With its upgraded internals, the Asus N46VZ continues to be an excellent multimedia laptop, even if a slow HDD and bloatware drags down its performance. The new chassis looks classy, but it's still not as thin as we would have liked.
Asus' N-series laptops have tried to raise the multimedia bar for mainstream models by integrating better audio solutions, even to the extent of bundling an external subwoofer. The latest model, the N46VZ, not only gets an Ivy Bridge refresh, and a new Nvidia graphics chip, but also a redesigned chassis that looks cleaner and more classy than the previous generation.
Along with a matte display with enhanced viewing angles and a backlit keyboard, there is much to like about the Asus N46VZ. However, the HDD didn't get upgraded and its slow performance is even more evident in this age of Ultrabooks. It's also not helped by the amount of bloatware included, which further taxes system resources.
At around S$1,698, the Asus N46VZ isn't cheap even for a quad-core laptop with good audio and graphics performance. It also faces competition from the likes of the S$1,699 HP Pavilion dv4, which seems the better deal with a full-HD display and a faster processor. The Asus N46VZ is available now in Singapore--we have no details on its pricing and availability in other parts of Asia.
Take a look at the N46VZ product shots provided by Asus in our image gallery. You may notice that we never get a glimpse of its side profile. The fact is that this laptop is thicker than the publicity images suggest. The default wallpaper actually shows the side of the N46VZ, but the lower half of the chassis seems to us that it has been airbrushed.The deceptively slim Asus N46VZ. We have brightened the original image.
In truth, the N46VZ is about as thick as you would expect from a 14-inch laptop. Together with a brushed aluminum lid that counts the Asus logo as its sole decoration, which glows when the laptop is turned on, the Asus N46VZ looks more upscale than the usual, plastic-clad mainstream laptop.
The premium feel stays after you lift the lid: The interior is finished in aluminum with a chiclet-style keyboard. The power button is located at the upper right corner, with a special shortcut key on the other corner. This other key can be configured to launch an application. Radiating from the two buttons are tiny grille holes arranged in a circular manner, presumably to give the impression of soundwaves emanating from twin speakers. A thin inscription above the keyboard proclaims that the audio is provided by Bang & Olufsen.
While the flourishes may seem a tad over-the-top, the overall design is understated enough that you probably won't mind.
|Specifications as reviewed||Asus N46VZ|
|Price as reviewed||S$1,698|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-3610QM (2.3GHz)|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GT 650M|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||341 x 244mm|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
We really liked the keyboard on the N46VZ. The keys are of a good size, even the directional keys, which are often too small for our liking on other laptops. There's also sufficient key travel and the laptop felt solid even when we were pounding at the keyboard. The keyboard backlight is another nice addition.
Our feelings are mixed toward the touchpad. Firstly, it has an attractive concentric design akin to the lids of Asus' Zenbooks. The surface is very smooth, which makes for a fluid experience, especially when attempting multitouch gestures. This Elan-made touchpad also supports a number of gestures, from the ubiquitous two-finger scrolling to three-finger flick navigation for Web pages and photos.
However, we did encounter an issue where the entire browser window moves slightly in the direction of our two-finger scrolling. The window appears to jerk while you're scrolling, though obviously it's not an issue if an application is in full-screen mode. The touchpad can also be very sensitive to even the lightest taps, which can take some getting used to. If Asus fixes these annoyances, it would be one of the best Windows-based touchpads we have tried, and not far off from the ones on Apple notebooks.
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With its latest laptops, Asus seems to have embraced the use of matte displays--the company's G75VW gaming notebook and its upcoming Zenbooks appear to come with non-reflective screens. Unfortunately, while the native 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution of the matte display on the Asus N46VZ is standard for its size, we were hoping for a higher-res version. After all, Asus touts the N46VZ as a multimedia entertainment laptop and it's pricer than the company's mainstream K-series.
