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Summary:

The Asus EEE PC woke people up to the benefits that a sub-notebookdevice brings to consumers, especially if it’s priced attractively.  HPis releasing their hotly awaited sub-notebook and the Mini is a solidfirst effort in this small notebook category.  I know, we have heard this device […]

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The Asus EEE PC woke people up to the benefits that a sub-notebookdevice brings to consumers, especially if it’s priced attractively.  HPis releasing their hotly awaited sub-notebook and the Mini is a solidfirst effort in this small notebook category.  I know, we have heard this device called the 2133 or the Mini-Note but HP told me they are going to release it as simply the Mini.  I have been using the HPMini for a week now thanks to the good folks at HP and this hands-onreview of the device should answer all of your questions about it.There is an interesting story behind the Mini as I discovered byspending an hour with the folks at HP behind the device.  The Mini isthe brain child of the group at HP that produces products for theeducation sector and not the main consumer group.  HP found that indiscussions with educators that they needed a notebook computer thatwas small enough for students to easily handle and yet sturdy enough tosurvive the knocks that they dish out to the gear they use.  HP went towork and the Mini emerged to fit those needs and they’ve done it sowell that I’m pretty sure it will appeal far beyond the educationsector, especially given the attractive pricing.

Overview

Cimg0475The Mini is a small notebook computer designed to be highly mobile and yet fully functional.  The first thing that strikes those who see the Mini for the first time is how sturdily built the device is.  The casing is brushed metal in an attractive gray finish reminiscent of the MacBook Pro from Apple.  All of the corners are rounded and the attention to detail is evident from the get-go.  The Mini is designed to be a highly mobile notebook computer that can be easily carried and opened at a moment’s notice to get stuff done.  There are several basic configurations that can be ordered from HP and having spent time with the device I am impressed with the attractive pricing that HP is offering.  All of the models run the Via C7 processor running at 1.6 GHz, a definite compromise to keep the price low.  The basic model will start at $499, a price higher than the EEE PC but the Mini comes with far better hardware components than the EEE and it’s hard to make a strict comparison for that reason.  This $499 model will sport 512 MB of memory and run SuSE Linux installed on a 120 GB hard drive.  I played with this model for an hour at the HP offices and it is extremely snappy and well worth the low price in my opinion.  The Mini is also available with Windows, Vista Home or Business initially and XP eventually given Microsoft’s easing of the restrictions on OEMs to provide XP going forward.  The impressive model is the one I am reviewing here, the top of the line Mini with 2 GB of memory, a 120GB fast hard drive (7,200 rpm), Bluetooth, WiFi, 8.9" screen (1280×768), web cam, trackpad, SDHC slot, ExpressCard slot, 2 USB ports (1 is powered for running peripherals that require power), Ethernet and a 6-cell battery.  The price is equally impressive with $749 getting you the whole enchilada which is a great deal in my opinion.

Hardware

The unit I am reviewing has the following configuration:  Via C7-M 1.6 GHz processor, Via Chrome9 UMA graphics, 2 GB of memory, 1.3 MP web cam, an 8.9-inch screen running at 1280×768, wide trackpad with two large mouse buttons on either side, 92% scaled keyboard with the HP DuraKey finish for durability, 120 GB 7,200 rpm HDD, a VGA-out port, two USB ports (1 powered), audio in/out jacks, stereo speakers, dual integrated microphones, radio off slider, ExpressCard slot, SD slot, and an Ethernet jack.  The two USB ports are split on the left and right side of the unit for ease of use and this is indicative of the thought that HP has put into the entire design of the Mini to make it easy for mobile usage.  The system feels very solid in the hands and is one of the best constructed mobile PCs I have used.

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Right side L-R: ExpressCard slot, SD slot, USB port, Ethernet, Power jack, lock slot

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Left side L-R: VGA out, vent, USB (powered), mic in, headphone

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Front: power slider, Radio slider

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Bottom: battery on top, 3 vents, 4 rubber feet

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Extended battery attached

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Screen: web cam in top center, two integrated mics on either side, me reflected.

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Left screen bezel- large speaker grill

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Right speaker grill

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Right side view- notice the screen sitting behind the unit

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Left side view

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Unique screen hinge detail

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Another side view

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A bird in the hand…

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Extended battery- LED meter

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Side view- extended battery attached

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Back view- extended battery attached

Software

The unit I am evaluating is a pre-production prototype so it might not reflect what software might be installed on shipping units but I am happy to report this one was totally free of junkware.  Vista Business is installed along with a Microsoft Office 2007 trial but that’s about it.  The system is relatively free for the user to begin building his dream mobile PC from the outset.

