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Two weeks with MSI's X-Slim X340

Posted on 11th Jun 2009 at 10:42 by Richard Swinburne with 0 comments

Richard Swinburne
After our review of MSI's X-Slim X340 in May, I nabbed the machine off Tim's desk just before I left for Taiwan.

It's an 'extended test' I told him (and MSI), but really I wanted to try the X-Slim for myself, because having played with it at CeBIT I wanted one. Now, after a couple of weeks use, I'm not so sure.

The X-Slim is a master of first impressions. It commands exactly the same awe as the MacBook Air to whoever I've presented it to. At Computex, I saw a lot of people, and everyone I visited wanted to have a look at it. It's a conversation starter, babe magnet and iPhone-like envy generator all rolled into one.

Even when I met MSI's competitors and even companies who made notebooks genuinely took a lot of interest in the X-Slim, and were generous with their complements.

Then I asked them to open it.

Only Taiwanese ladies with the thinnest fingers and nails could do it elegantly, while the rest resorted to checking the seam for clues to its clamshell secrets.

After resorting to ripping it open like a large bag of crisps, there's the continued murmurs of "ooh thin" again, followed by "at least it has an Ethernet socket" and "only 13.3in? it's bigger than it looks!"

Naturally there were jokes about how I often get that...

But after the novelty comes further discovery, and unfortunately this leads to disappointment.

Many were, like I was, put off by the naff keyboard and cheap plastic inside the X-Slim's shell - tap the corner and it sounds hollow. If it echoed I wouldn't be surprised. I realise this is to bring the edges together as part of the elegant design, but to me, it just doesn't feel solid to type on.

Next, the standard battery doesn't last very long at all, so instead of lugging around a thin laptop AND power brick to Computex all week, I went back to my 12in MSI P200 that will last a good five-six hours. It weighs more, yes, and it certainly doesn't have the sex appeal when you whip it out in meetings, but it's a worthwhile trade off for performance, usability and a day's worth of computing.

Finally after two weeks of carrying it around the X-Slim's shiny plastic lid is covered with greasy fingerprints that I gave up cleaning off, and it's already being worn at the corners and getting scratches on the smooth top. My P200 has lasted a year of abuse with less obvious cosmetic damage.

Plastic isn't a bad thing - we don't all need aluminium notebooks - but to get the price and weight it wanted MSI had to go down this route of cheaper and thinner for the chassis. The outcome of this decision is that instead of creating an object of desire, MSI comes out looking like the cheap man's Air-wannabe. "I couldn't afford an Apple, so I bought an MSI" is not the same as "I felt the MSI is a far better value alternative".

I appreciate the difficulty of the task facing MSI's laptop team. Netbooks have caused consumers' expectations of features, size and looks to rise while acceptable pricing has fallen. Apple, Lenovo, Sony can all command a price premium because they nearly always deliver a fantastically satisfying product and experience. From packaging to product, it all satisfies.

Other firms need to hit netbook prices. I feel that laptops have either become a throw-away, "good enough" commodity, or a real investment - there really is very little of the in between, and unfortunately in between is where the X-Slim has ended up.

Perhaps MSI needed to make a brand defining machine - the GeForce GTX 295 or Core i7-975 of ultra-slim PC laptops, and then say "if you can't afford that, then there's always the cheaper plastic ones". This way people understand they can't have their cake and eat it.

MSI's product teams are exceptionally talented individuals and while the Wind netbook line still hits the right balance of cost, features and user experience, does MSI need now a Lexus/Toyota style split to create a premium laptop brand?

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