Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review of the MSI Wind netbook

Just how capable are the new breed of netbooks? Are they able to stand-in for laptops, notebooks and, in some cases, desktops? Depending on the application, the answer is yes, pretty much.

As I mentioned in a recent column, I purchased an MSI Wind U123 netbook earlier this week. I have now had an opportunity to work with the MSI Wind regularly (sometimes into the wee hours of the morning) for a better part of the week. That’s not forever, but it’s long enough for me to gain a reasonable an understanding of the device.

To give the Wind U123 the best possible exposure to my work style, I set aside my MacBook Pro keeping it turned off. Every business task that I did from home, from e-mail to web surfing to business spreadsheets to word processing, was done on the MSI Wind U123.

Out of this I have created a list that represents what I feel are the strong points and weak points for business use of the Wind U123. Many of these items also can also be applied to the Wind U100 and U120. (Although I have had no direct experience with these versions of the Wind, from what I’ve seen, they share enough in common with the U123 to make these observations relevant to them as well.) So here we go:

MSI Wind strong points:

  • Very nice keyboard
  • Good battery life (with six-cell battery exceeding five hours life)
  • Pretty decent 10-inch screen
  • Boots into Windows XP Home quickly
  • Fits nicely on the lap
  • Packs plenty of performance for business use
  • Easily switch to battery saving mode (even easier than the MacBook Pro--if you can believe that!)
  • Quiet, quiet, quiet (Only the fan can be heard and only in a quiet room. Even the keyboard is low noise)
  • Capable, well-built, and appears to be reliable
  • There are times when I forget that I am using a netbook (that's a good thing because it means that the device isn't getting in the way of what I'm doing.)

MSI Wind weak points:

  • Wireless LAN is turned off out of the box (this one really got me!)
  • Instruction manual is poorly written, not printed and lacks information
  • Disagreement between documentation, web information and the product itself as to what features are optional (Bluetooth, carry case, etc.) and what are included
  • Bloatware takes up hard drive space
  • Microsoft Office 2007 trial is extremely difficult to remove
  • Unit tends to tilt backwards with six-cell and nine-cell battery when screen is far back
  • Internal speakers sound is tiny and puny (The specs say that the Wind U123 has two speakers. I'm not sure it even has one. You will need to buy or use a pair of ear buds—it’s the only way you’ll ever hear anything!)
  • Windows XP Home is the only OS offered with the netbook (today)
  • Increasing memory from 1 GB to 2 GB may void warranty (Some users report that MSI says that this isn't the case, but the white label placed in the bottom over one of the screws says otherwise.)
  • Trackpad is small size offering only limited scrolling capability and no gesturing
  • MSI switched from the more capable Synaptics trackpad to the less capable Sentelic trackpad
  • No built-in optical drive (I purchased a LG GP08 from my local Best Buy to use as an external CD/DVD drive. It works just fine with the Wind.)

While I’ve listed quite a number of drawbacks, most are minor quibbles or can be worked around in one manner or other. None are deal breakers and none are strong enough to make me dislike the device.

My conclusion is that this is a pretty decent device. It is extremely portable and capable. It performs well and is easy to use. Sure, it has some gotchas, some limitations and issues. All products do. But by-enlarge, especially considering its sub $400 price, this is a very nice product. It proves two things: One, that netbooks can be used for many business applications in place of laptops and even desktops. And, two, that MSI knows what most users want and need in a netbook and have incorporated those features into the Wind series.

On the whole, I am impressed with the MSI Wind 123. Perhaps my expectations were set low based on my previous experiences with sub-sized mini-notebooks that were mostly underpowered with pathetic screens and terrible keyboards. (For more on my views on this, click here.) Obviously, size no longer matters as much as it once did, especially when it comes to features and capabilities. Today you can get most of what you need in a package that is about the size of a hardcover book and without having to break your budget—and that’s pretty neat.

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