Advent 4211 / MSI Wind: UMPC me happy

I’ve spent a not insiginificant portion of the last six months or so debating with myself as to whether I should buy one of the emerging class of ‘Netbook’ PCs – subnotebook laptops in a 7-10inch casing powered by a low-energy Intel processor and running very minimal sofware and hardware. The bare minimum you need to be an effective Netizen.

Given how much of my day is spent advocating the move to the cloud for one client or another, and / or discussing the increasing mobility of the average man with various media, it seemed only appropriate that I found a way to be more online in more places,

And so, after much headwrangling, and after reading mediocre reviews of the Asus 1000H and the Lenovo Ideapad S10 (to be fair, only bad previews of the latter), I’ve finally bought the cheapo, rebadged MSI Wind that is the Advent 4211. Thank you PC World for saving me some cash.

The machine, needless to say, is pretty awesome. I’m typing this blog post on it and my usual touchtyping pace isn’t being noticeably diminished by the 85% keyboard, the screen is bright, crisp and clear, and the machine outperforms my (admittedly aging) old IBM Thinkpad T40 (vintage: 2004). There are, of course, a few niggles….

1) It shipped with a wireless driver that randomly disconnected from my Access Point. Finding one involved navigating the slightly confusing MSI website, as obviously Advent hasn’t set up a useful one of its own. The very useful user forums proved invaluable in addressing this issue.

2) The trackpad is a bit small, and I haven’t worked out if its possible to disable tap-to-click (which I gather will be annoying in time) and it doesn’t do side scrolling — which is very annoying.

3) I’m still getting used to a 1024*600 screen. You lose so much real estate! Given that I’m normally working on twin displays this takes a little adjusting. Chrome is well suited to this little laptop, or Firefox with F11.

4) The battery life seems significantly less than the advertised 3 hours if you’re using Wifi. Or maybe Pokerstars just drains more juice than your average app. Or maybe I haevn’t figuried out the mediocre PC World software and power-management features…

Generally, however, its a story of so far so good. I’d recommend the MSI Wind over most of the current generation Netbooks I’ve seen (though both Samsung and Toshiba’s offerings looked interesting on Engadget…) and I just hope they take a while to move the dual core Atom processors into a new generation of Netbooks so I get a brief window in which I feel that I’ve got the best and shiniest tech.

Big picture? I think UMPCs are going to continue to be a big thing for the next couple of years. The combination of easy portability, battery life, compelling price point and general full featuredness of them is remarkable. We’ll see more given away with laptops, more sold in major retail chains, and more people sporting 3G models on the trains. We’ll see more manufacturers churning out carboncopies of each others Netbooks, we’ll see differentiation in some software layouts (especially for the Linux variants) and battery lives and design (and not much else). It’s a connected future, awwww yeah, and there’s no getting away from it.