Product review – HP Mini-note 2133 ultra portable notebook

My review for today is of the HP Mini-note 2133 “Netbook”. When I first got my hands on the Mini-note, I had pictured myself writing a review comparing it with the machine that started the whole Netbook “revolution”; the Asus Eee PC.

Most of these new mini notebooks (netbooks) are designed to be light, cute and very, very affordable. Light and affordable usually means lots of plastic, and cutting corners in the features department.

The HP mini-note is different in every possible way – it’s a normal notebook, just smaller. It even looks and feels like a normal notebook. It has a large screen, a normal size keyboard and a usable size track pad, but it still weighs under 2.7 pounds (a little over 1 kilogram). And, at just 10×6 inches, it’s the perfect size for throwing in your carry-on bag and taking it along on a trip.

The model I’m reviewing here is the “HP 2133 Mini-Note PC model FF0099AA“. It comes with Windows Vista Business, a 1.6GHz Via C7 CPU, an 8.9 inch (1280×800 pixels) display, 2Gb ram, 120Gb 7200RPM drive, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a 6 cell Li-Ion battery. The list price is $829. Don’t let yourself get scared away by the price; this particular model of the Mini-note has every single optional extra added, from a 7200rpm drive to a larger battery. Lighter models of the machine start at just $499.

The outside

The outside of the machine instantly catches your attention. Forget cheap plastic – the HP is covered in sleek brushed aluminum on the top and bottom. This even extends around the battery.

The result is something that looks fantastic and is very durable (when talking to an HP product manager, I was told that they actually tried to scratch the thing with steel wool, but failed!).

On the outside you’ll find 2 USB ports (one with high power output, suitable for a portable optical drive), a VGA connector, audio out/in plugs, an Ethernet port, a Kensington lock port, an SD card reader and an Expresscard/54 slot.

With Expresscard, HP obviously understands that a lot of us currently travel with a wireless broadband modem, and that our modems are not always USB.

HP even put some thought into the power connector; it’s the same one used on all HP business class notebooks, which means you’ll be able to pick up tips for your universal power supply, or use an existing HP power brick you have lying around.

On the front of the machine is the power switch, a hard disk status light (with a special feature I’ll mention later) and a hardware wireless switch.

The inside

The inside is just as gorgeous as the outside. Once you open the 2133, you’ll find a (near) full size keyboard, a nice wide track pad and a spacious 8.9″ display with stereo speakers. Above the screen is a VGA webcam.

The keyboard is 92% full size, which means that the keys are spaced almost like on a desktop keyboard. There is a decent size space bar, 2 large shift keys and a row of function keys which also control things like volume, brightness, sleep mode and external display options.

The keys on the mini-note are treated with a special rub-resistant coating, which means you won’t end up with a “QRTY keyboard” after several years of use.

Once again it’s obvious that HP asked their business machines people to design the Mini-Note; they added several layers of protection in the design. Besides the already mentioned aluminum body, they also incorporated a magnesium frame which makes things strong and light. On the inside of the machine you’ll also find HP’s “advanced 3D DriveGuard protection system”.

HP has the following to say about their DriveGuard system: “A three-axis digital accelerometer senses sudden movement and instructs the system software to temporarily park the hard drive“.

3D DriveGuard isn’t just another buzzword; you can actually see it work. The front hard drive activity LED turns orange when the machine detects too much movement. An orange LED means the drive has parked itself while it waits for the Mini-Note to hit the ground, or for you to stop shaking it. DriveGuard only works on the Windows versions of the Mini-Note, so if you purchase the cheaper Linux version, you won’t benefit from it.

The display

Normally I stay away from number ratings, but if I had to rate the display on the Mini-Note, I’d have to give it a 6 out of 10. It’s clear, bright and very crisp, but it suffers from an extremely annoying glossy coating.

Any time light shines on the screen, it becomes nearly impossible to read, and you’ll find yourself fidgeting to turn it away from the light.

