The N550JK boasts an impressive array of on-body connections. You get three USB 3.0 ports, one of which has additional power output to make charging smartphones and tablets (especially the latter) less sluggish. There's also a mini Displayport, full-size HDMI output, SDXC card slot and Kensington lock port.
Aside from dedicated graphics, one of the key draws of the Asus N550JK is its optical drive. It's a DVD multiwriter, although a Blu-ray drive is an option.
There's a mystery socket too, a little 2.5mm audio jack port next to the power socket. This hooks up with a small additional speaker that comes with the N550JK as standard. It's a teeny-tiny subwoofer to accompany the Bang & Olufsen drivers that sit in the underside curve of the front of the laptop.
Are the speakers any good? They're passable. There's a little more mid-range than some laptop speakers, but as they fire forward from the middle of the laptop, there's no sense of stereo. Speakers to each side give much better sound dispersal for movies and music, but here the arc of the sound is very narrow. Add in the fairly poor treble extension and you have a pretty boxy sounding laptop speaker. This is not one of the most successful laptop speaker tie-ins.
Adding the subwoofer does add bulk to the sound, but it distorts at higher volumes and integration with the N550JK's own speakers is extremely poor. It's almost like listening to a next-door neighbour playing the same tune/movie when you plug it in, and there even appears to be a bit of lag to its output. The modular subwoofer is a neat idea, poorly executed.
Keyboard and trackpad
Asus hasn't tried to be quite so flashy with the rest of the N550JK's hardware, though. The keyboard offers a fairly conventional layout with a full numerical pad to the side. Key action is fairly crisp, and is deeper than what you'd get in a slimmer laptop. The spacebar is weirdly squeaky, but it's a quirk we can live with.
While there are versions of the Asus N550JK with keyboard backlights, the entry-level edition reviewed here doesn't have one. While backlights are generally most useful for roving laptops, it's a solid reason to upgrade to the higher-end version.
The trackpad is on the small side for easy use of gestures – which explains why Asus turns most of Windows 8.1's gestures off as standard (they can be turned on within the Asus Console application) – and the right button zoning is a little tricky. In use it also feels as though the N550JK trackpad would benefit from off-centre positioning. As there are traditional left-right zones for the mouse button, you have to get your finger quite a way to the left of the laptop to reach the main button.
However, the surface is nice and smooth, and design-wise it fits in perfectly with the rest of the keyboard surround.
Screen dream vs screen nightmare
One of the most important things to note about the Asus N550JK is that there are two screen options available, and the experience they offer is completely different. We got hold of the lower-end 1,366 x 768-pixel version – sadly.
It's a TN-type screen, and the resolution is pretty low for a 15.6-inch display. There's clear pixellation, and colour reproduction is weak too. Images look washed out and anaemic, while contrast also is fairly poor. Horizontal viewing angles are acceptable, but there's the usual contrast shift should you tilt the screen back too far. You wouldn't see this in the IPS version.
The screen finish is glossy, but this is true of the majority of touchscreen laptops.
Touchscreen performance is perfectly good in this lower-end version and the display tilts back to around the 150 degree mark, but we strongly recommend spending the extra £100 on the version of the Asus N550JK with a higher-end screen. It has a 1080p IPS display, and that would fix the weakest part of this particular review laptop.