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The display and controls
There's nothing all that remarkable about the A53T's 15.6" display, be it from an image quality or luminosity standpoint. Asus appears to have used a TN panel, a recipe for not-so-great viewing angles and somewhat approximate color reproduction. Nevertheless, the colors are reasonably bright (albeit with a slight blue tinge), and the backlight is powerful enough to make the notebook useable in a brightly lit environment... if you can stand the panel's glossy finish, that is. (Matte displays are a rarity these days, so we won't hold it against Asus.)

All of those subjective impressions are well and good, but we've long been meaning to beef up the display analysis sections of our notebook reviews. Armed with an X-Rite Eye-One Display 2 calibrator and a digital protractor, we took to conducting a few precise measurements to assess the A53T's display quality—and to aid later comparisons with other notebook panels.

Our first step was to take a series of photos of the display at different angles, all using the same camera settings, in order to gauge color and contrast shift. We photographed the display facing the camera at a 90° angle, then leaning forward at 70°, leaning back at 110°, and rotated to the side by 30°.

 
 

Yep; that's a TN panel all right. The colors are only rendered accurately if you're looking at the display head-on. I've seen more dramatic examples, but there are definitely better performers out there.

Next, we used X-Rite's Eye-One Match v3.6.2 software to calibrate the display. While we don't expect folks will go around using professional calibration tools on consumer laptops, this little exercise does tell us a few important things about how accurate the default colors are. In the screenshot below, the graph on the left shows the correction curves required to achieve "correct" colors per the specified gamma and color temperature settings (2.2 and 6500K, respectively). The diagram on the right shows the panel's color gamut. Although the display can be set to higher brightness levels, we specified a luminosity target of 120 cd/m² and attempted to match it as closely as possible using the laptop's brightness controls.

The correction curves nicely illustrate the blue tinge mentioned above. To produce "correct" colors, the calibration software had to tone down blue levels and raise red levels.

Next, we cranked up the display to its maximum brightness setting and measured its luminosity at nine points along the panel's surface. Brightness readings are presented both as cd/m² figures, which were produced by the calibration software, and as percentages of the brightest point we measured.

196 cd/m²
(86%)
154 cd/m²
(83%)
151 cd/m²
(81%)
167 cd/m²
(90%)
173 cd/m²
(93%)
159 cd/m²
(85%)
183 cd/m²
(98%)
179 cd/m²
(97%)
186 cd/m²
(100%)

Presumably owing to an edge-mounted backlight, the A53T's display is quite a bit brighter at the base than it is at the top. Our calibrator also measured black levels (which varied only between 0.6 to 0.7 cd/m²), allowing us to work out the display's median contrast ratio from the nine measurements: 262:1. The median luminosity was 167 cd/m².

Those results aren't terribly flattering, but as we noted above, the A53T's image quality is really par for the course in the realm of consumer notebooks. We won't be able to put our numbers in context until we get a chance to test some other systems (since, unfortunately, laptop makers don't let us hold on to review samples), but don't take our data as indication that the A53T's display is somehow uncommonly bad.

Let's now look down from the display to the keyboard and touchpad.

Oh my, what's this? A non-chiclet keyboard in 2011? Indeed, Asus has used a more old-school design with flat, rectangular keycaps that have a tapered front edge. The keys don't protrude out of a slim plastic backplate, which seems to have a positive impact on overall keyboard rigidity. I noticed a minimal amount of flex when typing. Getting used to this keycap design did take me a little while, though, and the lack of a clear separation between the main part of the keyboard and the numeric keypad proved a little disorienting at first.

  Total keyboard area Alpha keys
  Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 279 mm 106 mm 29,574 mm² 170 mm 55 mm 9,350 mm²
Versus full size 97% 96% 94% 99% 86% 85%

Eschewing the chiclet style means broader keycaps that compare more favorably to our old-school, reference keyboard. The alpha keys are almost exactly as wide, though they're quite a bit shorter.

Finally, we have the ElanTech touchpad, a comfortably large design that's recessed ever so slightly into the palm rest, making it easy to locate without looking down. The touchpad supports multi-touch gestures like two-finger scrolling, pinching, and rotating, not to mention three-finger tapping to emulate a right-click. Everything works rather seamlessly (better than with some older ElanTech designs we've tested, it seems), although the surface is slightly too tacky for my taste. Something a little bit smoother would have worked better. Users who don't like tapping to click may also take issue with the buttons, which feel cheap and clunky and could stand to be closer to the front edge of the laptop.