HP Mini-Note 2133

While most ultra portable computers like to hang around strutting their stuff in a plastic shell, one company vows to be different and is making what could be the king…

In a time when computers are getting smaller and smaller, a new category has emerged in the field of portable computing. Between the notebooks & laptops that you and I might traditionally carry around while being bigger than personal digital assistants and palmtops come one area where size and computing power meet a common goal: Netbooks.

A Netbook is a computer designed to be small and able to be used on the Internet among other things. You can surf the web, write up emails, do all your word processing, and now as the “Netbook” matures, use it as a full fledged smaller computer. The One Laptop Per Child, or OLPC, helped spark this new category as did the Asus Eee series of notebooks, and now HP are looking to take the Netbook in a new direction with the release of their new Mini-Note 2133.

A bit of background first though:
Normally, a Netbook is light & cheap, with a plastic body and enough of a computer specification to allow it to be a usable portable computer. We’re talking “proper” portable here though, not “my 15.4 inch laptop is portable”. Portable for a Netbook includes a screen anywhere between 7 and 10 inches.

The HP Mini-Note is unlike any other currently released Netbook because the first thing you notice about it is the cool aluminium shell that it’s built with. Unlike its plastic brethren, the aluminium gives off the impression that the HP Mini-Note was made to last. Set in the closed position, it feels like it actually could survive a bit of a knocking.

With a smaller footprint than that of Your average Netbook (including the Asus Eee) you’ll find the size relation to be something near that of a DVD case-and-a-half on the length. As a result, it doesn’t have your regular laptop or Netbook size and feels longer as if someone had attached a keyboard to a wide screen.

Open up the Mini-Note and you’ll see an immaculately designed screen making up the top-side of the computer with a long stretch of speakers built in next to them. The bright 8.9 inch WXGA display sits behind glass and while it’s obviously a glossy finish, it’s not too glossy that you’ll see everything behind you and not get any work done.

The keyboard is very cool too. At 92% of a full-size keyboard and set out in a silver plastic finish that works with the rest of the aluminium body, you’ll find that the keyboard feels very solid and easy to type in. The mouse we’ll get to in a second as it is… odd… to say the least.

Built with a 120gb SATA hard drive and loaded with 2 gigabytes of memory, the HP Mini-Note 2133 comes preset with Windows Vista which normally on a Netbook I’d advise against but here… it seems absolutely fine.

It’s funny, the Mini-Note 2133 seems like its one of the better Vista ready laptops you can find and that certainly surprised me. Even running the power-friendly VIA C7-M processor – which is by no means quite as good a processor as say the Intel Celerons or Intel Atoms currently used in Netbooks – the Mini-Note 2133 moves along with excellent speed. You’re not likely to sit on the train and Photoshop things with it… or are you?

I did. In fact, I sat on the train editing high resolution photos on it just to see if it could be done and guess what: the Mini-Note had no problem. It even gave me decent battery life on its 6-cell battery.

However, try to push it too far and it will crack under pressure. In attempting to see if I could make some 3D animation on the Mini-Note, you really see the VIA Chrome graphics chipset push past breaking point and tell you how much it hates you.

That said, the Mini-Note wasn’t designed for any of the things I had decided to test it with. It’s designed to be typed on, carried around, and typed on some more; an easy life for a professional looking more-portable laptop that comes complete with WiFi, an SD slot, 2 USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, webcam, monitor out, and headphone and microphone ports.

But while the design, feature set and build are all equally impressive, there are some deal breakers which threw me off, the first of which is the mouse.

We’re all accustomed to a touchpad in some fashion: those little square or rectangular pointing devices held at the bottom of laptops with mouse buttons on the bottom and scroll wheel functionality mapped to the side. We’re all so used to them that if we see one, there’s an almost instantaneous ease of use to let us get settled with them.

Not with the one found on the HP Mini-Note: it’s weird. Because HP have gone for an almost full size QWERTY keyboard – and that does make a difference – there hasn’t been enough room to put the ordinary touchpad in either. So HP have gone for something literally outside of the box in that they’ve put the mouse buttons on the left and right side of the touchpad itself. This means that instead of having your left and right button at the bottom of the touchpad, you now have your left button literally on the left side of the rectangular trackpad and your right button on the right side.

Now all of this might sound easy in theory but try getting used to it. I still can’t quite get a hold of how to use it properly and only one person in the entire CyberShack offices found it easy and comfortable. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, but it’s certainly not an easy thing to get used to and it hampered my use some when reviewing the Mini-Note.

Another downside of the Mini-Note 2133 is its lack of balance. It’s an interesting test that we had and it came by accident from the way I walk around the office with review laptops. If a review laptop is small enough, I’ll generally hold one in each hand palm side up and see which is weighted properly. At the time, we were looking at a Fujitsu (with a review that will follow shortly) and while the Fujitsu was in a completely different league at 12 inches and at least a thousand or two more in price, the balance of the Mini-Note seemed horribly off… and then we worked out why.

The hinge on the Mini-Note 2133 is of a design that when the screen is pushed backwards – which is to say the Netbook is open and able to be looked at – the Mini-Note falls backwards itself. If it’s sitting on something firm & stable like a desk, you won’t see any issues like this, but the moment you put the Mini-Note on your lap or on a hand, push the screen too far and the lack of balance takes over and sort of teeters the Mini-Note to the brink of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”.

But with a Recommended Retail Price of $899, the HP Mini-Note 2133 sort of sits itself as the highest quality ultra mobile PC you can find. With the inclusion of a 120gb hard drive, 2 gig of memory, magnesium allow internal shell and a copy of Windows Vista make it an interesting prospect, it does prove itself to be an excellent buy for someone who wants performance and quality while they’re on the go. I believe some improvements could be made in the next version – a 3G SIM card slot and a better processor for instance – but it’s still a great buy if you’re looking for the crème de la crème while you’re out on the road.

Product: Mini-Note 2133

Vendor: HP

RRP: $899

Website: HP Mini-Note 2133

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark