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It's been fascinating to observe the evolution of the Netbook. Indeed, though Intel created a name and a CPU for this burgeoning segment, the jury is still out on exactly what a Netbook should be. Asus, it appears, has attempted to court every corner of the market with the Eee PC 701 for those want something very cheap and cheerful, the upcoming Eee PC 1000 for those that want more storage, a larger keyboard and larger screen and the Eee PC 901 that sits somewhere in between the two.
Clearly, however, this slightly muddled approach has been sparked by the appearance of competitors and particularly the MSI Wind. Its 10.1in screen and larger keyboard has generated a lot of attention from people looking for a different take on the Netbook and when we looked at an early engineering sample (See: First Look: MSI Wind), it was easy to see why. Does it impress as much upon longer inspection?
As a design it undoubtedly does. Similar in appearance to the Eee, the Wind nonetheless has its own stylish charm. Its glossy lid and rounded edges give it a sleek look and feel and it's marginally thinner, measuring 31mm at its thickest point compared to the 35mm of the Eee PC 901. Hardly an earth shattering difference, but it's noticeable and the wedge shape design means the tapered front is just 19mm thick.
Of course, the most obvious difference is that it's a lot wider - 35mm wider to be precise. This extra width creates space for the 10.1in, 1,024 x 600 resolution screen and the larger keyboard that runs right to the edges. This extra size does make it marginally less portable, but with its standard three-cell battery the Wind weighs 1.15kg so it's no heavier than the Eee PC 901, though the 901 does have a heavier and higher capacity six-cell battery.
So what of the main attraction, the keyboard? Undoubtedly it's a significant improvement over the 901 even if - like me - you find the Eee's keyboard fairly manageable. Keys aren't quite full-sized, they're smaller than those found on the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC, but they represent a happy medium between the two and have a pleasing degree of travel and response.
You also benefit from a large and friendly Return key, though the keyboard does have its idiosyncrasies. For starters MSI has committed our most loathed faux pas by placing the Fn key outside of the left Ctrl key. Also, initially the placement of the of the right Shift key and cursor keys proved a problem, since both sit further left than normal and can result in hitting the Up key rather than the Shift key. It's slightly annoying, but after a while it's something you'll get used to and though there's also a very minor level of keyboard flex, overall the keyboard is still a very good one.