BenQ's Joybook R55 is a desktop replacement designed for both work and play. As expected, mobility isn't one of the notebook's trump cards, and its weight of 2.8kg (with battery) and dimensions of 355mm by 254.6mm by 25.5-35.5mm can certainly attest to this.
Looks-wise, the R55, with its multi-shaded purple chassis is certainly unique, although it may appear somewhat out-of-place in a typical office environment. That said, it's definitely a welcomed change from the typical grey/black designs we're so used to by now.
The first indication that this is a notebook that's well-suited to multimedia applications is the line of ports along the front -- there's a line-out/headphone jack, line-in for connecting up a portable audio player (also supports digital S/PDIF connections) , a microphone jack and a mini-Firewire port. To the right lies two USB 2.0 ports, a 56Kbps modem port, an Express Card slot and a 4-in-1 memory card reader (supporting MS, MS Pro, SD and MMC cards). The back of the unit is bare, but on the left you'll find two more USB 2.0 ports, S-Video and VGA outputs for connecting up an external display, and a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port. Also on the left is a connector for hooking up the optional port replicator, which provides a VGA port, two USB 2.0 ports, printer port, Ethernet jack, COM port, headphone jack, and DC-in socket.
Curiously, unlike many multimedia laptops we've seen, the R55 offers no multimedia quick-launch buttons for easily navigating between tracks or adjusting the volume. Instead, some of the keys on the keyboard double as these multimedia controls, but this method is more cumbersome as you're forced to hold down the "Function" key at the same time as the desired multimedia key. To be fair, some traditional quick-launch buttons are present -- e-mail, Web browser and one to enable/disable the 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi chip -- but none are user-programmable.
The trackpad and mouse buttons are large and comfortable to use, but it must be said that the latter make a far louder "clicking" sound when depressed than what we're used to. The keyboard is also comfortable, offering large keys and an adequate pitch of 19.05mm.
By far the standout feature of the R55 is its display, which measures 15.4 inches and offers a WXGA resolution of 1280x800. Its response time is 16ms, which BenQ says is the "fastest response time" offered by any laptop display. The advantage of this is that fast-paced action sequences are shown without any noticeable motion blurring. From our testing we can confirm that the screen produces sharp images with little to no blurring effects.
Considering its low price of AU$2299, the R55 offers some high-end internal components. We are particularly impressed with the Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 graphics chip offered, which should accommodate most gamers' needs, although you may need to wind down the image quality settings on some of the latest titles. The 1GB of memory on offer is also impressive (similarly-priced notebooks typically come with 512MB), while the 1.66GHz Core Duo processor and 80GB 5400RPM hard drive is sufficient but far from the faster or largest you'll find.
Those with a penchant for video conferencing should note that the R55 doesn't offer a webcam, but if you're happy with audio-only the dual microphones allow for great sound quality and range.
Finally, a number of proprietary BenQ applications enhance the laptop's multimedia features tremendously. BenQ QMedia opens up a handy media centre interface that floats on the desktop and gives users fast access to their Web browser, e-mail client, BenQ's QMusic audio playback software, PowerDVD, Nero and Photo Explorer. Other bundled applications include Trend Micro Anti Virus (12 month licence), BenQ Q-DataTrove (for one-touch data backups) and Skype Voice Mail.
Considering its relatively slow processor, we were very pleased with the R55's MobileMark2005 office productivity performance rating of 206. This is only a couple of points faster than Acer's Aspire 5765WLHi, but becomes very impressive when you consider that the Acer unit packs a 2.16GHz processor (compared to the R55's 1.66GHz model).
BAPCo MobileMark2005 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
By contrast, battery life isn't nearly as impressive at just over two hours, but compares well to other desktop replacement offerings. Further, considering its 2.8kg heft, it's unlikely that many potential buyers will be thinking too hard about the laptop's worthiness for use on-the-go.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 battery life rating
(Longer bars indicate more battery-life minutes)
Given its impressive performance, generous software bundle and superb screen, at just AU$2299 the R55 is a rare bargain.