Editors' note: This review is part of our 2010 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
The Asus K501J-BCN5 is a member of Best Buy's Next Class program, which elicits feedback from college students about the features they want to see in a laptop. College students told Best Buy they would like a preloaded Office suite, long battery life, antivirus protection, and a backlit keyboard--all in a portable package at an affordable price. The Asus K501J-BCN5 hits on all of these features by and large, but you do pay for it. The K501J-BCN5 costs $699 and is nearly identical to the
So, what does the extra $170 get you on the Asus K501J-BCN5 that's not included on the BBZ5? Not a bump up with the CPU, more memory, or better graphics; both laptops features the Intel Pentium T4500 chip, 4GB of DDR2 memory, and integrated Intel graphics. The BCN5 model serves up a larger hard drive (500GB instead of 320GB) and a higher-capacity six-cell battery (62Whr to 46Whr). It also includes a backlit keyboard and a year of Webroot AV protection. Microsoft Office Starter 2010 is preinstalled, even though Best Buy's site claims that Office Home and Student 2010 is included. Starter is very limited, including only stripped-down versions of Word and Excel that are ad supported; we'd rather use free office apps such as Google Docs or Open Office.
In the end, the Asus K501J-BCN5's extras are a tough sell for an addtional $170. If you like the design of the Asus K501J laptop as we do, you may be better off going for the cheaper Asus K501J-BBZ5 and forgoing the added hard drive space and backlit keyboard, finding yourself a free office suite and a free AV app such as AVG or ">Avast. Then again, a backlit keyboard is a must-have feature for many, and this is one of the least expensive laptops we've seen it in.
|Processor||2.3GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T4500|
|Memory||4GB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||15.6 x 10.0 x 1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.8 / 6.6 pounds|
The Asus K501J-BNC5 uses a similar textured plastic chassis as past K Series models, which features a subtle hound's-tooth pattern on the keyboard deck. The lid is texture-free and has a satinlike finish to it, which doesn't pick up fingerprints but does attract dust and grime. We slightly prefer the lid on the Asus K501J-BBZ5, which has a glossy finish underlain with the hound's-tooth pattern. The wrist rest below the keyboard is wider than usual, but the large plastic expanses to either side of the touch pad feel rigid, with little to no flex. The hinges, too, are sturdy and hold the display firmly in place.
The keyboard features isolated "Chiclet" keys, popularized by the Apple MacBook, which offer a pleasant typing experience. The keys have backlighting, which you can adjust (there are three levels of brightness) by using the F3 and F4 keys. Asus crams a narrow number pad to the right of the keyboard, which results in no keys being shortened on the keyboard with the exception of the four arrow keys. You may not find the need to use them much; the touch pad supports multitouch gestures. So instead of using the up and down arrows to navigate long Web pages or documents, you can simply swipe your two fingers vertically on the touch pad.
The touch pad is surprisingly small, though we never felt especially constrained when directing the cursor to and fro. The mouse buttons are generously proportioned, though they are a bit stiff and emit a loud clack when pressed.
The 15.6-inch LED backlit display features a 1,366x768 resolution, which is what we'd expect from a midsize laptop, and on-screen images are bright and crisp. The glossy screen coating strikes a fine balance between improving the image and keeping glare and reflections to a minimum. Above the display is a low-end 0.3-megapixel Webcam.
The Asus K501J-BCN5 features a pair of Altec Lansing speakers, which emit average sound. They'll suffice for movies and YouTube videos, but music playback is best done with a set of headphones or external speakers.
Best Buy's Web site advertises Microsoft Office Home & Student 2010 as the preinstalled office app on the Best Buy exclusive Asus K501J-BCN5. We were disappointed to find Office Starter 2010 instead. It includes only Word and Excel, and limited versions at that. Worse, Microsoft ads continually rotate through a small box in the lower-right corner of the apps. Office Home & Student costs $119 for full, ad-free versions of Word and Excel, plus PowerPoint and OneNote. We think a preinstalled office app is less important these days, with Google Docs continually improving and with Open Office offering Word and Excel compatibility. The other piece of software included with the Next Class program is one year of Webroot AntiVirus with Spy Sweeper 2010 protection, which costs $35 or $40 if purchased separately.
|Asus K50IJ-BCN5||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/ microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, multiformat media card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|