A few months ago I said that I was looking at all the netbooks available and deciding which one to buy. After much consideration, deliberation and reading countless reviews (both online and in various computer magazines), as well as taking on board the advice of The Gadget Show, I went for the MSI Wind U100. And a very good choice it has proven to be.
A very (very!) close second on my list was Acer’s AspireOne (which I almost bought), with the Asus Eee PC 904 in third place.
You could buy a reasonable netbook (such as one of the Asus Eee PC models with Linux and a solid state drive) for under £175 if you only want to do things such as word processing, email and web surfing. An internet browser and email program are both supplied with the machine, and software such as OpenOffice is available for both Windows and Linux and provides word processing, spreadsheets, database, and so on.
The model I bought came with Windows XP, a 120 Gb hard drive, and 1 Gb of memory. This cost quite a bit more than if I’d gone for cheaper options, but I have a lot of Windows software that I wanted to use on the new machine, and the good sized hard drive and memory meant there was room for all that and my entire music collection too.
I’m gradually moving (almost) everything from my HP desktop PC over to the MSI Wind, and starting to use it as my main PC. The desktop PC is now running for only about an hour a day instead of 12 to 14 hours – with a considerable saving in running costs. I worked out that using the Wind as my main PC would cost about £7.30 per year in electricity, while using my HP desktop would cost over £50.
There are a few things that I won’t move across as they need more power and a bigger screen. Things like Photoshop and my book publishing software, for example. But I don’t use those very often, and everything that I use regularly should work just fine.
Since I can now do just about everything on the Wind, I rarely have to even get out of bed these days. My commute to work now involves reaching over the side of the bed, picking up the Wind and switching it on. Fifteen seconds later I’m logged on and reading my emails.
In a previous post I wondered whether netbooks might take the place of e-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle. The answer, I’ve discovered, is no. While the screen is as good as a regular laptop, it isn’t anything like as sharp as those on dedicated e-book readers, so not much good if you’re planning to read books over a long period.
Every new product comes with a small collection of glitches, oddities and downsides of course, and the MSI Wind is no different.
The keyboard is a joy to type on, but a couple of keys are in odd positions. I like to have the right-hand Shift key immediately below the Return key, for example, so you can hit them both together to force a line break rather than a new paragraph. On the Wind, these two keys aren’t together. But you quickly get used to it. Also the comma, full stop and question mark keys are a little smaller than the other keys, and at first I found myself sometimes hitting the wrong one. But I’ve now got used to that too. If I’d designed the keyboard myself I would also have swapped the Function and left-hand Ctrl keys over.
The screen is nice, but not as deep as a regular computer (the resolution is 1024×600 rather than 1024×768). You do miss those 168 pixels at the bottom of the screen, especially when surfing the web. You can get around this to some extent by regular use of the F11 key, which switches your web browser to full screen mode and turns off the toolbars and address bar. I find that I now use this function a lot. Some web pages use frames, however, and won’t switch back to regular mode easily. You have to click in the far left or right margin first, and then press F11. There may be a Firefox add-on that overcomes this – I must have a look.
Battery life is the next issue – it isn’t great. I sometimes have to recharge the Wind three times a day, or run it off the mains. There’s an economy mode which slows down the processor, and that certainly seems to help a little (you don’t notice the slower processor in most applications). And you can turn off Wi-Fi (the wireless internet connection) if you’re word processing and don’t need to be online, and that helps too.
However, I’ve found that when switching economy mode off, the processor doesn’t always come back up to full speed, and certain web pages with video or busy animations then don’t run smoothly. Plugging the mains charger in usually forces it back to full speed. I’ve installed a couple of Firefox add-ons that block adverts and Flash animations/videos, apart from the ones I actually want to see, and that has made things much better.
Also, if you switch Wi-Fi off, it takes quite a while to reconnect again, and on a couple of occasions it didn’t reconnect at all, and I had to manually disconnect and reconnect and re-enter the router password. I usually leave Wi-Fi connected all the time now as disconnecting seems more trouble than its worth.
My Wind has a 3-cell battery, though you can also get a (more expensive) version with 6 cells that runs for twice as long between charges. You can buy these batteries separately, and I might well end up doing that.
The touchpad is nice and usable, though some form of scrolling device would have been nice.
That’s about it I think. The MSI Wind is currently the best of the netbooks on the market in my opinion. And although it isn’t without a few minor niggles, I wouldn’t be without it and it has completely changed the way I work.
I bought my MSI Wind from Amazon.co.uk. You can find out more about the model I bought by clicking here. It’s available in either black or white. I chose the white one.
There’s also a dedictated website with news, tips and support forums at http://www.msiwind.net – which is another thing that helped me decide in its favour.
Dave Haslett, ideas4writers, www.ideas4writers.co.uk