HP’s second-gen netbook makes a serious stab at the mainstream consumer market, but this polished package falls short in a few key areas.
HP was the first major player to dip its toe into the netbook waters, releasing the pint-sized 2133 Mini-Note
to deliberately target the business end of this nascent market shortly after ASUS debuted the student-friendly Eee PC.
Of course, the netbook space ended up converging in the mainstream middle ground. ASUS expanded its Eee PC family with an almost confusing array of models and options while other brands launched their own netbook devices as consumer-minded companions to a conventional desktop PC (or in some cases, a larger laptop).
The Mini 1000 is HP’s response to this shift – a second-gen salvo which cleverly draws on the DNA of HP’s consumer notebook line-up as well as some of the best traits of the 2133.
Mini 1000 vs 2133 Mini-Note
That said, we should point out that the Mini 100 is not
a replacement for the 2133 Mini-Note. Back in July, APC broke the story that HP would split its netbook offering
into two distinct lines – similar to how almost all PC vendors split their business and consumer products, although HP is the first netbook maker to do so.
So as we work through the list of how these two siblings differ, don’t be dismayed if you find a few of your favourite features from the 2133 ended up on the cut list. The happy news from HP’s skunkworks is that a second edition of the 2133 is expected to break cover at the start of the year (we’re hearing early February).
This is tipped to retain most of the 2133’s hallmarks such as the sleek brushed metal styling, aluminium chassis, ExpressCard slot, spill-resistant and wear-resistant keyboard, shock-protected 7,200rpm drive (but with an optional SSD) and 8.9 inch hi-res (1,280 x 768) screen. We know it’ll swap the puny Via C-7M processor for Intel’s punchy Atom powerplant.Dressed to impress: from any angle, the Mini 1000 is one sweet looking netbook
The Mini 1000 mix
While the 2133’s spec set was about as out-there as you could get for a netbook (although upon its release in April 2008 the embryonic category had barely begun to define itself), the Mini 1000 largely sticks to the now-established netbook recipe. That means an Atom 1.6GHz N270 processor, 1GB of RAM and Windows XP Home Edition (updated to include SP3). A Linux version
running Ubuntu is slated for the end of January.
One variation on the theme is the hard drive. Even for a netbook with a 10.2 inch screen the Mini 1000 is quite compact, which has necessitated the use of several smaller-than-the-norm components such as a 1.8 inch hard disk instead of the conventional 2.5 inch drive.
This smaller drive spins at a slower 4,200rpm compared to the 5,400rpm of their more common counterparts, although we doubt the difference would be noticeable in normal day-to-day use.
What you will
notice is the meagre 80GB capacity of that drive, while the fatter platters of its competitors stretch from 80-160GB. Given the Mini 1000’s $899 price tag, this paints it into a corner against the likes of the 10.2 inch ASUS Eee PC 1000H and Lenovo IdeaPad S10, both of which have larger 5,400rpm hard drives at a starting price of $699 (with plenty of discounting if you shop around).Svelte stuff: despite the 10.2 inch screen and generous keyboard, the Mini 1000 is slightly more compact, thinner and lighter than most of its competitors
One place where the Mini 1000 takes the lead is its design. Even if you don’t care one whit for style, the Mini 1000 is still one of the best designed notebooks on the market.
It’s thinner, lighter and more compact than most other 10.2 inch netbooks, and in fact stacks up well against smaller models such as Dell’s Inspiron Mini 9
. Sockets, slots and ports are all sensibly placed, even if there’s not enough of them (more on that later).
While the 2133’s aluminium chassis has made way for lighter and cheaper plastic there’s minimal flex in the panels, and at least the Mini 1000 keeps the 2133’s magnesium framework and display hinge. The result is one sturdy little portable.
On the other hand, if style does
make you smile then the Mini 1000 is proof that winners are grinners. It’s one of the few netbooks that makes black really work, despite or perhaps because it uses three shades of black: a lustrous high-gloss lid, mid-matte for the top decking and a powdered texture on the keys.Swirly: artistic patterns embedded into the laptop’s lid are a hallmark of HP, and the Mini 1000 gets its own playful pattern
The lid also gets the embossed imprint design that’s become a trademark of HP notebooks, in this case a unique yet subtle swirly pattern. This doesn’t stand out a mile, but it’s a delightful surprise and point of difference once you notice it.
