It's impossible not to be at least a little impressed with the MacBook Air, but who can spend almost $2,000 on that laptop? The solution? The MSI X340, a $900 MacBook Air. And it's a great idea...in theory...
First, let's focus on what the X340 gets right. It's a 13-inch (16x9, 1366x768) laptop that weighs just 2.86 pounds with its 4-cell battery. It measures .78 inches at its thickest point and .24 inches at its thinnest. (The MacBook Air measures but .76 inches at its thickest point and .16 at its thinnest.) In real life application, the X340 seems a tad bulkier than specs might reveal because the tapering isn't as dramatic as the Air's. But it's still thin.
The 1.4GHz Core2 Solo processor is quite a bit faster than your average Atom, and its HDMI I/O port and draft n Wi-Fi are a welcome addition to such a tiny machine.
OK, now for the bad stuff.
The keyboard feels dreadful. Not only are the keys...mushy...the center of the keyboard literally bends while you type. It's frightening to watch and extremely disconcerting as you wonder if they next keypress will greet your fingertips with a charged circuit board.
As for the remainder of the machine, it doesn't feel much better. The only way to describe the plastic body is "cheap." Not only does the glossy black finish reveal a strange, flecked iridescence under light, tap on the palm wrests with your knuckle and something about the hollowness of the pitch assures you that it could easily crack under a moderate amount of pressure.
Molding the trackpad into the case...that was a bad idea. The surface simply doesn't feel lacquered as a working trackpad. Literally, it feels unfinished, like someone on the assembly line went on break instead of gluing on the proper touch sensitive rectangle.
When you hold the Air, it's an incredible sensation not just because of its size but because of how sturdy it feels at its size. The X340 misses the pleasure of this dichotomy and gives us what I'm willing to wager is the most fragile laptop I've ever put my hands on.
Believe it or not, while the X340 is burdened by Vista's heavy footprint, it's quite usable. General navigation seems infinitely faster than running Vista on a true netbook, like the Dell Mini 12. The benchmarks support the fairly fluid experience of the OS.