Real world usage usage

Here’s the topic that most are probably interested in, how does the HP Mini perform in the real world?  Very well, I’m happy to report.  The high resolution display coupled with an absolutely awesome keyboard make the Mini a real trooper for field work.  This review has been written on the Mini if that helps clarify it a bit.  The Mini is about the same size as the Fujitsu P1620 although a tad heavier.  I found through usage that since the Mini is not used in the hands like the Fujitsu that the extra weight did not matter to me at all.  I find that I am able to open the screen of the mini, hit the power slider and be up and running in a couple of seconds from sleep mode.  The screen is very nice and clear and the trackpad is one of the best I have used.  That’s important as I don’t like trackpads as a rule but I am using this one exclusively while mobile.  The screen hinges are unique and by design when the screen is opened it actually sits behind the Mini body and not on top like those on most all notebooks.  This is because the teachers that HP interviewed found that regular notebook PCs used in the classroom resulted in them becoming barriers between the teacher and the students.  The Mini screen thus sits flush with the table or desk and much lower than traditional screens. 

Working with the keyboard is reminiscent of working with the 2710p.  This is a good thing as I find that keyboard to be a great one and the Mini is more of the same.  Going with a 92% scaled keyboard was a good design choice by HP as it allows the Mini to be as small as possible yet without compromising the keyboard for touch typing.  I am able to touch type at full speed as fast as on any keyboard I’ve used and it doesn’t feel like it’s been scaled down at all.  The keyboard stretches all the way to both sides of the device with no wasted space at all.  The keys are full-sized and relatively flat on the top with good feedback and the HP DuraKey surface means they will not wear like normal notebook keys.  The trackpad is about 1.5 inches wide and feels very natural and "slidy" to use as it’s the same surface as the case surrounding the keyboard.  The mouse buttons are on either side of the trackpad rather than above or below it and that took a bit to get used to.  It didn’t take long before I was clicking with abandon though and of course you can perform a left mouse click by tapping the trackpad anyway.  This attention to detail with the screen and keyboard make the Mini a writer’s dream machine.  It’s as small as possible with no compromises in the usage department and anyone who works with documents a lot like professionals will find this a very powerful portable notebook.

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Delightful keyboard & trackpad, mouse buttons on sides of trackpad

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Keyboard detail, good travel depth

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Surfin’ da intranets

The decision of HP to go with the VIa C7-M processor was one I faced with trepidation when I started using the Mini.  I am not a big fan of the Via processor especially running Vista but since the unit I have has 2 GB of RAM this has not been an issue.  Vista is running nicely and I have experienced no issues with performance due to the processor.  I doubt I’d feel the same way with just 1 GB of RAM though so I wouldn’t recommend a Vista configuration of the Mini with only the basic 1 GB of memory.  The only area the Mini has failed due to the Via is in the area of video Skype calls.  Audio calls work fine but once I fire up video using the integrated web cam the system gets very sluggish and both the audio and video get very choppy.  It’s not usable this way so I’ve just been sticking to audio Skype calls as a result.  It’s too bad because the integrated web cam works nicely otherwise, but I’ve seen Skype video give other systems fits too so this didn’t surprise me.

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Vista Windows Index

Take a look at the Windows Index listing above and you’ll see a few surprises.  The weakest category unsurprisingly is the Via processor which only clocks in with a value of 2.0.  The rest of the categories all have surprisingly high values, especially the graphics.  While the prototype I am evaluating had Aero Glass turned off in Vista I turned it on and it runs fine as the above figures would indicate it should.  I see no performance hit having Aero enabled.

The Mini can get pretty warm when it’s running plugged into the adapter but not dangerously so.  The extended battery helps deal with that by functioning as a tilted stand when it’s installed which raises the Mini up a bit.  This actually lets air flow better under the device so it runs cooler with the 6-cell battery than the 3-cell as the Mini sits almost flush on the table when the smaller battery is installed.

The stereo speakers on each side of the screen make playing music and podcasts a real joy.  The volume level produced by the Mini is easily the loudest I’ve heard on any notebook and the audio quality is quite good.  Listening to podcasts is a real joy on the Mini but I find I have to make sure the volume level is turned way down or it blasts everybody.

