The ASUS A56CB’s battery is not exceptionally big with a capacity of 44 Wh A41-K56. However, the contenders from Acer and HP sport even smaller power storages (both 37 Wh).
This advantage is nullified by the somewhat higher power consumption. We only ascertained a runtime of almost 5 hours in BatteryEater’s Reader’s test using the energy saving mode, minimum brightness, Wi-Fi and GPU off (V5-571G: 5 h 34 min).
The user can browse on the Internet for 3 hours and 52 minutes until the A41-K56 battery‘s reserves are exhausted, as we ascertained in a practical scenario via Wi-Fi and adapted brightness (approx. 150 cd/m²). Playing a DVD is possible for at most 3 hours and 27 minutes. That is a somewhat better result than in the direct comparison with the idle runtime. However, some ultrabooks last quite a bit longer.
Since neither the CPU nor GPU clock rates are throttled in battery mode, the user has the laptop’s full power available even remote from the mains. However, the possible runtime is reduced accordingly. We could not achieve more than 60 minutes in Battery Eater’s Classic test using high-performance mode, maximum brightness, Wi-Fi and GPU on.
A pleasant surprise to begin with: The ASUS A56CB makes an impressive high-quality impression for a laptop of this price range. Unlike many other contenders where the label “plastic bomber” would sooner seem appropriate, our device relies on a high-end aluminum chassis. The elegant light metal is used on both the base unit’s top and the display’s lid. The other parts of the casing are made of a subtly textured, matte-black plastic.
Although the Asus laptop is not officially sold as an ultrabook – the manufacturer only speaks of “ultra-thin” unlike its S56CM – its dimensions and weight easily correspond to the standards of this device category. A thickness of just 21 millimeters and a weight of 2.3 kilograms are remarkable for a high performance 15 inch device, especially seeing that its stiffness has not suffered under this crash diet.
The casing easily defies selective pressure and barely exhibits visible deformations even at typical problem zones such as over the DVD drive. The screen is also stiffer than the class average despite its slim build. It is held by two tight, yet slightly wobbly hinges and requires both hands for opening the laptop.
Apart from a few insignificant details, the build quality is overall compelling. We did not find any sharp material transitions, annoying gaps or other flaws in our test model. Compared with the Aspire V5-571G and Sleekbook 15, Asus’ A56CB keeps the upper hand and just scrapes a very good.
USB 3.0 has become standard even in affordable laptops and the ASUS K56CA features one such port. The other two of the three USB ports are still regrettably the older 2.0 version and consequently limited to a maximum transfer rate of good 35 MB/s.
External monitors can be connected via HDMI or VGA as usual. However, the lack of a DisplayPort makes resolutions over 1920 x 1200 pixels only inconveniently possible, which will particularly affect owners of 27 or 30 inch displays. We will soon examine this issue found across the market more closely in a separate article.
There are only minor complaints about the interface positioning. For example, we would have appreciated the Gbit LAN port at the rear. However, the casing’s build and the battery prevent this. The user can easily access all essential ports, such as the headphone jack or SD card reader.
The chiclet-style keyboard merges seamlessly into the solid aluminum top of the laptop’s chassis. Owing to the protruding 15 inch casing, the manufacturer could install both a number pad as well as generous keys with an edge length of 15 millimeters, which contributes to typing comfort. The looks and layout strongly resemble that of the unequally expensive VZ sister model.
Overall, the keyboard belongs to the better models on the market although details of the typing feel seem to have room for improvement. The fairly soft stroke could convey a bit more accuracy and have a longer key drop. However, the user will get used to that after a while. In return, the keyboard’s low noise and the very meticulous build are compelling.
With a size of 10.5 x 7.3 centimeters, the silver-gray touchpad provides enough room to navigate or implement various multi-touch gestures. The velvety-sleek surface scores with good gliding traits when the fingers are completely dry. Regrettably, our test device’s pad was a bit lopsided, which however only affects the looks but not the function. More points are deducted for the rather late response. (C21-TF201P batteries)
The lower part of the pad’s surface also replaces the mouse buttons, i.e. click pad build. Both keys are a bit too stiff for our taste although the crisp, direct pressure point alongside a rich click noise makes a pleasant, high-quality impression. Nevertheless, the user should use an external mouse in practice.
Just like other laptops of this price range, the screen in Asus’ A56CB only has a low resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. That results in a pixel density of approximately 100 dpi alongside the screen’s diagonal of 15.6 inches. That is not exactly razor-sharp but sufficient for most purposes.
The screen’s brightness can also only be called “satisfactory”. The brightness achieved an average of 196 cd/m² from the total of our nine measuring points. This is still better than that of the Aspire V5-571G and Sleekbook 15. It is annoying that the brightness is dimmed to only 160 cd/m² in the screen’s center when used in battery mode.
The installed TN screen from AUO (B156XW04 V5) is the same model used in Acer’s Aspire V5-571G. Our new X-Rite i1Pro 2 gauge recorded a deeper black value of 0.38 cd/m² and a consequently higher contrast ratio of 545:1 (V5-571G: 193:1) but we cannot confirm this improvement subjectively.
Being an affordable consumer laptop, the A56CB will not satisfy the needs of professional photographers or image editors. Despite calibration, the representation proved to have a bluish cast and shows extreme color deviations in magenta hues among others. In terms of color space, the screen also exhibited weaknesses and failed covering both sRGB and AdobeRGB. However, these restrictions will be insignificant for most private users.
The user will be tormented by distracting reflections outdoors due to the screen’s glare-type surface. The much too low brightness, particularly in battery mode, even intensifies this problem so that the screen at most only remains readable in the shade. That is too bad seeing that the ultrabook-like size actually supports mobile use. A matte screen and a brightness of at least 250 cd/m² would help here.
The viewing angle stability is a known weak point of TN screens. Colors distort and the contrast ratio deteriorates when the screen is not viewed from an absolute perpendicular angle. Asus’ laptop is just as good or bad as the direct contenders in this issue. Particularly the vertical range of movement is very restricted; at least slight deviations from the sides are tolerated.
“Crystal Clear Sound” and “Deeper & Richer Bass” are only two slogans that Asus uses to praise the laptop’s integrated “SonicMaster” sound system. However, only two simple stereo speakers, which at most can serve with average sound quality, cannot fulfill that. The small speakers noticeably falter particularly in the low ranges so that a part of the atmosphere is lost in music and high-effect movies. The playback of trebles and mids is fairly good although some contenders achieve a slightly higher surround sound and volume. Here, an external sound system would help. It can be connected via the digital HDMI or the conventional 3.5 millimeter jack (light noise).
The concept of a particularly portable multimedia laptop is not new. Almost every major manufacturer now has a corresponding model in its product line, even if configuration and price partly differ extremely.
Despite this intense competition, Asus’ A56CB manages to stand out from the bland masses in our review. The reasons for this are simple. Other manufacturers might offer a slim build, a high-quality aluminum casing and gaming-suitable hardware, but hardly ever for a comparable price of below EUR 600. Unlike in many ultrabooks, the buyer does not have to waive on an optical drive or essential ports like Gbit LAN.
Naturally, Asus had to make cutbacks in a few areas. The simple WXGA screen based on TN technology is an almost inevitable drawback in this price range. We also missed an mSATA slot as well as a bit more processor power. The available Core i5 version for a slightly higher price will likely get along even better with the fast GeForce GT 740M and is probably the most balanced configuration of the laptop. This almost takes the suspense of our final verdict. The bottom line is that Asus’ A56CB has definitely earned a purchase recommendation.
More info: laptop-batteries.com.au, laptop-battery.org.uk, battery-store.eu