by Kevin O'Brien
The X-Slim X340 is a new 13.4" ultraportable notebook from MSI, offering a super thin chassis and powered by the new Intel Ultra Low Voltage SU3500 processor. When the screen is closed the thickest part of the X340 is just over 3/4", almost mirroring the dimensions of the MacBook Air. At the current price of $899 it is priced between the HP dv2 and Apple MacBook Pro, but can this notebook compete on its looks alone? Read our full review to find out.
MSI X-Slim X340 Specifications:
Build and Design
The design of the X340 is super thin, and taking quite a few design cues from the Apple MacBook Air. The shape is sleek, not really taking up much additional space in your backpack over a thick paper notebook. Like the MacBook Air the edges are spread out to a sharp point, making the thin design look even thinner. In a way it reminds me of a MSI Wind that was squeezed through two rollers. Unlike Apple, MSI uses plastic instead of aluminum for the shell of the X340. While plastic might weigh less and be easy to shape, it doesn't give the notebook a high-end appearance. I think some metal showing, even if it were something simple like a brushed aluminum palmrest, it would have improved the looks significantly.
Build quality is nice when compared to low-cost netbooks, but doesn't measure up to high-end ultraportable notebooks. The plastic construction shows a good amount of flex in areas like the screen bezel, on the palmrest around the touchpad, and areas underneath the keyboard. Screen protection is average, needing heavy pressure on the back of the screen to show color distortions. While it might not show distortion, the screen can flex a good amount with minimal effort by twisting the corners. This isn't uncommon for some super thin displays, as we saw the same thing with the Sony VAIO TZ and Toshiba Portege R500.
Screen and Speakers
The 13.4" glossy display on the MSI X340 is of average quality with decent color saturation and good contrast levels thanks to the glossy screen surface. Colors appear vibrant, but not as vibrant as what you might see on a high color gamut panel like what is found on the new 13" MacBook Pro. While the two notebooks don't directly compete against each other, it helps to have a baseline to compare against. Black levels are good for viewing movies, with little backlight bleed noticed in our tests. One thing that looked like backlight bleed was the colors shifting as you slightly move away from the optimal viewing angle. Vertical viewing angles are average, with colors starting to distort 20 degrees forward or back from perpendicular. Horizontal angles were much better with the screen visible up to 70 degrees to the side before the screen bezel and reflection started to interfere. Backlight levels are good for viewing in bright viewing conditions, such as a bright office or classroom, but the screen gets washed out quickly when using it outdoors.
Speaker performance is lackluster, with tinny sounding audio and no bass or midrange. Peak volume levels were also weak, making headphones a required accessory for this notebook.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The MSI X340 offers a full-size keyboard that is comfortable to type on, but lacks proper support to prevent flex. The keyboard starts to flex even before your fingertips supply enough pressure to trigger a key. Once you get past the abnormal flex the keyboard is actually pretty nice. Key action is smooth with a good throw distance, and key movement is minimal. The layout is easy to follow, with correct ctrl/function key placement, and good sizing of the enter key and right shift button. Overall I think the keyboard would be significantly better if it was slightly thicker with better bracing to prevent flex.
The touchpad appears to be an ALPS or similar model, but doesn't use any special driver, only the native Windows touchpad control. The touchpad has a noticeable amount of lag as you change pointer direction or initially start moving. Without proper driver support you also lack customizable features such as a scroll region for the touchpad, programmable click zones, or any multi-touch support. This was confirmed by going into the MSI support website which says no drivers are required as it is handled natively. The touchpad buttons are loud when clicked, and they take a significant amount of pressure to activate. The button throw is shallow with a solid click when pressed.
Ports and Features
When compared to the MacBook Air the X340 is loaded with ports. It offers VGA, HDMI, headphone and mic, two USB ports, and even a LAN connection while keeping its thin profile. MSI even managed to squeeze in a SD-card slot for expanding internal Storage or pulling images off a camera without any cables.
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