Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
Keyboard – Because this, for all intents and purposes, is a build to order notebook, we expected to find the best keyboard that Asus has to offers. While the keyboard gives you a good feel for tactile feedback, there is noticeably less of a "click" for us compared to the notebooks from IBM, Dell, and HP. After prolonged use, you probably won't get that feel unless you switch over to/from a tier 1 notebook maker. Granted, it is a tad better than the keyboard on Gigabyte's N411. In the grand scheme of things, if the keyboards on IBM, Dell, and HP/Compaq notebooks are considered the best, then this keyboard could be considered fair.
The only two problems we have with the layout is, one, that the home/end/page up/page down keys are all clustered on the right hand side. While this means you don't have to stretch your fingers to access them, you don't get the same feel for the notebook, because their placement is counterintuitive when it comes to keyboard ergonomics. "Correct" placement is debatable, but generally speaking, it should be a three by two button arrangement in the upper right hand corner. The second problem we have is more common, as Asus has incorrectly placed the control key to the right of the function key in the lower left hand corner.
LEDs – There are two LED strips: one above the keyboard and one on the front cusp of the notebook. The LED strip above the keyboard includes LEDs for (top to bottom): hard drive activity (blinking green when active), number lock (green when active), caps lock (green when active), and scroll lock (green when active). The LED strip on the left front end of the notebook include LEDs for (left to right): power status (green when active), battery charge status (orange when active), new mail status (blue when active), and wireless connectivity status (yellow when enabled).
TouchPad & Buttons – Like the keyboard, the touchpad is spaced appropriately, enough so that switching between the two is about the same as any other average sized notebook. The only big problem we have is with the questionable quality of the touchpad and the size of the touchpad buttons. In the past, we had a problem with our personal S5200N's touchpad, as it wore out in under 6 months and to a large enough degree that it affected usage. Thankfully, Asus had it fixed under warranty, but we have been keeping a closer eye on every notebook's touchpad that passes by our eyes since. In our opinion, the quality of the touchpad seems like it is better than the one used on our S5200N.
As for the buttons, our qualm is that they are a bit smaller than what we would have liked to have seen. Ideally, they should be about 50% larger. The smaller than expected size shouldn't affect usage too much though. While the Z80K design does incorporate a scroll toggle, this is more a matter of preference. Personally, we would rather lose the scroll toggle in favor of larger buttons.
Speakers & Microphone – Unfortunately, there is no integrated microphone on the Z80K, which is too bad for those that like audio messaging and the like. The only way to get a microphone up and running is to plug one into the microphone port.
The speakers on the Z80K when set at maximum are fairly loud. Compared to the N411 and few of the other notebooks we have seen recently, the quality of sound is better than average, and we could hear the inflections in Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know" clearly. The fact that this system's audio configuration is complemented by a mini subwoofer makes everything a tad sweeter.