Review: MSI Wind netbook doesn't compromise on the keyboard

Fellow podcast cohost Kevin Tofel has been enticing me with all of his writings on the MSI Wind so I reached out to the good folks at Dynamism to see about checking one out for a couple weeks. They sent along a black MSI Wind with 80GB hard drive, 6 cell battery, Bluetooth and WiFi, and 1GB RAM that they have available for US$599. After using it for just over a week and taking it on a business trip with me, I ordered my own with 160GB hard drive along with another 1GB RAM stick to upgrade my own Wind. Check out some photos and a walk around the device in my image gallery.

Fellow podcast cohost Kevin Tofel has been enticing me with all of his writings on the MSI Wind so I reached out to the good folks at Dynamism to see about checking one out for a couple weeks. They sent along a black MSI Wind with 80GB hard drive, 6 cell battery, Bluetooth and WiFi, and 1GB RAM that they have available for US$599. After using it for just over a week and taking it on a business trip with me, I ordered my own with 160GB hard drive along with another 1GB RAM stick to upgrade my own Wind. Check out some photos and a walk around the device in my image gallery.


 Image Gallery:A walk around the hardware of the MSI Wind can be seen in my image gallery. 
Image Gallery: Open MSI Wind
 
Image Gallery: MSI Wind feature sticker
 

First impressions: After opening up the box, I was at first impressed by the compact size and attractive look of the device. I took it out of the box and popped on the 6 cell battery to begin using the device. I was pleased to see that the display rotated back like my MacBook Pro behind the keyboard so it wasn't too tall with a large space between the keyboard and display. I liked the non-glossy display and the rubber pieces along the top to keep the display from impacting the keyboard. I also liked the large amount of travel in the keyboard when I pressed on the keys and the layout seemed to be just about perfect for typing on the go.

After turning it on, my first impression was that the display was very bright and the text was crisp and clear. I couldn't wait to try it out some more so I plugged in the A/C adapter and charged it up for further testing.

Specifications: The MSI Wind comes in a few different configurations and the one that I was sent to check out had the following specifications:

  • Windows XP Home
  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom Processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 80GB 2.5" SATA hard drive
  • 10 inch 1024x600 resolution display
  • 6 cell 5200 mAh battery
  • Integrated 802.11 b/g radio
  • Integrated Bluetooth radior
  • Integrated 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • 4-in-1 Secure Digital/MMC/MS/MSPro card slot
  • 3 USB 2.0 ports
  • VGA out and ethernet ports
  • Dimensions:
    • Weight: 2 lbs 14 ounces

    • Length: 10.24 inches

    • Depth: 7.08 inches

    • Thickness: 1.24 inches

Walk around the hardware: The MSI Wind has one USB, headphone port, microphone port, ethernet port, VGA out connector, and 4-in-1 card slot along the right side. On the left side you will find two more USB ports, ventilation openings for air flow, A/C adapter port, and computer lock opening. There is nothing along the back since the keyboard rotates back over this area and there is also nothing along the front.

Looking at the bottom you can see some ventilation openings and the 9 screws needed to open up the device for RAM and drive upgrades. The 6 cell battery has two latches on the bottom to lock it into place and can easily be removed for replacement on the go. There are also sturdy rubber feet along the high points to hold the netbook in place on a table.

The top is where all of the action takes place and here you will find an almost full sized keyboard. After starting it up, I was able to work on reviews and write blog posts with ease. I was expecting to have to compromise with such a small device, but I found I really did not have too and was able to type quickly and accurately. After experiencing this ease of typing, it was almost a no-brainer to upgrade from my U810 that is quite difficult to type on.

I also found the touchpad to be quite functional. It is a bit small, but I did not find this to be an issue for navigating around the display. I liked the single right and left mouse key bar on the bottom where you just press the right or left to activate the functions. If you touch the upper right you scroll up and if you touch the lower right you scroll down the page. This is much easier than pressing the page up and down buttons on the keyboard, but there are directional arrows located on the far lower right to also make this an easy alternative.

Indicator lights are found on the lower right side of the top and these show you the status of 8 different aspects, including Bluetooth connection, WiFi connection, battery charging, hard drive action, and more.

The display is 1024x600 and the brightness is easily controlled with the keyboard. I found it to be quite bright and clear. I actually would like to see a bit higher resolution because the 10 inch display could easily handle it and provide you with more information on the page. You don't have to scroll right and left on web pages, but you do have to scroll down to see much of the content.

Usage and experiences: While using the device on my lap on the couch, I noticed that it has a tendency to tip backwards when the display is opened up past 90 degrees (looks to go back about 140 degrees). It seems to have a bit of a balance issue, but I do think the 6 cell battery helps when it is on a table with the slight angle forward that it creates.

I was able to type on it without even thinking I was compromising my speed and my only wish here was that the keys were backlit like my MacBook Pro, but with the standard spacing I found I was still accurate when my fingers were placed in the proper orientation.

I was worried that the processor would slow things down so I tried Amazon Unbox and Netflix streaming that play perfectly on my U810 and found both to work just fine on the MSI Wind. It may even be better when I upgrade to 2GB of RAM on my personal device I ordered. I didn't try pushing it with video editing, but that is not my intent for the device and shouldn't be for those who are purchasing a low cost netbook. These are really designed as mobile companion PCs, but more and more of us are using them as primary PCs and they actually seem to be working quite well in that regards for most all functions.

I took the MSI Wind with me as my PC to give my presentation for the paper I published at our annual professional society meeting, which in hindsight was quite a leap of faith. I used the Wind to edit my PowerPoint presentation and then brought it with me to the venue without the A/C adapter because it was only a half hour presentation. After pulling it out, I was immediately approached by several people asking about my compact laptop. I showed them a few of its features and think I sold a couple for MSI with my demonstration. I then plugged in the projector and my slides appeared perfectly on the screen with no changes to the resolution or anything else required. I easily stepped through the slide with the arrow buttons and everything went very well.

I also used the MSI Wind with the HAVA Platinum HD (check our my review) to watch The Office later that evening after the dinner and reception. I actually ended up buying my own HAVA after finding out it worked very well for watching my DVR content on the road since I have a few trips coming up in October and November.

Pricing and availability: You can pick up the MSI Wind like the one that was configured the same as my test unit for US$599 directly from Dynamism in both black and white colors. Actually, I see that the units from Dynamism now have the 160GB hard drive for this price. Many available models do not include Bluetooth or the 6 cell battery so the ones that Dynamism has are the top of the line.

Overall thoughts and conclusions: There are many choices in the still growing netbook category today, but I was very pleased with the MSI Wind as far as functionality and quality. I have only seen other device though and haven't tried them out so I am not suggesting that the MSI Wind is the best choice on the market. I was actually able to get mine for just US$404 using the Windows Live Search Cashback program (we'll see if I ever actually do see the cash) and buying it on eBay. It is safer to buy from a dependable retailer like Dynamism and if you don't want to take risks with your money then they are recommended.

In addition to the great display and functional keyboard, another reason I purchased this device over all of the other netbooks found on the market is that I can install Mac OS X on it and with the new wireless card found in the device even WiFi works without any replacement. I will be upgrading my RAM to 2GB, this may void your warranty, and setting my Wind up as a dual boot (Windows XP and Mac OS X) device that should become my new mobile computer.