And while undeniably glossy, the pattern prevented it from showing fingerprints nearly as much as netbooks with a plain no-frills lid. HP says the finish is scratch-resistant, but all the same we’d like to have seen a simple slip case thrown in with the Mini 1000.
All there is to break up the black is the perforated silver mesh covering the screen hinge and the speakers and two silver switches at the front edge of the netbook, which look like lid latches but are in fact for power and wireless.
And, joy of joys, the Mini 1000 doesn’t come plastered with more stickers than a teenager’s school project book – at least, our review unit was relatively unsullied, apart from an EnergyStar decal.
But the Mini 1000’s standout design trait has to be its keyboard. Simply put, this is the best netbook keyboard we’ve ever used (and we’ve used ‘em all, folks). Sized to 92% of a regular keyboard, it’s almost identical to that of the 2133 Mini-Note. The primary keys are large and square, presenting an ample-sized strike area for your fingers, while the surface of the keys is slightly concave.Best netbook keyboard evah! Large (and slightly concave) keys, proper layout and a near-perfect movement, HP shows the rest of the netbook designers how it's done. Shame about that trackpad...
The layout is spacious and key positioning is spot on – for example, the right Shift key is full sized and sits directly under the Enter key. Forget about having to hunt-and-peck, or making do with dinky downsized keys shoehorned into places they shouldn’t be.
Key movement is as about as perfect as you could ask for: a short but sharply positive travel, with a crisp bounce-back, although it’s a little on the noisy side (especially the space bar). The whole assembly feels firm and ready for as many hours of work as you can throw at it.
How did HP get such a super-sized keyboard onto a downsized notebook? Rather than being surrounded by a wide frame, the keyboard tray runs almost to the very edges of the chassis.
The delights of the Mini 1000’s keyboard are offset by its trackpad. Like the 2133 (and others, such as Acer’s Aspire One) it’s long but quite narrow, which makes navigation around the screen a bit tricky, and puts the left and right mouse buttons either side of the touch-sensitive area rather than below it.
This is an unavoidable compromise due to the Mini 1000’s design. There’s simply no room for the trackpad to be taller and/or for the mouse buttons to sit under the trackpad without either making the keyboard smaller or ditching the dedicated row of function keys (and we’d vote no to both those options), or making the netbook itself at least an extra few centimetres larger.
So while it takes some getting used to this arrangement, you do
of course adapt to it in a short space of time – even so, we’d prefer to tote along a small travel mouse as long as you can spare the USB port for it (or spring for a Bluetooth wireless mouse).
At least the trackpad itself is highly responsive, boasts a vertical scroll area along the right side, and has a button atop the pad to toggle the trackpad on or off (handy when you’re using a USB mouse to navigate and want to avoid the cursor jumping around the screen if you accidentally tap the trackpad whilst typing).
The lush 10.2 inch widescreen 1,024 x 600 display is another area where the Mini 1000 makes some consumer-minded calls. It’s incredibly bright, thanks to the use of LED backlighting (the first netbook to do so). This is enhanced by a pane of high-gloss glass which extends all the way to the edges of the lid.
That’s another first for a netbook, especially given that only a few notebooks have picked up on this design trend. It looks plenty swish, but there’s a catch: the inside edges of the lid are where your thumb (and in some instances a finger or two) will press as you open any laptop.
This doesn’t tend to be noticeable when there’s a solid bezel surrounding the screen, but with glass running the entire width of the lid it hangs onto every fingerprint and showcases every smudge. Fortunately, HP throws a small cleaning cloth in with the Mini 1000.
The display itself is a dazzler. Put the Mini 1000 alongside a few other netbooks in a PC store and the screen pops with the sharp vivid colours sure to turn heads and woo the average customer.
Take it outdoors and there’s no prize for guessing the downside of this dazzling display: it turns into a highly reflective panel that’s better for brushing your hair than browsing the web. Consider how much you’ll likely use your netbook in that environment and factor that into your purchase decision.
