MSI's laptops haven't traditionally tended to be the most stylish members of the portable pack, but the X340 sets the record straight. If it weren't for the glowing white MSI logo adorning the X340's lid, we might have been convinced that we were looking at a new version of Apple's MacBook Air.
It certainly looks dashing enough to be one of Apple's own: measuring a svelte 20mm at its thickest point, the X340 finds itself in a slimming race with the Air's dangerously skinny 19.4mm frame.
But it's when both laptops step onto the scales that the X340 has the last laugh, weighing 1.3kg to the Air's 1.38kg. MSI's predictable marketing tag-line for the X340? You guessed it, "Lighter than Air."
Get past those enviable looks, though, and you can quickly see how MSI has managed to undercut the MacBook Air's $2600 asking price.
|MSI has its eye firmly fixed on that $2000 burning a hole in your pocket, with sleek looks, headline-grabbing weight and an Apple-baiting price tag.|
First, there's the matter of the X340's chassis. Where Apple's finest is hewn from a single piece of aluminium and feels like it could genuinely withstand a few bumpy landings, the X340 is made of altogether less sturdy stuff. It is impressively resilient given its all-plastic construction, but it's just as well MSI includes a padded leather slipcase in the box to fend off severe blows.
And while that glossy lid and crisp white interior both look fantastic box-fresh, they quickly find themselves smothered in fingerprints. For a laptop that prides itself on fine design, it's disappointing to see it descend into grubbiness quite so quickly.
Clean the thumbprints off the glossy display, however, and things get off to a flying start. The 13.4in, 1366 x 768 panel trumps that of the Air, while quality is generally impressive with intense brightness, good contrast and natural colour reproduction. And, if you need more desktop than the 13.4in display can muster, there are VGA and HDMI ports at the side for hooking up an external display.
The keyboard, however, isn't such a delight. The feel of the keys is a bit uneven, with some giving a light, positive action and others feeling a bit dead and unresponsive under the finger. There are other aggravations, too.
The half-height Enter key is bad enough on its own, but as it's placed directly next to the PageDown key, we often found ourselves accidentally dabbing that. Combine that with a narrow right Shift key, and the MSI is ready to aggravate the most patient of typists.
Even the trackpad soon got on our nerves. We tweaked the mouse sensitivity settings in Windows and reinstalled the touchpad driver, but to no avail. No matter what we did we just couldn't get the cursor to respond in a suitably attentive manner. It was always a little too quick or a little too slow, but never quite on the money.
Where Apple opted for a choice of 1.6GHz and 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors, MSI has plumped for Intel's Core Solo U3500. As it's a single core model running at just 1.4GHz it's not the fastest CPU on the block, a point made abundantly clear by a result of 0.46 in our benchmarks. This puts it just ahead of the netbook crowd, but behind the 0.69 of the MacBook Air.
The U3500 finds itself allied with Intel's integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics. All but the lightest of gaming is resolutely off the agenda, and compared to the Nvidia 9400M chipset in Apple's finest - and even in the dirt-cheap Acer Aspire Revo nettop - it's found lacking in most regards.
Such a modest CPU and graphics combination should bode well for success in the battery life stakes, but even here the X340 continues to confound expectations. The battery on the underside is removable, unlike that of Macbook Air, but it doesn't keep the X340 running for much longer.
Our light usage test is an absolute best case scenario - wireless off, 50% screen brightness and sitting idle - and even under these favourable conditions the MSI only managed 4hrs 21mins away from the mains.
Make no bones about it, MSI has its eye firmly fixed on that $2000 burning a hole in your pocket, and it aims to lure you to the purchase with sleek looks, headline-grabbing weight and an Apple-baiting price tag. Cut through the marketing hype, though, and the X340 is a disappointment.
Mediocre performance, uninspiring battery life and a poor keyboard conspire to leave it tussling with far cheaper netbooks, and its deficiencies almost end up making the MacBook Air look like rather good value for money.
Set it against classier ultraportables such as Sony's delightful VGN-Z17, though, and it's shown the door in no uncertain fashion. As it stands, it marks an awkward halfway house between netbook and ultraportable, while delivering few of the benefits of either.