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Smackdown: RedFly vs Netbook (MSI Wind)

 

The title says it all. Which is a better mobile solution: RedFly (see Dieter's full review) or MSI Wind Netbook (see Laptop Mag's full review)?

To be honest, the question is a bit unfair as they are technically different device genres with different puposes. But alas, people have spoken and want to see a head-to head. So here’s a brief rundown of their pros and cons. (For the record, I’m using the older version of the RedFly).

Curious about my experience with both?  Then read on and ask me any questions you may have, since I surely did not think of everything.

 Specifications

MSI Wind (U100--$350-$430 depending on version)

  • Intel Atom 1.6ghz CPU (overclockable to 2ghz)
  • 2.6lbs
  • Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7/OSx/Linux
  • 1gb of RAM (updated to 2gb)
  • 160gb HDD
  • 10” LCD (1024x600)
  • 1.3mp Web Cam
  • BT 2.0/Wifi G +N/3 USB/SD Reader/VGA out
  • 6-cell battery (4.5hrs w/WiFi; ~6hrs without)

Redfly ($229-$299—depending on version)

  • 2.0lbs
  • No OS (mirrors smartphone)
  • 8” LCD (800x480)
  • 4500mah battery (last ~8hrs)
  • BT/2 USB/VGA out

Build Quality

The MSI Wind is made of thin plastic. While sturdy, it could crack under stress but overall the build quality is quite high. No complaints. The RedFly though it built like a tank: very sturdy, high build quality. With its rubberized texture on the outside, it also feels nice to grip i.e. not slippery like the MSI.

But rubberized paint is just awesome and Redfly gets the win.

Winner: RedFly

Size & Weight

Obviously, the RedFly gets the nod here. It’s quite smaller than the already tiny MSI Wind and also weighs 0.6lbs less. Is the difference huge in reality? No, not really. Both are small enough that it feels like you are carrying a book around with you. But, while are both suitable for day trips without fear of too much bulk, the MSI Wind uses its size to a significant advantage…

Winner: RedFly (smaller); Wind (better use of size)

Keyboard

Hands down the MSI Wind has the better keyboard. At 84% the size of a full keyboard, it’s very nice to type on. The keys are solid and don’t have that annoying shake/bounce that accompany Asus devices. In fact, it’s a huge selling point with the Wind as typing feels very natural. 

The RedFly has a much, much smaller keyboard. It is certainly usable and definitely much better than the one it is meant to replace (your WM smartphone) but the keyboard could be better here.

Winner: MSI Wind

Battery

Both have astonishing battery life in comparison to the competition. The RedFly at 2lbs can easily go for 8hrs which is more than enough for a one day for most users. The MSI Wind gets around 4-4.5 hours with WiFi on when using the 6-cell battery version. That’s also impressive for a computer running Windows Xp/Vista/Windows 7. You can add a 3rd party 9-cell battery to the Wind to bump it to 8hrs, but that is another $50 plus bump in size and weight. 

Still, overall the RedFly wins here despite the impressive results of the Wind.

Screen

This is also pretty easy. A 10” screen with higher resolution is always preferable to an 8” one and this case is no different. That’s not to say the RedFly’s screen is bad, it is very bright, easy to read and makes WinMo look very nice compared to your phone.

Winner: MSI Wind

Function/Ease of Use

There is no winner here as these devices have different functions. The RedFly is meant to augment your WM smartphone, the MSI is completely independent of it. The former needs no synching, the latter depends on it.

The MSI Wind, while costing more ($50-150 more), can do much more being a full-PC. Is the cost worth it? It’s going to depend on what you are looking to do. Certainly an argument can be made that a Netbook PC has much more flexibility for that extra money.

The RedFly, being a much simpler device, is much easier to work with as you just turn it on and sync. The MSI Wind is a PC, which means drivers, updates, installing, defragmenting, anti-virus, patches, etc. One device you just use, the other you have to spend a few days “setting up”.

Winner: draw

Synching

Synching with Windows (XP, Vista, 7) is actually a cumbersome feat-- it always has and it doesn't look to be changing anytime soon.  The MSI Wind is no different as you run into your assortment of usual problems:  smartphone not recognized, waiting for it connect up, sync, etc.  Then you have your odd behavior, too much synching, files getting corruped, etc.  Windows 7 is not any better either. On the other hand, if you are just synching to use your phone-as-modem, you can bypass ActiveSync for Wifi Router--now that is easy.

With the RedFly, you just download your driver for the phone and connect up. Since it has no OS it just mirrors your smartphone. No synching, no connection failures, no odd "error" screens. Very straightforward and simple.

Winner: Redfly

Conclusions

Both are actually very good devices and do what they are designed to do very well. The RedFly is the unqiue one here, trying to make your WM smartphone the computer and simplifying things. The MSI Wind is just a normal laptop albeit smaller and more efficient.

