Sunday, February 14, 2010

MSI Wind U135 Review

The Wind U135 is the one of the newest netbooks from MSI in the 10-inch form-factor. Packed with the Intel Pine Trail platform this netbook promises increased battery life and performance compared to models still using the previous Intel Atom chipset. Our longest lasting notebook to date is the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE, clocking in at over 12 hours with average use. In this review we put the MSI Wind U135 through its paces and see how well it stacks up against the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE which offers a nearly identical hardware configuration.

MSI Wind U135 Specifications:

* Windows 7 Starter Edition (32-bit)
* 10.1-inch diagonal WSVGA (1024x600)
* Intel Atom N450 Processor 1.66GHz (667MHz FSB, 512KB Cache)
* 1GB DDR2 SDRAM onboard (1 slot available)
* Intel GMA 3150 integrated graphics
* 250GB Seagate 5400.6 Hard Drive
* 802.11BGN 1T1R Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
* 4-in-1 media card slot
* Dimensions: 10.24"(L) x 7.09"(D) x 0.74"~1.24"(H)
* Weight: 2.87lbs(not including weight of AC adapter)
* 6-cell Lithium-Ion battery (5200mAh, 58Wh)
* Retail Price: $329

Build and Design
The MSI Wind U135 offers a simple design with a clean, high-contrast color scheme. The screen is covered with a “Color Film Print Technology” that closely resembles the Imprint finish on HP notebooks. It offers greater durability than a simple painted glossy surface while still allowing artwork to be worked in with the design. MSI went with a very simplistic weave pattern on the U135 that blends in well with the features of the netbook. The pattern is also copied inside the notebook over the touchpad surface. MSI keeps the painted silver look inside the notebook, but instead of keeping the weave pattern, it shifts to a textured silver paint. It has the look of a matte finish while still maintaining the smooth feel of a glossy paint job. The glossy black screen bezel and keyboard tray look great with the silver and move the mirror-finish glossy parts away from where your hands and palms will always be smudging.

Build quality is average compared to most netbooks, with a durable outer shell when the cover is closed and plenty of screen protection. The glossy finish is scratch resistant to a degree but would still show damage if abused. For the average user stuffing it into a backpack between classes or using it for travel it should keep a scratch-free look for a long time. The keyboard and palmrest show some flex under strong pressure but it doesn’t interfere with normal typing.

Users looking to upgrade any components will be in for a surprise when they notice there are no access panels on the bottom of the U135. To swap out the wireless card, hard drive, or add a stick of memory you need to split the case in half. One advantage the U135 has over other netbooks is its open memory slot. The 1GB of base memory is soldered in place, so it leaves one slot open for future upgrades. Netbooks like the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE need to have the 1GB stick swapped out for a 2GB stick which costs significantly more for the same end result.

Screen and Speakers
The Wind U135 offers a 10” glossy LED-backlit display that rates below average compared to other similarly sized netbooks. On our review model we noticed significant backlight bleed around all the edges when the brightness is near the top of the scale. During the boot sequence this is especially visible when the backgrounds are black. Turning the backlight down to 50-70% reduced the bleed, but it was still slightly visible if you were in a dark room watching a movie. Color and contrast are comparable to other competing netbooks thanks to the glossy screen surface. If the backlight bleed was lessened it would be a great machine to watch movies on while traveling. At peak brightness the screen is easy to read in bright office conditions and outdoors if you are in an area that the sun wasn’t reflecting off the screen. Viewing angles are average with the vertical viewing range spanning 15-20 degrees forward or back before colors started to invert. Horizontal viewing angles are better, keeping colors looking true even at steep angles.

Speaker performance is average compared to most netbooks on the market, meaning that they lacked volume and any hint of bass compared to a full-size notebook. For most users the speakers are great if you want to watch a quick streaming video clip or listen to some music in the background, but if you intend on watching a movie, headphones are the preferred option.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the MSI Wind U135 is a near carbon-copy of the keyboard seen on the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE. They are Chiclet-style keyboards and share the same layout, key size, and key shape. The only visible differences are the printed labels which appear bolded on the MSI version. Comparing both models side-by-side the U135 feels more solid and attached to the frame, whereas the keyboard on the 1005PE bounces slightly. Tactile feedback is nearly identical with the same key strength and noise when fully pressed.

Out of the box the touchpad is disappointing, lacking any specific driver or utility support. Just like the X-Slim X340, MSI didn’t include any sort of manufacturer-specific touchpad support out of the box, instead relying on the basic Windows drivers. The end result is a laggy touchpad with no scrolling or multi-touch capability.

Turning to the internet we found Sentelic touchpad drivers listed on the MSI website for the U135, but they were not originally included on our review model or recovery partition. After installing the software the touchpad sprung to life and even offered various two-finger multi-touch features. The touchpad surface was better than average with a matte finish that was easy to slide across, compared to some of the glossy touchpads we have seen on the latest notebooks. The touchpad buttons shared the same rocker-style switch, but the button was flexible enough that both sides could be pressed at the same time with minimal effort.

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