Review: HP's 2133 Mini-Note takes on the Eee PC

The latest ultraportable is a bit heavier and pricier than the Eee, but has a better screen and sleek design

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The ultimate test of ultrasmall laptops is usability. Needless to say, like any small device, the 2133 Mini-Note PC has its trade-offs, but not as many as you might expect.

In particular, its 8.9-in. display is very bright, sharp and pleasing to use. My only complaint with the Mini-Note's screen was that its default resolution of 1280 by 768, while quite sharp, resulted in icons and text that were too small to comfortably view. That problem was easily solved by lowering the resolution to 1024 by 768.

Input is the other key area of on-the-road usability and, in this area, the Mini-Note achieves mixed results. The keyboard is laudably large for such a small device; HP claims it is 92% the size of a full-size laptop keyboard. It's about 10 inches wide, which is almost exactly the same size as the keyboard on my old Dell X300 laptop. The individual keys are also large -- about two-thirds of an inch square.

However, the keys are packed together, flush with one another with no beveled edge to provide a tactile distinction between the keys. As a result, I found my fingers sliding off the keys from time to time, leading to mistyped words.

I did get comfortable with the keyboard after a while, but not the touchpad. The size of the touchpad is generous at 2.75 inches wide and 1.25 inches high. But the mouse buttons are on the right and left sides of the touchpad instead of below it, which is the case with virtually every other laptop I've ever used.

When buttons are below the touchpad, you can click a button with your thumb while keeping your index finger on the touch pad. However, to click a button with the Mini-Note, you must either take your finger off the touchpad or twist your hand uncomfortably so you can use your thumb. And click-and-drag operations require use of fingers on both hands. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it is an annoyance.

Connectivity, power and media

The HP 2133 Mini-Note PC is nicely connective. It has built-in 802.11 a/b/g support -- it instantly made the connection to my wireless network -- and a Gigabit Ethernet adapter. It also offers an ExpressCard/54 slot that can be used for a variety of tasks, including use of a 3G wireless broadband adapter.

The device also has two USB ports and a standard video port for connecting to a free-standing monitor. In addition, it has an SD flash memory card slot for viewing media and other information. Its built-in speakers are surprisingly good for this type of device, but you'll be unlikely to rely on them for more than an occasional listen.

Battery life, however, will be an issue for some. The top-of-the-line $749 version of the Mini-Note PC comes with a six-cell lithium ion battery with a rated battery life of four and half hours. However, the three-cell battery that comes standard with all less expensive models, including my review unit, is only rated at two hours, 15 minutes. This means that you can't use the Mini-Note to watch a movie or work during a long flight unless you are on an airplane with power ports. HP notes that the short battery life is partially offset by the fact that it charges to 90% of capacity in only 90 minutes.

Invariably, the Mini-Note's success in the market will depend on how well it compares to the current leader, the Eee PC, and there the jury is still out. Although the Mini-Note is heavier than the Eee PC, has less battery life and is a bit more expensive, it also offers a much wider range of options, along with a large, beautiful screen.

HP, which is best known for its conservative business-focused laptops and desktops, has developed a small laptop that will appeal to both consumers and business users, not to mention students. It is polished and complete enough to move the mininotebook style of laptop into the mainstream.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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