Embedded just above the screen is the near-mandatory 0.3-megapixel VGA webcam, while surmounting the display hinge under the metal mesh grille are a pair of oomphy stereo speakers. There’s no need to wind the volume up all the way on the Mini 1000.
The compact form of the Mini 1000 also necessitates a few compromises on the selection of ports, but we can’t agree with every call that HP has made in this department.
There are only two USB ports, for example – one less than most 10.2 inch netbooks. At least they’re sensibly positioned so there’s one on either side. Accompanying the right-facing USB port is a memory card slot for SD and Memory Stick wafers, along with an insert that conceals the bay for HP’s Mini Mobile Drive system.From left to right: memory card reader, one of the two USB 2.0 ports, and HP
’s idiotic Mini Mobile Drive bay
This comprises a USB port mounted directly onto the motherboard but sticking up at an acute angle. The Mini Mobile Drive bay is a short channel into which you feed one of HP’s Mini Mobile Drives – a slim, elongated and of course totally proprietary USB flash drive of 2GB, 4GB or 8GB capacity that slides all the way into the netbook, rather than poking out as a regular drive would.
This is one of the silliest things we’ve ever seen on a netbook, and its stupidity will be bested only by those customers who shell out what we’re sure will be a big bucks premium for one of HP’s gussied-up USB drives.
The Mini Mobile Drive will be offered only on the SSD-equipped Linux variants of the Mini 1000 (which we’ll see in January) as sucker-bait to supplement the modest 8GB or 16GB capacity of the solid state drives.From left to right: power jack, second USB 2.0 port, cooling vent, proprietary expansion port (which doubles as a video output once you buy the optional extra VGA adaptor cable), combo headphone/mic socket, and 10/100 Ethernet
The left side of the Mini 1000 reveals another unwelcome oddity arrayed next to the DC power jack, second USB port, combined headphone/microphone audio socket and (lurking under a plastic cover) a 10/100 Ethernet jack.
It’s also home to the Mini 1000’s second proprietary element: an unusual connector which substitutes for the standard VGA port in order to retain the Mini 1000’s slim profile.
This is in fact an expansion port unique to HP’s own design which provides an additional pathway for USB, stereo audio input and output, VGA and power.
The port will be used to connect a yet-to-be-announced docking station and perhaps an undoubtedly overpriced CD/DVD drive. It’s also the only way to hook up your Mini 1000 to an external screen or projector, but don’t go looking for a VGA adaptor dongle in the netbook’s cardboard carton.
What you’ll need is HP’s ‘Mini VGA adaptor cable’, which will cost US$79 when it goes on sale in January 2009. We’re crystal-balling the local price at A$149 allowing for GST and markup (this is about the same 1.8 x US-to-AU differential as for the Mini 1000 itself).
We can see where HP is coming from. Most Mini 1000 buyers will never need to use an external monitor (which the netbook can drive at 1,600 × 1,200, by the way), so why bother throwing an adaptor cable into the box when it’ll almost certainly never be used?
But for those who do, including students, it’s a deal-breaker. Forking out another $150 for a connector cable is a big ask, and should you leave that cable behind (or lose it) when a presentation is due, you’re up slideshow creek without a laser-pointer to paddle with.
We’d have much rather seen the Mini 1000 fitted with a standard DisplayPort connector in place of the dubious Mini Mobile Drive bay, while leaving the specialised expansion port for the few who’d want to drop their dollars on a docking station.
The Mini 1000’s three-cell battery is rated at
26Whr and is a flat slab cast from Lithium Ion Polymer rather than the
usual cylindrical Lithium Ion barrel. It grew warm during our tests but
no more so than any similar netbook, and certainly lacked the
thigh-scorching capabilities of the original 2133.
Battery life is roughly equivalent to what we’ve come to expect
from most three-cell 10.2 inch netbooks, if a little on the shy side.
Playing back a handful of downloaded videos with screen brightness set
to 66%, volume at maximum and connected to a Wi-Fi network saw the Mini
1000 trot along for 135 minutes (2 hours 15 minutes).
