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If Apple is the up-market department store of the IT industry, MSI is probably the cheap and cheerful corner shop. Nothing wrong with that we should add, everyone needs a good corner shop after all, but a corner shop's trade is more White Lightning and lottery ticket buyers than bottles of Cristal and affluent city-dwellers. With its X-Slim range, however, MSI is clearly trying to move to a slightly more fashionable address.
Rather like Acer's new Timeline range, the X-Slims are based on Intel's CULV processors and will eventually come in three variants: a 13.4in (the X340), a 14in (the X400) and a 15.6in (the X600). It's the X340 we're looking at first, though, and one look at it should explain the Apple reference above, since the X340 is as blatant a MacBook Air rip-off as we've seen. Now, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but such barefaced imitation can be fraught with danger. Fine, you may garner favourable comparisons - especially if you charge a fraction of the price as MSI does - but such comparisons can also backfire.
Initial impressions, however, are quietly optimistic. It's obvious this is no MacBook Air, it lacks the aluminium luxury now so closely affiliated with Apple, but the basic shape and design of the X340 leaves you in no doubt about its inspiration. And, as imitations go, it's a pretty good one - there's no denying the X340 looks very nice indeed. A backlit logo on the lid is always a nice touch and MSI has resisted the temptation to use glossy plastic for the body of the machine, though the bezel and lid don't escape such treatment.
There are, however, a few areas where the X340 deviates. First among these is the connectivity, where MSI takes a more pragmatic view than Apple - to say the least. All told you get two USB ports, a line-in, a line-out, an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, VGA out and a memory card reader. Nothing dramatic there, but all the basics are catered for and that's all you really need. We're not overly keen on the chromed trim to all these connections, but neither is it overly offensive.
Another difference is the battery, which is housed at the back of the machine and is easily replaced or switched on the move. As things stand the X340 ships with a four-cell, 2,150mAh unit, but an eight-cell extended battery will become available separately, so there's room for upgrading the longevity should you need it.
MSI also excels in its traditional area of expertise: the bundle. Included in the box is a leatherette slip-case, complete with padded lining and magnetic clasp, in addition to a travel mouse. We particularly like the case - it adds an air of executive class - and while the provided mouse is little more than functional, its wire is hidden neatly inside it for ease of portability.