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Good screen, even better keyboard

The two advantages that really define the Mini-Note are revealed when you crack the system open, exposing its screen and keyboard in all their glory. We'll start with the keyboard because it's the reason I'm able to write this review comfortably reclined on the couch rather than holed up in my office. Unlike the Eee PC, whose keyboard is much too small for speedy typing unless you have tiny, child-like hands, the Mini-Note serves up a proper keyboard that just about anyone should be able to use comfortably.

HP says the Mini-Note's keyboard is 92% the size of the real thing, and after hours and hours of typing, I can safely say that's close enough. There's plenty of room for even my meaty, Neanderthal mitts to bang away at nearly 100 words per minute with no more typos or accidental keystrokes than I encounter on a full-sized keyboard. To be fair, however, the 1 key is a little narrower than the others. That takes some getting used to, but only because you're otherwise under the impression that a full-sized keyboard sits at your fingertips.

If only the Mini-Note's trackpad gave the impression of using a real, er, trackpad. The trackpad is actually a decent size and it has a generous vertical scrolling area, but its surface is a little tackier than I'm used to, requiring a gentle touch for accurate tracking. More annoying is HP's decision to put the mouse buttons on either side of the trackpad rather than below it. Left-clicking requires two hands, and right-clicking is a royal pain, making me wish HP had opted for a simple "eraser head" track stick on the keyboard that would have left plenty of room for mouse buttons below.

Putting the Mini-Note side-by-side with the Eee PC makes the difference in keyboard size readily apparent, and it's even more glaring if we zoom in on individual keys. There's more to the Mini-Note's keyboard than its comparatively jumbo-sized keys, though. Those keys also have an excellent, positive feel; each keystroke ends with a satisfying click after what feels like just the right amount of travel. Keyboard feel is something that I'm particularly picky about as a writer, and it really is a joy to bang away on the Mini-Note. Heck, I prefer its keyboard to those on most full-sized laptops I've used.

And there's more. HP says the keyboard is spill-proof design that shields internal components from potentially conductive or damaging liquids. That's exactly the sort of feature that should resonate with students powered by caffeinated (or other adult) beverages. Don't think you can douse the system with a full pint or a cup of coffee, though; HP says the keyboard can only handle a couple of ounces of liquid.

In order to fully appreciate the Mini-Note's keyboard, you really have to spend some time typing with it. The system's screen, however, is instantly impressive. Perched under a VGA webcam and between two thin bezel speakers lies an 8.9" panel with a generous 1280x800 display resolution. Those who have been following the budget subnotebook space will note that the new Eee PC 900 series also features an 8.9" screen. However, that panel's resolution is only 1024x600, which yields 40% fewer pixels than the Mini-Note's WXGA display. Those with poor eyesight may find Mini-Note screen's higher DPI a little challenging, but my far-from-perfect eyes didn't have problems until very late at night after I'd been wearing my contact lenses for more than 16 or so hours.

I crave screen real estate, so tolerating a little 2AM squinting for substantially more pixels is a trade-off I'll gladly make. The higher screen resolution allows the Mini-Note to play nicely with a much wider range of applications and web sites, and it makes the system a better Remote Desktop Connection client, too.

Picture quality is another important consideration, and the Mini-Note delivers plenty of brightness with sharp contrast and great colors for such a small screen. There's a little ghosting, which is to be expected from this class of display, but viewing angles are surprisingly good.

The Mini-Note's LCD should be durable, too, thanks to HP's use of an "innovative treatment" to give the screen a scratch-resistant coating. Innovative, in this case, appears to mean reflective—more reflective than most transreflective coatings I've seen on laptop screens. Unless you're using the system in virtual darkness, you pretty much have to crank the display brightness up all the way to avoid staring at a faint reflection of yourself in the screen. The reflective coating definitely doesn't deal well with the sort of bright overhead lighting I remember from my university days, although fortunately for students, black text on a white background seems to be the most immune to annoying reflections.