The N550JK is a well-built machine with a sober, elegant design. Made entirely of aluminium, the chassis screams solidity; the lid is the only section that feels slightly lower in quality. We didn't notice any play anywhere in the body and the hinges feel as though they're built to last. The overall size (383 x 255 x 27.7 mm) and weight (2.77 kg) are average for a 15.6" laptop.
The chiclet keyboard is the same colour as the palm rest and offers perfectly comfortable typing. The keys are well sized, are pleasant to type on and have decent rebound. It contains all the shortcuts one tends to expect out of a keyboard and includes a numeric keypad. The nicely sized touchpad is a great cursor-moving tool that responds promptly to your finger's commands and recognises all of the standard Windows 8 touch gestures. The touchscreen is easy to use. Full HD resolution, even on a 15.6" display, doesn't make a touchscreen the best way to deal with the classic Windows desktop, but it's perfect for the Start Screen interface.
The keyboard backlighting can be adjusted to one of three levels of intensity. It stays discreet thanks to the bluish hue, but it's still strong enough to use in the dark.
Along the left edge of the machine are two USB 3.0 ports, an audio in/out combo jack, an Ethernet port, an HDMI port, a connector for the external subwoofer and a mini-DisplayPort. On the right edge are a DVD drive, one USB 3.0 port and an SD card reader.
The wireless connectivity consists of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which we measured as having a relatively stable signal of -48 dBm from 5 to 10 metres away and -53 dBm from 20 metres away.
Considering the components inside, the N550JK handles its temperatures admirably well (it maxed out at 56°C, but only during our stress test). That said, we would have preferred it to be even cooler, even if that meant more fan noise. It should be said, the fan is quiet; we picked up 42 dB at the most. Just watch out where you place the computer, as a good amount of the air is pulled in through the bottom of the chassis.
The N550JK has a 15.6" IPS display with 1920 x 1080 pixels. We measured the contrast at 837:1 and the brightness at 329 cd/m², both of which are excellent for a laptop.
Grey colour temperature
The colours are just as excellent with a Delta E of 2.3, denoting faithful, natural tones. This puts the display in the top rung of notebooks for colour fidelity. The colour temperature is also near-perfect at 6,635 K, where the ideal is 6,500 K. This is an outstanding screen, which is quite an advantage for an entertainment-oriented device.
Bang & Olufsen did the audio, providing a decent headphone signal with lots of power and very little distortion at full volume. The stereo image is accurately reproduced and there isn't too much background noise.
This graph shows the frequency response for the four speakers in the front of the computer only, as our standard testing protocol doesn't include a section for a subwoofer. The drivers deliver decent sound in the highs and high-mids, but they obviously lack bass. Fortunately, with the subwoofer on, all that missing space gets filled out, adding in those low-mids that were lacking.
On the whole, the N550JK provides very good sound quality that makes it a great machine for listening to music and watching films.
Note: The model we were sent to review (N550JK-CM137H) features an Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor, 6 GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 850M video card and a 1 TB hard drive. The comments above refer to all versions of the Asus N550JK, whereas the sections below apply only to the model we tested. Available configurations may also vary depending on the country/region in which you live (see inset below).
The Intel Core i7-4700HQ is a processor more commonly found in gaming laptops. And while it only has a mechanical HDD backing it (an SSD would do wonders), it still was able to achieve an outstanding score of 140 in our in-house rating system. Compare with competing laptops here:
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As a result, the Asus N550JK can handle any type of task without flinching. Any programme, from the least to the most complex to run, will execute swiftly. A solid-state drive would have helped speed up the startup and shutdown times, as well as the launch times for certain applications, but the overall user experience is still top-notch.
This is the first time we've tested an Nvidia GeForce GTX 850M graphics card. It has 2 GB of memory here and is based on the same platform as the GTX 860M—Maxwell architecture with 640 processing units and a 1,250 MHz clock rate—but has its clock capped at 876 MHz by default and 923 MHz in boost mode (that's on our model, the frequencies vary from one chip to the next...).
It nonetheless gets the job done and clearly outperforms its predecessor, the GT 750M, as well as the GTX 765M, which is supposed to be the better of the three. You can play any recent game in the screen's native resolution on the N550JK, but with the most demanding games you'll have to put the graphics on High, not Extreme, if you want fluid gameplay. As for Full HD videos, they play perfectly on the N550JK.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
With components like these, we weren't surprised to see the N550JK last just 4½ hours in our standard battery test (continuous video playback in airplane mode with the keyboard backlighting turned off, the brightness at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in). This is good, but it's a far cry from the Apple MacBook Pro 15", which lasted 6½ hours in the same conditions.