I have been able to use a 16 GB SD card in the Mini with ReadyBoost enabled and it works fine.  I haven’t had the Mini long enough to tell if the ReadyBoost is making a big difference in the performance though I’m sure it’s working as well in this device as in any other.  I have also used the Verizon v740 ExpressCard EVDO modem in the Mini and when I first used it I had trouble maintaining a connection for longer than a few minutes.  It looked like the Mini was shutting the modem down so I went into the Device Manager and shut off the ability for the modem to be powered down by the Vista power management and that rectified that problem.  It’s pretty cool that the Mini has the ExpressCard slot and users of 3G like me will find this important for mobile usage.  This is another area that the Mini is improved over other mini-notebooks on the market and it’s cool that HP was able to fit the slot in the small form.

Battery life

Aside from performance and mobility battery life is probably the next important criteria for mobile workers.  HP provided me with both a 3-cell battery and the extended 6-cell battery so I’ve been able to use both in my evaluation.   Battery life has been pretty much what I expected with the 3-cell battery giving me about 2.5 hours under power saving settings and the 6-cell about 4.5 – 5 hours.  This is comparable to most portable computers and I found no surprise there.  HP put an LED battery strength indicator on the extended battery which is helpful as you can check the charge before swapping the battery which is nice.  I found the battery life to be as expected as I said and I have no problems with it on the Mini.

Conclusion

I think HP has a real winner on their hands with the Mini.  I find it to be a capable notebook computer that is highly portable and the build quality is outstanding.  I also find it impressive that the total price swing from entry level (with Linux) to fully loaded is only $250 and there is no question in my mind that the Mini is the best built UMPC at this price level.  I wish HP had put an Intel processor instead of the Via but that is probably my long-time prejudice against the Via rather than any actual observed issue.  I find it delightful that HP will allow consumers to configure a Mini exactly as desired on their online store which is unusual for such a low-cost device.  I would have no problem recommending the Mini to anyone looking for a highly mobile notebook with few compromises.

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Hp Mini vs. Fujitsu P1620

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Hp vs. Fuji again (Mini has extended battery attached)

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HP vs. Fuji last time

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Size comparison- Fuji top, HP bottom

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Fujitsu P1620 top (extended battery), HP Mini bottom

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Size comparison- Celio Redfly top, HP Mini bottom

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Hp Mini left, Celio Redfly right

Video review

http://www.youtube.com/v/U8kziSayoqM&hl=en

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  1. Thanks for being so thorough, James. I was worried about the VIA processor running Vista, so I’m glad to hear that it seems to be OK running 2G RAM.

    Yes, it was worth staying up for…

  2. bostonirishguy13 Monday, April 7, 2008

    Any info on a release date?

  3. Stephen Feger Monday, April 7, 2008

    Outstanding article James. I can’t wait to see and read more about it. Too bad the video is not working, but I’m sure that will be fixed soon enough.

    Have you heard anything about an SSD version and pricing (other than the $500 and $750 prices)? It is supposedly available with SUSE Linux…

    Also, did you feel that the 7200 RPM HDD generates a lot of heat? I have a 7200 RPM HDD in my X60 and you could fry an egg on the right -front portion of the keyboard. Yow!

    Again, great review!

  4. James Kendrick Monday, April 7, 2008

    Release date is today. It does get a little warm but not dangerously so. I don’t know if there will be an SSD version or not but there is a SuSE Linux version for $499. I talk about that in the video which hopefully YouTube will get back up in a few minutes. Who woulda thought YouTube would be down?

  5. This looks very very nice and capable, but the screen looks very reflective. Is that a big problem with you?

  6. Interesting… compared to the specs I posted on my WIP UMPC (heh), looks like I have some work to do… however, it looks like I have the jump on the 2133 with a touchscreen.

    http://www.jkontherun.com/2008/04/which-device-sp.html#comment-109875008

    Of course, the HP benefits from being real. But you haven’t seen the last of me, HP!

  7. bostonirishguy13 Monday, April 7, 2008

    Will availability be via hp.com only, or will it also be available at other places?

    Thanks!

  8. technically the Via is a worse performer than the A1xx series, benchmarks & dual ownerships have proved this many times over. i do realize that 2GB RAM will help with performance to some degree, but it seems odd to hear praise for the Via from a website that has trounced the A1xx.

    you said theres no hit with Aero running? i find the almost impossible to believe, even MS themselves states there is. just watch the task manager for the dwm.exe (controls Aero), it will go nuts with multiple windows being manipulated. last i heard Via doesnt even support Aero, are you sure you even know what Aero is James?

  9. James Kendrick Monday, April 7, 2008

    I believe it will be available at major online retailers like CDW too.

  10. James Kendrick Monday, April 7, 2008

    I don’t mind the reflective screen and had no problems with it.

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