N53SM has a full-size keyboard with separate numeric keypad. It’s a traditionally styled keyboard, not a “Chiclet” version like on Apple MacBooks. While it lacks backlighting it provides a pleasant typing experience. There’s sufficient key travel for good tactile feedback and no noticeable keyboard flex. The layout is as expected with no keys in unusual positions. The keys in the numeric keypad are smaller than those on the main keyboard.
The touchpad is regular sized for a 15.6″ notebook and has an excellent matte surface. The two buttons are louder than I prefer but have good feedback.