We've got a feeling that netbooks are on the way out. These diminutive little laptops may soon be replaced by sultry, sleek tablets such as the iPad 2, or even hybrid Android slates with attachable keyboards such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.
But as long as netbooks are kicking around, we'll keep reviewing 'em, and this one's a corker -- the MSI U270, an 11.6-inch netbook that can be yours for about £360. It's pricier than many of its breed, but it packs a dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM. A 12.1-inch model is also available.
Visually, the U270 looks exactly like... a netbook. There's not a great deal of visual flair exhibited here -- a dotted pattern over the lid and wrist rest slightly jazzes up the proceedings, but this isn't the most ostentatious little machine we've ever set eyes on.
It might not be flashy on the lid-side, but the design is certainly practical on the interior -- the keyboard is sensibly spaced out, with a generous gap left between each key, to cut down on mistakes while typing. The keyboard generally is impressive, and because it feels sturdy, you'll be able to really hammer out missives at speed. Our only gripe is that the Enter key is rather small -- you might find your pinky finger missing its mark occasionally.
The trackpad is not as impressive, sadly. It's very small, as are the click buttons, which feel just a little stiff, and could tire your thumb out after a long Web-cruising session.
It's reasonably light at 1.3kg, and measures 297 by 190 by 31mm. The battery pack adds quite a lot of bulk though, so bear that in mind if you're stuffing this netbook into a slim satchel. Happily the power transformer is quite small.
Around the edges there's a decent smattering of ports -- we're especially happy to see both VGA and HDMI outputs, three USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0), Ethernet, a multi-format card reader and 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic. There's a webcam stuck above the display too. The U270 is running Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, and packs a 320GB hard drive.
Glares and graces
Speaking of the display, this is a rather unusual screen. For one thing, it has an anti-glare coating, and it's also boasting a curiously high resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is higher than most netbooks can muster. A more standard 1,024x600-pixel resolution model is also be available for around £20 less, which we think is a definitely a false economy.
The extra resolution means photos look crisp and sharp, and websites feel pleasantly roomy. The anti-glare coating means you'll have a deal of success if you want to use the U270 outdoors, and you won't have your surfing sessions ruined by irritating reflections.
Elsewhere this screen is colourful, even if we have seen brighter panels before. Anti-glare screens can sometimes make panels look rather dull, but thankfully this isn't the case here.
We mentioned earlier that the specs on this netbook are rather unusual. There's a dual-core AMD E-350 processor running the show, backed up by 2GB of RAM. That's not a great deal of memory, but many netbooks struggle along on 1GB of memory, so in ultraportable terms, this machine is something of a powerhouse.
In our PCMark05 benchmark test the U270 scored 2,940, and managed 2,265 in our 3DMark06 test. Those are very impressive scores for a netbook, and mean that for general multi-tasking it's less likely to lag, or slow down annoyingly, than its cheaper rivals.
While it's rather more potent than most netbooks, however, the U270 still struggled when we tried to play HD video, and our test footage came out unviewably choppy. We expect gaming will also be beyond this machine's abilities.
Battery life is not the U270's strong point. When we ran the CPU at a constant 100 per cent using our Battery Eater Classic benchmark test, the U270 held out for just under 2 hours and 17 minutes. You'll get more battery life with more reasonable use, but that's not great as a minimum benchmark -- we suspect the same components that won the U270 a good performance score are also blasting through its power reserves.
So there's a trade-off here -- if you want survivability away from the mains, other netbooks can do better, but are unlikely to offer the small performance boost the U270 does.
It's not powerful enough to blow our minds, but the performance edge offered by the MSI U270 justifies the fact that it's more expensive than competing machines. If you want something with a similarly hi-res, gorgeous display and a slightly more attractive look, check out the Dell Mini 1012. And -- crazy as it sounds -- you might also want to see if something like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer could cater to your computational needs.
If you need more netbook inspiration, examine our top ten netbooks showdown.
Edited by Nick Hide