Disabling wireless and plugging a pair of headphones – a typical
scenario for travelling tech-heads who use their netbook as a personal
in-flight video system – stretched this to 2 hours 40 minutes.
Based on those figures we estimate that more conventional netbook
usage such as basic productivity plus dollops of wireless internet
would span from 2.5 hours to just shy of 3 hours.
That’s sufficient for casual out-and-about use, and the tiny power
brickette will slip easily into your carry bag. But serious users will
want to to wait for the optional six-cell 52Whr battery wedge, which
should give around five hours of solid use between drinks. HP has yet
to announce a release date or price for this add-on, however.
Both the memory and hard drive can be upgraded, although the degree of difficulty varies.
Boosting the RAM is a snap, with a pop-out plastic panel covering the memory slot. There’s only one slot, alas, so if you want to take the Mini 1000 up to 2GB of RAM (which is the limit for any netbook running the Atom processor) you’ll need to swap the factory-fitted 1GB wafer for a 2GB module.
The hard drive’s a little trickier, as you need to pop out the keyboard to gain access to it. However, you won’t find many faster or larger 1.8 inch drives, so if you want more than the Mini 1000 delivers out of the box you should probably be buying a different box in the first place.
There’s one piece of the expandability puzzle that’s unexpected but
by no means unwelcome: HP has not only allowed room for a 3G HSDPA
radio, but has already fitted a SIM card slot into the battery
compartment in readiness for such an upgrade. We found this slot while
poking around the battery bay, and into it slid a SIM card with a
Kinda-sorta 3G ready: parked under the battery is a SIM card slot (shown here with a Vodafone SIM card sticking halfway out), in readiness for HP to upgrade future Mini 1000s with a 3G HSDPA modem
There’s no 3G module present in the mini-card bay, of course, but we’re hoping that HP introduces this an an option on the Mini 1000 at the earliest opportunity.
Given HP’s propensity to overload its PCs with a barrel load of bloatware, we were delighted to see the Mini 1000 escaped the factory almost unsullied. There’s no superfluous CD/DVD burning software, no photo editor or greeting card creator or plug-in browser toolbars.
There’s not even the obligatory anti-virus software, about which we have mixed feelings. APC readers can and do choose their own protection, but the Mini 1000’s target audience are more in need of hand-holding.
It’s true that most off-the-shelf AV packages now come with a three-install license, so perhaps the idea is that the Aussie version of Joe the Plumber will simply load up his copy of Norton, McAfee or such. We just hope that enough buyers are so inclined, because an unshielded internet-hopping netbook in the hands of the average user would lay out the welcome mat for malware.
The sole pieces of pre-loaded software are AOL’s Instant Messenger, which is useless for Australia but easily deleted, and Microsoft’s Works 9 suite. We’ve previously seen Works 9 on Dell’s Inspiron Mini 12, and reckon it’s a smart inclusion for any netbook. The suite’s word processor and spreadsheet look and work identically to their Office counterparts, with full support for the XML document formats of Office 2007.
Considering the relatively light usage model of netbooks Works 9 could be sufficient for many buyers and will save them from installing the full Office suite, which will chew up a fair chunk of disk space and memory.
HP also throws in a Wireless Assistant utility, which hijacks the entire screen to show whether the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios are on or off (as a result of flicking the main wireless mode switch at the leading edge of the netbook). That’s all it does, unless you activate the option to power each radio up or down on its own.
We don’t see why this can’t be done using a smaller piece of pop-up system tray software or toggled using Function keys and a simple on-screen overlay.
The system shortcut keys in place allow for putting the Mini 1000 to sleep, quickly locking the system down (so you can see only the log-in screen and need a password to get back in), changing brightness and volume levels as well as a volume mute. Sadly, none of the volume adjustments result in any on-screen display of their status.
The Mini 1000 has plenty to offer the average PC buyer, and we’ve no doubt HP will move plenty – even with the eyebrow-raising $899 price tag. But more tech-savvy shoppers will be waiting for that sticker to be slashed by at least $150 before the Mini 1000 can really stand its ground against some of the better-spec’d competitors.