Asus says that the antiglare screen on the N46VZ has better viewing angles than a typical mainstream laptop. We found that it is slightly better than the standard 14-inch display. The matte coating also plays an important role here as it eliminates reflections that can obscure the contents on the screen.
| ||Asus N46VZ||Average for category (mainstream)|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||microSD card reader||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Three USB 3.0, SD card reader||Four USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive|| DVD burner ||DVD burner|
|Other features|| Webcam ||Webcam|
A unique feature of this multimedia-oriented laptop is the inclusion of an external subwoofer, which works with the Bang & Olufsen ICEpower-branded audio solution. The audio quality is similar to what we experienced on the older N45SF and continues to be one of the best in its class.
HDMI, VGA and Ethernet ports are typical for a 14-inch mainstream laptop, but we liked that the three USB ports on this laptop are using the latest version 3.0 standard.
Bloatware alert: The Asus N46VZ comes with many preloaded apps. We counted almost 20 icons and notifications on the taskbar and though some are useful system-related ones such as the battery indicator and volume control, it could do with some pruning. Maybe it's the fact that this laptop is intended as a multmedia machine, but Asus seems to have overloaded it with content creation apps. So you'll get a couple of Asus-branded programs for editing audio and video. What's unfortunate is that some, such as the Asus MusicMaker, seem to be trial versions that will expire after a certain period of time.
|Model/Specifications||Asus N46VZ||Acer Aspire V3-471G||HP Pavilion dv6|
|Processor||2.3GHz, Core i7 processor||2.3GHz, Core i7 processor||2.6GHz, Core i7 processor|
| Graphics || Nvidia GeForce GT 650M ||Nvidia GeForce GT 640M||Nvidia GeForce GT 650M|
|Video||HDMI, VGA||HDMI, VGA||HDMI, VGA|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Three USB 3.0, SD card reader||One USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, SD card reader||Two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi||Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi||Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi|
The Asus N46VZ and the Acer Aspire V3 share very similar specifications--both have Ivy Bridge-class quad-core processor. The Asus laptop has the better graphics, though the Acer V3 packs 4GB more RAM. We also liked that the Asus comes with three USB 3.0 ports compared with just one on the Acer. The matte screen with the enhanced viewing angle and the more liberal use of aluminum tilts it in favor of the Asus N46VZ, compared with the plastic build of the V3 and its glossy, mediocre display.
However, the Asus is also more expensive than the Acer V3--in fact, its S$1,698 price tag is similar to the Singapore pricing for the HP Pavilion dv6, which even has a full-HD display. Do note that Asus offers a two-year warranty while both the Acer and HP are only covered for a year.
Despite having a similar processor and a slightly better graphics chip, the Asus N46VZ scored 2,099 in PCMark7, which is lower than the 2,541 managed by the Acer Aspire V3. Part of the reason could be that the Acer laptop has 8GB of RAM, or twice that of the Asus N46VZ. In 3DMark11, the faster graphics chip on the Asus played a bigger role and helped the laptop score 2,347 compared with the Acer's 1,915.
Perhaps we are getting used to the responsiveness of Ultrabooks, but the Asus N46VZ felt sluggish at times. It could be the result of its pokey 5,400rpm HDD, or the large number of preloaded applications that's taking up system resources. As it is, this laptop could probably benefit from another 4GB of RAM.
In our usual Apple a1322 battery life test, we looped a standard-definition video with the audio muted and the screen brightness set to 50 percent until the laptop ran out of juice. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were also disabled. The Asus N46VZ lasted 4 hours and 21 minutes, which is almost 30 minutes more than the Acer Aspire V3. While the uptime is not as long as Ultrabooks--they usually last 5 hours and more--it's pretty solid for a mainstream 14-inch notebook packing a quad-core chip and discrete graphics.
Service and support
The Asus N46VZ comes with a two-year international warranty. On its support Web site, you can download user manuals, drivers and software patches. Technical support is available via phone and email, though in case of hardware failure the unit has to be brought to a service center for repair.