While this Satellite has ATI graphics chip, its performance is not much better than integrated Intel graphics. In our Unreal Tournament III benchmark test, the laptop chugged at a paltry 17.4 frames per second at 1,200x720-pixel resolution. This laptop isn't a gaming system, but its ATI graphics should provide a little help with video and system performance.The Dell Studio s1558-5691MSL is a Next Class laptop from Best Buy. Like the retailer's Blue Label systems, Next Class laptops are designed based on customer feedback; in this case, feedback from college students. A Next Class notebook comes preloaded with a full version of Microsoft Office Home & Student 2010; 12 months of Webroot antivirus protection; a backlit keyboard; a built-in Webcam; and at least up to 4 hours of battery life. Including Office is nice and does make the s1558-5691MSL a better value. It's loaded with good components, too, including a 7,200rpm 500GB hard drive and an Intel Core i3 processor.
However, if you've made the switch to Web apps like Google Docs, are fine with free antivirus software like AVG or Avast, and would rather have a more entertainment-minded laptop for that $800, check out the Sony Vaio EA24FM/W, which has similar performance and battery life, but has a Blu-ray drive and Intel Wireless Display. Or if you like everything here, you can configure the Studio s1558 on Dell's site and get it for about $75 less without the software.The Dell Studio s1558 has sort of a wedge shape to it, tapering from 1.5 inches at the back to 1 inch at the front. It's a solid-feeling laptop, too, but at nearly 6.5 pounds with the power adapter, it might be a bit much for some to drag around campus all day. Although it's plastic, Dell gave this model a convincing brushed-metal finish that doesn't hold onto fingerprints nearly as much as you'd expect. That finish continues on the inside on the keyboard deck. The bottom is a standard matte-black plastic found on mainstream and budget laptops, as is the glossy black bezel around the LCD. It's a nice-looking and seemingly well-constructed system, likely to hold up to a good amount of use.
Bucking the Chiclet-style keyboard trend, Dell went with a pretty standard keyboard design, but it is large and comfortable with good movement and response. The keys are flat, but don't have the separation you'd find on a Chiclet-style keyboard. The keyboard is backlit and the light can be dimmed or shut off entirely with the F6 key. There are no extra media controls or a button for turning on and off wireless. Instead Dell clearly marks the function keys so adjusting things like screen brightness and volume can be done quickly and you don't have to hit the Fn key. (In case you actually want to use the Function keys for nonmedia tasks, a simple change in the BIOS settings under the Advanced tab will make the media controls the secondary function, meaning that you'll have to hit the Fn key to use the media controls.)
The touch pad is an indentation in the palm rest with a textured coating allowing fingers to glide smoothly. It seems a bit small, as do the mouse buttons that rise from within the bottom of the pad. The button movement is a little mushy without a satisfying click. On the other hand, we never had any problems using either the pad or buttons. Dell programmed in a few extra gesture features such as circular scrolling for quickly moving up and down with a swirl of a fingertip and pinching for zooming in and out. They're activated out of the box, but can easily be turned off.The 15.6-inch glossy wide-screen LCD has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for laptops in this price range (budget 15-inch systems typically have 1,280x800-pixel displays). It's perfectly adequate for most mainstream applications with easy-to-read text and icons. The LED-backlit LCD gets reasonably bright, too. Viewing angles off to the sides are pretty good, but like most displays in this class, you'll have to adjust the screen position to get the best color and contrast. Overall the performance is good, though.
Above the Studio's screen is a functional Webcam and mic that performed OK in our informal Skype testing. The stereo speakers are able to get fairly loud without distortion--plenty of volume for movies, music, and games. They don't have much bass to speak of and can sound a bit thin at times, but for casual listening they get the job done. If you're looking to use it for a lot of entertainment you'll want to pick up a set of external speakers.Again, the software package is a big part of why you'd choose a Next Class laptop over a regular retail laptop. If you don't need or want a paid-for copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student (which doesn't include Outlook, by the way), you might want to investigate other options in our desktop and laptop review roundup.
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.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.
You may occasionally find one marked down to $499 or so, but otherwise $529 is your barrier to entry for a modern dual-core laptop. The HP G62-225DX carries that price, as does the Asus K501J-BBZ5 and the Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL. If you find these three models next to each other on a retail store shelf, of the three, we'd steer you toward the Asus K501J. Like the Asus K501J, the HP G62-225DX features the Intel Pentium T4500, a dual-core chip clocked at 2.3GHz. It provides ample performance for home users, though the Asus K501J serves up an extra gigabyte of memory.We like the new design of the HP G62-225DX--it looks great and the keyboard is exceedingly comfortable--but a seemingly small annoyance like an overly stiff mouse button can begin to grate on you over time. Also annoying: the lack of multitouch support on the touch pad. Lastly, poor battery life further erodes the HP G62-225DX's appeal; the G62 finished last among eight retail laptops in its price range.
In the end, we'd caution you against being lured in by the HP G62-225DX's good looks when other laptops provide better battery life and a less challenging mousing-and-clicking experience. The Asus K501J-BCN5 does both of those things, but it lacks an HDMI port. The Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL also delivers better battery life and a superior mousing experience to the HP G62-225DX--and it features an HDMI port--but it uses an AMD processor and is the slowest performer of the three.We like the look of the HP G62-225DX, which features the company's new mainstream laptop design. Replacing the glossy surfaces and chrome accents of the HP laptops of yore is a textured plastic chassis with a matte finish. The texture features a pattern of small diamonds or triangles, which stretches across the lid and keyboard deck. The lid and deck are a pewter silver color, and the keyboard and screen bezel are black, offering a pleasing contrast. Its appearance is simple and attractive.