While the ASUS EeePC and Intel's Classmate and Netebook 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 AU$899 with Windows Vista Business, Bluetooth, a Webcam, a 7,200rpm hard drive, and 2GB of RAM.
The 2133's greatest asset is its unique keyboard, which HP claims is 92 percent the size of a full-size laptop keyboard. Both inexpensive mini-notebooks and high-priced UMPCs have been plagued by tiny keys, which makes 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, and presents a unique, eye-catching look.
The touchpad 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 touchpad, but this permits the system to have a minimal amount of wasted wrist rest space and seems to be a fair tradeoff, even if it takes a little getting used to. There are no quick-launch or media control buttons, but a Webcam and speakers are mounted around the screen.
We're less enamored with 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 favourite pick-up-and-go laptop.
Based on our initial impression of the 2133 Mini-Note, we expected a much more expensive machine. Compared to most laptops in this price range, the 2133 looks like it should cost a good deal more, with a solid brushed aluminium lid and a magnesium-alloy chassis. The system weighs a bit less than 1.5kg, 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 toy-like compared to that of the 2133.
We felt constrained by the Eee PC's 800 x 480 resolution, so the 2133 Mini-Note's 1,280 x 768 resolution felt positively spacious in comparison, and is very close to the 1,280 x 800 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 is 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 favourite provider is a possibility. It also shows 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 AU$899 configuration, with 2GB of RAM, Vista Business, and a 120GB 7,200rpm hard drive, there should be Vista Home Basic, FreeDOS and SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop variants following, which will lower the price even further.
Performance And Battery Life
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 smart phone-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 utilise the VIA C7-M chips.
That said, when surfing the Web and working on office documents we found the 2133 Mini-Note to 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 "recognise" a new display or optical drive when, in fact, nothing was connected to it.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
The 2133 Mini-Note ran for 1 hour 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 three-cell models stacked together, and it raised the bottom of the system off our desk by nearly 38mm. In anecdotal use, we got close to 2 hours of use from the three-cell battery and around 4 hours from the six-cell version, which is merely average.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP 2133 Mini-Note PC
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.6GHz VIA C7-M Ultra Low Voltage; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; --MB VIA/SG3 UniChrome Pro II IGP; 120GB Seagate 7,200rpm
Windows Vista Business Edition; 800MHz Intel A110; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Mobile Intel 945GM/GU Express; 40GB Toshiba 4,200rpm
Sony VAIO VGN-UX38GN
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.33GHz Intel Core Solo U1500; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 32GB NAND Flash Memory
Fujitsu LifeBook U1010
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 800MHz Intel A110; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel 945GM/GU Express; 40GB Toshiba 4,200rpm
Fujitsu LifeBook P1620
Windows XP Professional SP2; 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7600; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 945GMS Express; 80GB Toshiba 4200rpm