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MSI Wind U160 (U160-007US)

Tom's Definitive 10.1" Netbook Buyer's Guide: Fall 2010

MSI’s new Wind 160 (160-007US model in the labs) is based off of its U135/L1350 platform.

There are really only two differences with the previous generation:

  • new touchpad design
  • a higher density 6-cell battery

Note that the U135 and U160 share almost exactly the same specifications, minus the aforementioned. Despite identical specs, the U160 features a complete redesign at the internal hardware level, which is apparent in the port arrangement. However, the internal components (LCD panel, WiFi card, and so on) largely remain the same.

Along with an internal rearrangement, the physical appearance underwent a slight refresh. The construction of the notebook is still based on a high-gloss fingerprint-loving concept. The entire notebook seems to be made of ABS, which is common given the price range of netbooks. There are a few noticeable changes though: the display hinge is now based on a rod design, the matte frame around the display, the reposition of the microphone to the left side of the screen, and the borderless touchpad.

The chiclet design of the keyboard is pretty common these days, but the keyboard here has a texture similar to that found on Dell notebooks. It is something that MSI definitely has gotten right, though the size of the keys on this 93% keyboard seem to be the smallest in this roundup selection. This isn’t necessarily a penalty, but is noteworthy considering other chiclet keyboards, on average, have larger keys.

We have some misgivings about MSI’s version of an “integrated touchpad:” mainly, the idea is that there is nothing to delineate where the case starts and where the touchpad begins. The only thing that gives away the touchpad's location is the small raised bumps. Whereas Gateway took its chassis and added texture-sensing points on its LT21 series, MSI fabricated the bumps with the enclosure, so everything is high-gloss, which serves as a detriment. There simply isn’t enough of a texture difference, and as a result, tracking seems somewhat “slippery.” A matte finish similar to the border around the display would have been preferable. Plus, the use of noticeably raised bumps makes the entire navigation process feel oddly unnatural. MSI should take a cue from Asus and Gateway if it wants to see how integrated touchpads can be well-designed and well-received.

The touchpad button, like the U135, remains a high-gloss metallic finish on a narrow plastic bar. Honestly, this could use some rework alongside the touchpad to match a decent keyboard. Other netbooks in this roundup have more real estate given the same form factor, and MSI likewise should look to do the same. The depression space is fairly low and the bar suffers from middle-click confusion.

We should point out that MSI is still a relatively new player in the mobile market and it is out to show its chops. The U160 shows MSI’s improving eye toward quality, but it’s often the small details that matter. There are two specific things here that stand out. First, we noticed the wireless toggle jiggles. It is loose and isn’t up to par with the quality we are seeing from the top four system vendors. Second, the left side of the hinge bar has an unsecured plastic cap. Where the right side is fully secure and has a flawless center cutout for the power button/LED, the left side seems to fall off if you apply some friction. We aren’t even so sure the cap on the left side is made of the same material, but it might just feel this way because we can’t compare it to the right-side cap. Some epoxy here will save grief later down the road if MSI hasn’t fixed this issue by the purchase time.

To be fair, MSI explains the latter as a batch-related issue, because units in its warehouse don’t seem to exhibit this defect. If this isn’t batch-related, we may just be nit picking over how much force is needed to loosen the cap. However, this shouldn’t have been implemented as a twist-off part in the first place. In the day-to-day hustle and bustle of things, this could still eventually fall off in some inconspicuous location. Honestly, small pieces of a highly mobile system that aren't meant to be serviceable should either be fabricated as a single piece or glued down with some “super adhesive” like epoxy.

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