The resolution is a very acceptable 1280×800, which means you’ll be able to run any application you want without having to scroll around too much like on machines with a lower resolution screen. The brightness can be controlled though the power profile or by using the f3/f4 function buttons. If you suffer from poor eyesight, you might find the high resolution to be a little too much, especially on such a small screen.

Computer performance

Inside the model I’m reviewing is a VIA C7 processor. This 1.6GHz CPU is quite sufficient for most of the things you’ll do on the road. During my review, I installed all the applications I normally need;

  • Office 2007
  • Firefox
  • Skype
  • Magicjack
  • Trillian Astra (IM client)
  • Media Player Classic
  • iTunes
  • HAVA Player (for remote TV viewing).

All these applications ran fairly well, but I always had a little bit of a lag when switching between applications, or when trying to do some video playback on full screen. The 1.6GHz processor is the top of the line, cheaper versions are sold with a 1.2 or 1.0GHz chip, which in my opinion will probably be too slow for the applications I listed.

There is however one other issue I need to mention with the processor; heat. The exhaust on the side of the Mini-note blows the heat away from the processor and the motherboard. The air coming out the vent reaches almost 120F when the machine is running in full speed mode. You really need to be careful what you place around the vent, and will certainly have to be sure you don’t block it.

Battery life

As I mentioned earlier, the version I am testing is equipped with a 6 cell battery. The standard battery is a 3 cell version, so this larger version doubles the battery life. To get a fairly reliable battery test, I set Windows Vista to the “balanced” power saving mode and changed the setting to keep the display on. I then started playback of a video file (with repeat) off the hard drive. When I checked back after 2 hours, it was still running fine, and continued to do so until the 3 hour 22 minute mark, at which point, Vista turned the machine off. Three hours is not too bad for a machine like this, but it does involve a larger battery. If you purchase the smaller 3 cell battery, you’ll probably get around 2 hours which is also quite acceptable. Thankfully, many airlines are working on installing power ports for their seats.

Wireless performance

The Mini-Note is equipped with an 802.11 internal wireless card with support for A, B and G networks. While most home users won’t need the support for A, it is a fairly common system in corporate environments.

The model I’m testing also has Bluetooth, which in my opinion is a “must have” in any notebook nowadays. It enables the use of devices like a Bluetooth headset, mouse, or allows you to wirelessly connect with your mobile phone.

In my case, I’ve added my trusty MoGo mouse to the Mini-Note, and they really do feel like they are made for each other. The MoGo mouse stores neatly inside the Expresscard slot and charges when I’m not using it.

The Bluetooth adapter supports Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, which increases the range and data speeds. In real life this means you’ll be able to connect a Bluetooth headset and walk around your hotel room without your call crackling or dropping every 5 seconds.

The Wi-Fi adapter picked up plenty of access points and once connected I had a rock solid connection which never dropped, which about all you can ask of a Wi-Fi adapter.

The HP Mini-note for travelers

So, how well does the HP travel? Quite well thankfully! The machine is light enough to not bother you, and powerful enough to give you the feeling that you are carrying an full blown laptop.

The ability to use most existing HP chargers, as well as power tips on most universal power chargers means you shouldn’t run into any power issues. The webcam has a fairly low resolution, but is quite sufficient for a basic video call with your friends or family. And finally, the sturdy magnesium frame and DriveGuard protection feature mean you won’t end up with a dud if a clumsy TSA agent drops it.

Final thoughts…

This HP Mini-note is a beautiful machine. It has every feature you could possible need to do some work on the road. But all those features come at a price; $749 is almost twice as much as a low end Netbook like the Asus Eee 4G.

It’s a decision you’ll have to make based on your needs; if you need an Expresscard slot, Bluetooth and a high resolution display, then you will immediately end up in Mini-note land.

If you are just looking for something to do a little web browsing with, then a $349 Eee will probably suit you fine. That said; there are cheaper versions of the HP Mini-note. Their $499 version comes with a 1GHz C7 processor, 4GB of storage and 512MB of ram. In this model, you still get the Expresscard slot, but you lose Bluetooth. All in all, I found the HP Mini-Note 2133 to be close to perfect; the only 2 things that let me down were the slightly slow CPU and the glossy screen.