One negative against the Redfly is speed. When connected to your smartphone via BT, the OS lags behind and it feels sluggish. No doubt we are hitting the limits of data throughput with Bluetooth, so only so much can be done. However, it does hamper the experience a bit as it is not as fast as your phone. In comparison, the Wind is actually quite fast for a laptop (even running Windows 7 beta). Speaking of Windows 7, it runs very nicely on the Wind with a 20% faster boot than Vista, faster load times and much quicker WiFi reconnects, making Windows feels actually…instant.

For my needs, the MSI Wind actually works perfectly. It’s an impressive machine that is competitvely priced and it offers me the flexibility I need as an academic, photographer and occasional blog writer. I do use WiFi Router to connect on-the-go (via WiFi or Bluetooth) and skip syncing all together.

But, if my needs were different I would give the RedFly a chance too as I’m a WinMo nerd who likes the theory of what Celio are trying to accomplish.  The Redfly isn't just for nerds, though -- it really does mean that you don't have to sync your data at all between your WinMo smartphone and your other device, since it's all there.  Sure, both a netbook and the Redfly require you to carry an extra device, but if you're concerned about where and how you move your data, the Redfly might be a better option.

Have any questions you want answered? Fire off in comments or see our RedFly forum.

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

16 Comments
  • on the topic of the sluggishness of the redfly, if you connect by the phone by USB the lag you mentioned is very diminished and in some cases almost feels instatanious. Just though id throw it out there.
  • @cplush Good point and noted. It certainly is faster connecting that way.
  • I too, have a REDFLY and I purchased a Dell Mini about a month or so ago. I really dug the REDFLY, but the browsing limitations (even using Opera) of my WM device is what drove me to get a netbook in the first place. I found that I could not update my blogs or do other "basic" website work like I need to do when out & about. Skyfire browser just didn't seem to work on the REDFLY, and all the other browser options fell short on many sites I visited... The Dell Mini has really been a winner in that particular category. I carry it with me all the time in my briefcase (which I was able to switch to a smaller briefcase since ditching my 17" HP notebook!). The 2 lbs is much nicer on my shoulder! And using WMWiFiRouter, I have yet to find something that I can't do with the Mini. I installed Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Fireworks as well as CuteFTP, so I can do ALL of my website editing with ease. And coupled with Microsoft Live Mesh, I am literally hooked up to all of my PC's at home as well. The netbook has transformed my mobile computing. With it, and my Touch Diamond, I am invincible on the go! :)
  • For me actually the price drop of the Redfly made me buy one. Sure it is much more limited than a netbook, but fine for basic surfing, and it handles my mails very satisfying!
    There is just a couple of things I would love to see fixed compatibility wise (browser, media players, the phone application of my treo pro, etc.). I agree, the comparison is not 'fair' by itself, but both devices target the same customer, in a way.
    I still can't stand booting up a mobile device for just writing an e-mail... By the way, the Refly has a 800x480 display resolution iirc.
    Great comparison, thank you!
  • I'm a big fan of the RedFly. I liked it so much I bought a second one because I wanted the C8n. Unfortunately the C8N does not have the rubberized paint of the original C8 but other than that the build quality is about the same. One major advantage you forgot to mention is security. If your laptop gets stolen someone could get at your data. If your redfly gets stolen there is nothing on it. Another thing to mention is TCO. With the redfly there is no buying software or paying for antivirus subscriptions. I have tons of software on my Treo 800w and 90% of it works perfectly on the redfly. The only thing I cant do on it that I sometimes like to do while traveling is edit digital images. No big deal, because that can wait until I get home. :)
  • @Ka-Efka: fixed, thanks @rc46P: all very good and important points!
  • Great post mal. Been waiting to see this review.
  • @rc46: security, yes, very imoprtant. No great worries when I leave my Redfly in a hotel room for a time (and much more convenient to carry with me actually). And with the Redfly I can easily share files (e.g. mail attachments) from my phone via USB thumb drive. Very handy during meetings / business trips.
  • I live in the north east, and we had a significant ice storm in December affecting both power and internet connectivity. The Redfly, coupled with my Tilt was indespensible during this time - I was able to continue to work (accessing a web based application with Opera Mobile 8.65). Yes, I could have tethered a laptop or netbook to my cell phone, but with ATT, that is a significant bump in monthly cell service - I don't see this point made in the Netbook vs. Redfly comparisons often. With the redfly, I use my existing data plan, a netbook would require either a tethering plan to be meet the terms of my cell contract, or a seperate dataplan totally - saving $30 to $60 a month, every month. Because of the Redfly's incredibly battery life, I used it to keep my phone charged until power was restored. I think it comes down to the needs you're trying to satisfy. For me, the redfly / smartphone combination provides a good , cost effective meathod to be productive while mobile. I find I rarely open the work laptop at home now - open the redfly - instantly connect, check / reply to e-mails, and I'm done usually before my wife notices :-)
  • the thing that i find best about the redfly is the utter simplicity and ease of use. My phone never is turned off so getting the redfly up and connected takes about 15 seconds while as my XP laptop takes about 2 minutes at best....but you cant beat how simple and fast it is to set up and use. (and the connection time on the new model Redfly is much faster than the 1st gen one....)
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