There's no doubt the Windows XP-based MSI Wind U120 netbook looks good. Its white lid and palm-rest contrast beautifully with the glossy black bezel of the screen and the matte black base; but the Wind U120 offers more than just good looks. You get plenty of useful features, good battery life, and an ultraportable notebook that's easy to use.
The MSI Wind U120 is 26.2cm wide, 18cm deep and 4.1cm at its thickest point. It has a non-glossy 10.2in screen with LED backlighting. Because it isn't reflective, you can view the screen in an office environment without having to constantly adjust the angle of the screen to avoid reflections from lights, and it's also bright enough to be used outdoors on a sunny day. Its viewing angles from the side and from the top are adequate. Since the screen is so small (as is the netbook as a whole), you're probably not likely to view it from anywhere but directly in front anyway.
Its keyboard is one of the most comfortable we've ever used on a netbook (including the HP Mini 1001TU). Its keys are 17mm wide, and it would be perfect if not for the undersized period and comma keys. MSI has squished them so that it could also include aligned arrow keys, and has left an annoying blank space to the right of the up arrow key as a result. Every time we mishit the period key, we'd stare at this spare space on the keyboard and wonder whether MSI might have been better to move the up arrow key just one spot over (over the right arrow key) in order to give the more commonly used period and comma keys more space. Either way, you do get used to the small keys; most touch-typists probably won't have a problem adjusting.
We love the touchpad, which is also very roomy (it measures 55x40mm) and has individually moulded plastic for the left- and right-click buttons. They are easy to press and perfectly positioned.
The MSI Wind U120 has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. It's a 2.5in hard drive, which is the same as a conventional notebook drive, and it spins at 5400rpm. Despite having moving parts, it barely makes a peep inside the Wind U120's base. It also doesn't emit too much heat. We love the fact that MSI has partitioned the disk so that you can manage your data more efficiently should you ever want to replace Windows XP with Vista or a flavour of Linux. If you do want to put Linux on the Wind U120, the forums at MSIWind.net have plenty of tips and information on where to get drivers.
In our performance tests, the MSI Wind U120 was fast. Its hard drive recorded a transfer speed of 20 megabytes per second, and its CPU took 7min 58sec to convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s. This is on par with the HP Mini 1001TU. You'll be able to use the MSI Wind U120 for Web browsing, watching videos, listening to music, and even for some limited photo editing; but it can be tiring to crop a series of 10-megapixel images on its small screen, for example.
While the MSI Wind U120 is a slight departure in design compared to the original Wind, one annoying design aspect remains: poor balance. The MSI Wind U120 is top heavy. When you lean the screen back, it tends to want to tip backwards, which means you need to be careful when taking your hands off the netbook while using it on your lap or on the edge of the couch, for example (we almost ended up doing some inadvertent drop testing).
After prolonged use, the Wind U120 gets only slightly warm. This means it is comfortable to use on your lap for long periods of time. This has a lot to do with the large number of vent holes on the base. Some warmth rises up through the palm-rest, but again it's not hot enough to be uncomfortable. If you use the netbook at night, you might be annoyed by the extraction fan, which sits on the left-hand side and keeps the CPU cool — and you'll definitely be annoyed by the overly bright power LED (although it's a little less powerful than the LEDs on the HP Mini 101TU), which sits just above the keyboard's delete key. The status LEDs on the front of the unit are a little more subdued.
For security, you can either settle for Windows XP's login password or you can enable the supplied face-recognition software, which can log you in by scanning your face. It doesn't work in low-light environments, but it worked fine when the room lights were on. It takes longer to identify you when you are in an environment with different lighting compared to where you took the reference photo of yourself. It's a useful feature to have when you want to save yourself a few keystrokes during boot-up.
The number of ports you get on the MSI Wind U120 is good for a netbook; there are three USB 2.0 ports, a D-Sub port for an external monitor, a 10/100 Ethernet port, and an SD card slot. You also get built-in 802.11g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The U120 has a SIM card reader in its battery compartment, but no actual modem. If you want a built-in 3G modem, you'll have to opt for the MSI Wind U120/h or the MSI Wind U123.
In our battery rundown test, the MSI Wind U120's 4400mAh (milliampere hour) battery lasted exactly three hours. We ran down the battery by looping an Xvid-encoded video with the screen brightness all the way and the power profile set to 'performance'. The result indicates the Wind U120 netbook is a good unit for watching movies while on the road.
In our view the MSI Wind U120 is a hard netbook to pass up. It looks good, performs as expected, has a good amount of connectivity, and its keyboard is close to perfect. We only wish the period and comma keys were bigger and that the balance of the unit was better. If you can live with the poor balance and undersized period and comma keys, then there's no reason why you should not buy this netbook.