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Unless you go for the optional three-cell battery, the six-cell that's sold with the Wind U160 as standard increases the netbook's weight from the advertised 1.0kg to just over 1.2kg and extends out from the base, tilting the machine noticeably. This makes it easier to balance on your lap and optimizes airflow along the netbook's base, but makes it difficult to fit in slipcases and bag compartments.
Nor are we happy with its effect on typing. While a lot of people find a sloped keyboard more comfortable, there is a sound ergonomic reason why desktop keyboards these days are usually flat or even slope up at the front rather than the back: it's less strain for your hands and wrists.
In most other regards the springy isolation/chiclet keyboard is quite good, despite small right-shift and Enter keys. We especially like the addition of a second Fn key, so that secondary functions can always be accessed one-handed. Depending on how you hold your hands when you type, however, there can be one major problem: because of the touchpad's angle and its large, central position, it's far too easy to accidentally slide your thumbs or palms across it, making the cursor jump erratically.
At least the touchpad's large size gives you plenty of room to play with, and its integration is subtle. However, it lacks multi-touch (which many competitors offer), and we aren't overly fond of its dotted texture either, which after a while can become irritating. Its buttons are integrated into a single rocker switch and offer good feedback.
With the U115 being one of the longest-lasting netbooks of its time, we had high hopes for the U160, but were slightly disappointed. That's not to say it's bad, as it managed well over seven hours in our video playback test with the screen at 50% brightness. It's just that we were expecting a bit more from its 5,800mAh, 65Wh battery, and indeed MSI quotes up to 15 hours of battery life if you use its low-power settings. Of course, with less intense usage and enabling its Eco-mode feature you may get a lot longer out of it than we did, but it's a good indication.
On the value front, even more than the Samsung NB30 (which at least offered some genuine enhancements for its increased price tag), the £315 U160 costs too much for what you get, especially considering its ergonomic flaws. On its own it's a mostly great little netbook, but the competition at this price point is cut-throat and, despite niceties like a physical wireless switch, MSI doesn't offer enough to make its latest Wind netbook stand out from the crowd. The better-looking Asus Eee PC 1005PE, to name but one example, can be had for £275 yet performs similarly in most areas.
Visually, the new design of MSI's Wind netbook is a welcome update, but ergonomically and practically it's not without downsides. Considering there was already little on offer to differentiate the U160 from the competition and it's quite expensive to boot, we feel there are better alternatives.
Scores In Detail
- Battery Life