updated 10:25 pm EST, Sat January 8, 2011
Electronista tries MSI's Android-based WindPad
MSI's tablet plans at CES were surprisingly modest and focused mostly on production versions of the prototype WindPads as well as its all-in-one Angelow and Butterfly concepts. We managed to get our hands on the genuinely changed tablet, the Android-based WindPad 100A, as well as the 100W and both of the unique desktop concepts. Read ahead for our impressions of both and why the WindPad may prove problematic.
The 100A is superficially similar to what was shown at Computex last June and could compete well with others. On some levels, that remains true: it's reasonably fast and potentially a good fit for video watching through its wide aspect ratio.
When we tried the device, however, it just didn't pan out. MSI hasn't significantly altered Android 2.2 in any way; while that's good in helping along fast updates, it also means that most apps aren't really optimized for the larger screen. More importantly is just that it's executed badly. The design now has the power button handling double-duty as the back button; it's entirely possible to sleep the WindPad 100A by accident if trying to jump up too many levels. Many of the other controls are either hidden or otherwise non-obvious, as well. We never thought we would see an Android device that was genuinely difficult to use, but that was the case here.
Also, we noticed that MSI may have dropped the Tegra 2 chip that was key to its success. MSI only mentioned an ARM Cortex-A8 chip and not the A9 that the Tegra 2 uses. It's possible that the system was a blend between chips from the Computex example an a new body, but if not, the Android WindPad could be quickly made obsolete.
The WindPad 100W, ironically, became the more promising of the two. It's still significantly hampered by using Windows 7's not especially touch-friendly interface and by the slow visual performance of the now aged Intel 1.6GHz Atom Z530, but the interface is noticeably better. It has several front buttons to navigate the OS and felt competent in the category, even if Windows 7 might not take off as a tablet platform compared to Android or the iPad.
A third tablet was on show, the KidPad, but little was known about what was inside. It mostly had a rounded, semi-rugged design with a handle/stand combo to help entertain children with movies.
Angelow and Butterfly were interesting but mostly hands-off. The former was mostly an exercise in design quality and looked attractive, but not fundamentally different. Butterfly's sliding screen was more interesting to see in person. We saw it being useful for artists or simply those who use many touch aware apps, since we could tell it would be much more comfortable to use down than up.
MSI hasn't said whether it plans to produce either of the all-in-ones as real production models, but we could see at least the Angelow panning out as a successor to the current Wind Tops. We would rather the company focus more on refining its tablet design, though, as it risks being left behind where ASUS' Eee Pads, and certainly tablets from Apple, Motorola and others, are more carefully designed.
Angelow and Butterfly all-in-ones