(CNET) -- While the Asus Eee PC and Intel's Classmate and Netbook platforms have convinced us that low-cost, low-power laptops can be genuinely useful, we still long for something a little more upscale than the plastic construction of those systems.
HP's bold entry into the mini notebook market comes in the form of the 2133 Mini-Note PC, a 9-inch laptop with a tailored look and magnesium alloy chassis that starts at $599 for Windows (or $499 for Linux) and tops out at $749 with extras including Bluetooth, a Webcam, a 7,200 rpm hard drive, and 2GB of RAM.
The 2133's greatest asset is its unique keyboard, which manages to fit in full-size keys by eliminating dead space on the keyboard tray, but we're less enamored of the pokey Via processor, especially when Intel's Atom CPUs, seemingly designed specifically for systems like this, are right around the corner.
Still, the HP 2133 Mini-Note works well enough for basic Web surfing and office productivity tasks, and it's quickly become our new favorite pick-up-and-go laptop.
Based on our initial impression of the 2133 Mini-Note, which we first saw under wraps at a New York steakhouse several weeks ago, we expected a much more expensive machine.
Compared with most laptops in this price range, the 2133 looks as if it should cost a good deal more, with a solid brushed aluminum lid and a magnesium-alloy chassis. The system weighs a bit less than three pounds, but due to its small size, feels heavier than you would expect. The 7-inch Asus Eee PC has a slightly smaller footprint and weighs less, but its plastic construction feels positively toylike compared with that of the 2133.
The 2133's biggest selling point is its fantastic keyboard, which HP claims is 92 percent of the size of a full-size laptop keyboard. Both inexpensive mini-notebooks and high-priced UMPCs have been plagued by tiny Chicklet-like keys, which make typing a pain and typos plentiful.
By expanding the keyboard right to the edges of the system, HP was able to fit bigger keys into the tray. The result is a comfortable typing experience. It also presents a unique, eye-catching look.
The touch pad also has an unusual shape, stretched into a letterbox-like wide rectangle. The touch surface is a little small, and the mouse buttons have been moved to the left and right sides of the touch pad, but this permits the system to have a minimal amount of wasted wrist rest space, and seems to be a fair trade-off, even if it takes some getting used to.
There are no quick-launch or media control buttons, but a Webcam and speakers are mounted around the screen.
We felt constrained by the Eee PC's 800x400 resolution, so the 2133 Mini-Note's 1,280x768 resolution felt positively spacious in comparison, and is very close to the 1,280x800 resolution found on many 15-inch mainstream laptops.
Text and images may be a bit small for your taste at this resolution on a 9-inch screen, but we found it acceptable. The screen also has a scratch-resistant finish, which was very glossy and susceptible to glare and reflections. We generally prefer matte screens.
While the 2133 lacks some high-end extras, such as optional mobile broadband or 801.11n Wi-Fi, it does have a welcome ExpressCard slot, so adding an after-market mobile broadband card from your favorite provider is a possibility. It also shows that you can add a decent number of connections without sacrificing portability, something we hope Apple will note in the next-gen MacBook Air.
While we looked at the highest-end $749 configuration, with 2GB of RAM, Vista Business, and a 120GB 7,200 rpm hard drive, there are three less-expensive configurations available. For $599, you get bumped down to 1GB of RAM, Vista Home Basic, and a 120GB 5,400rpm hard drive, while the $549 version is the same, but with Linux substituted for Windows Vista.
The cheapest version, at $499, has Linux and drops the hard drive completely for a 4GB SSD unit, similar to what's in the Asus Eee PC. A version with Windows XP, which requires less computing overhead than Vista, might be a good idea. Barring that, running Vista Basic would also help with performance.
There are an increasing number of options available for small laptop CPUs, including Intel's standard ULV chips (as seen in the Fujitsu LifeBook P1620), Celeron M chips (as in the Intel Classmate PC), the MacBook Air's custom version of the standard Intel Core 2 Duo, and the smartphone-based Intel A110 (as seen in the HTC Shift).
Intel is also readying a new line of CPUs for low-power devices, named Atom, which should be debuting in products very shortly. The 2133 Mini-Note uses none of these, choosing instead to go for a 1.6GHz Via C7-M.
We won't kid you--this CPU did not perform well at all on our standard benchmarking tests, coming in well behind even the HTC Shift, which we blasted for its own slow performance.
We can't say we're surprised; we've found similarly underwhelming performance on UMPCs that utilize the Via C7-M chips, including the OQO Model 02 and WiBrain B1.
Having said that, when surfing the Web and working on office documents, we found the 2133 Mini-Note to be perform at an acceptable level, thanks in part to its 2GB of RAM and faster-than-usual 7,200rpm hard drive. Try doing very much more than that, or open too many windows at once, and things will start to bog down. We also ran into a few bugs with the system, such as when it would occasionally "recognize" a new display or optical drive, when, in fact, nothing was connected to it.
The 2133 Mini-Note ran for 1 hour and 31 minutes on our video battery drain test, using the included three-cell battery. That battery sits flush with the system, but the high-end configuration also comes with a six-cell battery. That battery is as large as two of the 3-cell models stacked together, and it raised the bottom of the system off our desk by nearly 1.5 inches. In anecdotal use, we got close to two hours of use from the 3-cell battery and around 4 hours from the 6-cell version, which is merely average.
HP includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line or via HP's Web site, which features an online knowledge base and driver downloads.
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