Asus X553SA review
Most people can’t afford to spend £1000 on a laptop. Workhorse budget laptops that make up that bulk of what you’ll find on high street shelves rarely get much attention, though. Today we’re here to ask: what does £280 get you in 2016? Here's our Asus X553SA review. See also: Best budget laptops 2016.
Also see: Best Black Friday Laptop Deals
The Asus X553SA is a cheap laptop, with a good great of entry-level features across the board in a ‘proper’ laptop frame. Asus would readily admit there are compromises at this point, but should they put you off a buy?
Having spend a good while the laptop, there’s only one major issue here: performance. Intel has made amazing progress with its Core M series processors over the last 18 months, but the Celeron chipset used here is slow. Matched with a slow hard drive, you’ll need patience to get on with the Asus X553SA.
Also see: Best laptops 2016 UK
Asus X553SA review: Price
At £279, the Asus X553SA is not too far off as little as you can spend on a new, full-size 15.6-inch laptop that has a large hard drive rather than a tiny Chromebook-style wedge of solid state memory.
It’s also available cut-price at £249 at the time of writing, clearly with its eye on the bargain hunter. View the Asus X553SA on Amazon here.
Asus X553SA review: Design
A laptop with a shoestring budget, you’d hope the Asus X553SA wouldn’t make any silly design moves, and it doesn’t. This is a very normal-looking laptop with a plastic shell.
In pure aesthetic terms it’s pleasantly simple. While the lid is plastic, there’s still a texture of concentric circles fanning across it, mimicking the brushed metal style Asus uses in its higher-end ZenBook laptops.
Asus sent us the sober, all-black version. It’s a good look for those who want a low-key computer. However, there are colourful models too. It comes in pink, white and purple, each radically altering the impression they’ll make while changing nothing but the colour.
Build quality isn’t too impressive, though. Press down on the keyboard and you’ll see flexing, a sign of a less-than-tough laptop. Little build issues like this are all the more grating now that tablets have made us expect expensive-feeling devices for similar money.
The Asus X553SA’s size and weight are those of the ageing laptop archetype too. It’s 2.2kg and 26mm thick. As such it’s too heavy to take around for hours at a time without your shoulders complaining, but will fit into most larger record bags for the occasional trip out.
Asus X553SA review: Connections
The Asus X553’s features strategy is to offer plenty of breadth, but not all that much depth. It’s probably the right direction for a cheap laptop.
It has both VGA and HDMI video connections, sure to please those who have old pre-HDMI monitors they are not quite ready to retire just yet. However, there are just two USBs. One is a USB 3.0 port, the other a USB 2.0.
Other entry-level laptops tend to offer three USBs, but all the Asus X553SA’s connections are decked out on one side, which may make manufacturing cheaper.
There are also headphone, Ethernet and SD ports. The Asus X553SA isn’t here to cater for the hardcore crowd, but there’s enough too satisfy many.
On the connection-free side is the DVD multi-writer and Kensington lock port. Once you start adding up what the Asus X553SA, it starts to sound like a pretty good deal.
Asus X553SA review: Keyboard and Trackpad
The question is whether the deal will merit the sacrifices required. Its keyboard features one of these.
At a glance it does a lot right. It has a standard layout, and even manages to fit in a NUM pad to the right. However, the flex-happy casing and entry-level keys leave it feeling springy, with a less well-defined action than a more expensive laptop. There’s plenty of key travel, but it seems vague compared with a taut chiclet design.
The Asus X553SA’s trackpad is large, designed to work well with gestures. With a smooth-but-textured plastic surface it tries to emulate the feel of a glass-topped trackpad on a budget, and doesn’t do too bad a job. However, like a lot of Windows laptop pads, it comes with frustrations.
It uses evenly-spaced buttons integrated into the pad itself, and as there’s a NUM pad, the left mouse button area is actually towards the left of the laptop. As such, the resting position of your left hand needs to be way over to the left, which may feel unnatural.
The Asus X553SA will work best when used with a mouse, much as there are some good parts to the pad.
Asus X553SA review: Display
You’re not going to get a stellar screen in a sub-£300 standard-design laptop. The Asus X553SA takes a few cues from the tablet school of display design, but this is ultimately a fairly uninspiring laptop screen. Given the price, that should not be a deal breaker.
The Asus X553SA has a 15.6-inch 1366 x 768 pixel LCD screen. It’s not terribly sharp, this being the same resolution and pixel density laptops of 10 years ago.
This isn’t an IPS screen either, meaning it only looks entirely ‘right’ seen front-on. Look at the display from above or below and it either looks washed out or shadowy, thanks to something called contrast shift.
Asus’s stab at getting a modern look consists of using a glossy screen finish rather than a matt one. On the positive, this makes the colours look reasonably punchy even though actual colour performance of the screen isn’t great.
Using our colorimeter, we found it hits 59.9 per cent of sRGB, 41.3 of 42.4 Adobe RGB and of DCI P3. These are the three most popular colour standards, and hitting just 60 per cent of sRGB means the display will look a little undersaturated. However, for the price it’s a fine performance.
The issue with using a glossy display is that it’s incredibly reflection-prone, even among glossy laptops. Take it outside and the Asus X553SA will be virtually useless. The display goes up to a reasonable 283cd/m, but reflections are so severe that seeing what’s on-screen becomes a trial.