Externally, the G51J-A1 is sturdy, but not what we'd call "built like a tank." There's an abundance of plastic, with the colorful top lid feeling a wee bit chintzy if we're being honest. We know, it's a "gamer's machine," but since when did gaming machines have to look like they were designed in the early 1990s? We much prefer Dell's sleek, classy stylish on the Studio XPS line to the vivacious design seen here and on Toshiba's Qosmio laptops. Of course, that's all totally subjective, but you won't find a lot of "drab" and "classic" here; it's all "loud" and "vivid."
As has become par for the course on Asus machines, the stickers were out in full force here. The palm rest is splattered with a huge specifications sheet sticker on the left side, a sticker letting the world know the display is 1080p, as well as logo stickers for Windows 7, NVIDIA, Intel's Core i7 and the sound card. Honestly, it's overkill. But hey, it keeps with the design flair that starts on the LCD lid (which has two light-up panels on the sides), so we guess it's to be expected. Not really our cup of tea, but there it is.
As you open the machine up, you'll find a matte palm rest, a nice-sized trackpad, two distinct left/right click buttons and glossy bezels around both the LCD and the keyboard. The keyboard itself is just dreadful. Asus attempted to squeeze a full QWERTY board and a numeric pad onto a 15.6" machine, and the result is a squished, offset keyboard that caused us all sorts of headaches. The biggest problem is just how left-justified everything is thanks to the numbed pad squeezed in there; we continually stumbled over keys and found ourselves fixing typing mistakes due to the odd layout, and while we're sure you'd get used to it with time, you'll undoubtedly not encounter this layout anywhere else. In other words, it's a different feel than any other keyboard--not ideal in the least. And then there's the matter of just how cheap the keys feel; each "chicklet" key is a slick piece of plastic with no texture at all, and the entire keyboard flexes quite a bit when pressed. To top it all off, the keys aren't backlit, so night gamers will have to provide an external light to see where things are. All told, this is unfortunately one of the worst typing experiences we've had on a gaming notebook, and it's quite odd considering just how much we generally like Asus keyboards. Asus tried hard to keep costs down on this machine, and it shows here--a lot of quality was given up on the keyboard, and to us, that's just not an acceptable place to shave costs. Asus should've ditched the number pad, made the keys larger, added some texture and removed some flex (in a perfect world, anyway).
Moving on, there's the 2.1 Altec-Lansing audio system, which sounds surprisingly great for a notebook audio system. There's a bottom-mounted subwoofer that does a commendable job of keeping the lows going, and the all-around sound is plenty fine for casual listening. The 1920x1080 display is crisp, sharp and just gorgeous. Of course, it's a glossy panel, so things definitely reflect and it's quite difficult to appreciate outside, but it's tough to find a matte 1080p panel on any machine these days (sadly). One thing we did notice is just how large the bezel is around the LCD; at the top, where the 2.0MP webcam sits, there's over an inch of bezel present. That's just entirely too much, and it honestly reminds us of the bezels found on laptops of a decade ago. We can understand a laptop being thick in order to make room for a powerful CPU, but why the need for a huge bezel?
Around the edges, you'll find a total of four USB 2.0 sockets (two on each side), a DVD Super Multi burner, audio in/out jacks, Gigabit Ethernet, a Kensington lock slot, power input, HDMI socket, VGA output, a mini-FireWire socket, a huge exhaust vent, 3-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, MSPRO), eSATA connector, an ExpressCard slot and a Wi-Fi on/off toggle switch.