Taiwan's MSI (Micro-Star International) announced its competitor for the new low-cost laptop market, the MSI Wind, early this month at Computex, and we got a chance to try it out at MSI's offices in Taipei last week.
There has been some skepticism about low-cost laptop PCs, or mini-notebooks, because they seem to either be cheap at a low price or are priced so high one might question why someone wouldn't just by a regular notebook PC.
Some product reviewers compare these devices to normal laptops and that's fair when the price of the mini-notebook is similar, but overall the low-cost versions aren't designed to compete with normal notebook PCs. These are small laptops aimed at people who want a small, light device that makes them easy to carry around and surf the internet for hours and hours.
So, battery-life, performance, screen size and the size of the keypad were our biggest concerns, and MSI's Wind wins high marks in each of those categories.
The company plans to sell them for $US599 on the UK, Europe, US and elsewhere starting from mid-July.
The first version of the MSI Wind will come in a variety of colours with Microsoft Windows XP, a 1.6GHz Intel Atom microprocessor, 1GB of DRAM and an 80GB hard disk drive (HDD). It's built to connect wirelessly to the internet via Wi-Fi 802.11b/g.
The $599 version of the MSI Wind also carries a 6-cell battery, good for 5 to 6 hours of use, and a 10-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen, which is bigger than some rivals that use only 7-inch or 8.9-inch screens.
You can cut corners to make the MSI Wind cheaper, for example by choosing a smaller, 3-cell battery, using a Linux OS, which won't be available at the launch, and a smaller HDD. The one component we wouldn't scrimp on is the battery, unless money is really tight.
We liked the 6-cell battery for a few reasons. First, knowing you have at least 5 hours of battery power means you don't really have to take a power cable with you or search for a seat by a wall socket. But one unexpected benefit of the larger battery is that it tilts the laptop up in a way that makes typing more comfortable.
MSI tried to make the MSI Wind's keypad bigger than other mini-notebooks and put on a touchpad. If you've used the Asus Eee PC with its tiny keypad and kept hitting the wrong keys, or two keys at once, you'll enjoy the MSI Wind.
By comparison the MSI Wind is a nicer experience, albeit still not like a normal laptop PC. Some of Asus's more recent versions of the Eee PC, such as the 1000, have larger keypads.
The MSI Wind, as is, performed fairly well when we used it. We weren't able to run a thorough test, just play with it for a while and see how it worked.
But if you want a small device that weighs about 1Kg and is able to connect to the internet and multitask with simple software, the MSI Wind is pretty nifty.
We were able to play music while surfing the net, and open and work on a text document. It's not a machine aimed at video editing, so we didn't bother trying. The device found MSI's wireless network quickly and logged on, but we couldn't do much downloading because MSI blocks music, video and other websites, such as YouTube, to keep workers focused.
The MSI Wind's 1.3Mp webcam is a nice extra for talking to friends on video chat via Skype or MSN Messenger. There are also several slots for mini-storage cards and USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports so you can add other devices, such as a 3G (third generation mobile telecommunications) wireless card to stay connected to the Net over mobile phone networks.
We plan to test as many mini-notebooks as possible over the next few weeks, but we don't expect them to be too different in performance since they nearly all use similar components, such as Intel's Atom microprocessor.
For the MSI Wind, the 10in screen is one differentiating feature, as is the 80GB HDD. Most rivals carry 8.9in screens and much smaller storage space, 10GB to 20GB.
Still, laptop makers are excited about this emerging product line due to the early success of the Eee PC, and they're trying to pack in more functions at low costs — and that's where we expect to see some of these devices outshine others. Stay tuned.