HP's design team has often done great things with the netbook form factor in design terms, and the Mini 210 is no exception. Sure, it's mostly black — most netbooks are — but the smoothed edges, thin profile and bright lid in black, white, blue or red give it a healthy dose of style that many other netbooks lack.
The keyboard is well laid out within the usual parameters that limit what can be done on a netbook. Of note there's no page up/page down keys at all, and the cursor keys are folded down next to each other, but beyond those minor quirks, the Mini 210 ranks up there with the best netbook keyboards we've tested.
The exterior of the Mini 210 is so nice that it's rather disappointing to discover that underneath the exterior lies a rather plain netbook recipe. Windows 7 Starter edition sits on top of an Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz, 1GB of RAM and an Intel GMA 3150 graphics solution. The display screen is a 10.1-inch 1024x600 LCD panel, same as pretty much every other vendor. Wireless is supported, but it's only 802.11b/g.
Officially HP sells five variants on the Mini 210. There's the entry-level AU$449 1015TU model, and then five models at an AU$599 price point; the 1016TU, 1017TU, 1018TU and 1020TU. The difference between the top tier models is only in the colour of the lid (Black, White, Red and Blue respectively), but the difference between the sole AU$449 model and the AU$599 models lies in storage, power and integrated Bluetooth. The AU$449 model comes with a 160GB hard drive, no Bluetooth and a three-cell battery. The AU$599 models bump that up to a 250GB hard drive, integrated Bluetooth and a six-cell battery. We tested with the 1020TU, which is the model with the blue casing.
Aside from Windows 7 Starter, HP also offers up a quick launch operating system based on Splashtop Linux OS. Being HP, it's subtly re-branded as "HP QuickWeb" and offers a near instantaneous boot for simple web browsing, music playback, photo browsing, Skype and chat applications. If you don't like Splashtop it's easily disabled from within either QuickWeb or Windows 7.
The Mini 210's physical build ensures a pleasant computing experience for the most part. Like most thinner netbooks, heat build-up can be an issue. Likewise, in common with other six-cell models, the bulky battery juts out of the back at an angle that can be a little uncomfortable on the lap, but these are minor quibbles. The keyboard response is excellent with well spaced keys and a responsive clickable touch-pad.
Atom processors and PCMark05 haven't always behaved well together in previous tests, and this was exactly the case with the Mini 210 which crashed the test suite repeatedly. Based on simple application testing and the fact that the Mini 210's innards are quite standard, you can expect a slow performance out of the 210. 3DMark06 did complete, but its score of 155 puts it solidly in the Solitaire-only camp.
We ran the Mini 210 through our standard battery testing regime. This involves switching screen brightness to maximum, disabling all power-saving features entirely and setting a looping XviD file to run to the point of battery exhaustion. It's a test that's designed to be brutal and give a "worst-case" battery life scenario. In actual usage — especially with a dimmed screen, less intensive processing and judicious use of Wi-Fi only when needed — you can expect a lot more than we get with this test, which only gives us a base line. The Mini 210's base line was highly impressive, however, lasting four hours and 45 minutes before conking out.
HP has historically placed something of a premium on its netbook designs, so the fact that the RRP of the Mini 210 is in line with the current netbook norm is highly pleasing. Combine that with a great keyboard, instant-on Linux capability and very good battery life and you've got an excellent netbook.