Asus' Eee PC has defined the budget subnotebook genre, serving up relatively low-end hardware that's just fast enough in an ultraportable form factor with an affordable price tag. It's a simple formula, really, and one that made the Eee PC an instant hit despite its small, low-resolution screen and a Lilliputian keyboard that really only works if you have the diminutive digits of a 12-year-old. Given the Eee PC's instant popularity, it's clear some folks are willing to live with some compromises to get a nice price on a teeny laptop. However, those limitations have surely turned off plenty of potential customers who were hoping for a budget subnotebook that was perhaps a little more, er, notebook-like.
If you're looking for more screen real estate and room to type than the Eee PC provides, HP's Mini-Note may be right up your alley. One of the first would-be Eee PC killers, the Mini-Note directly challenges the Eee's weaknesses with a 92%-of-full-size keyboard and an 8.9" display with an impressive 1280x800 WXGA resolution. The system also features and ExpressCard slot for broadband Wi-Fi users and support for standard 2.5" mobile drives, should you require more than just a few gigabytes of storage capacity. Throw in a brushed aluminum chassis that would make Apple fans swoon and the sort of configuration flexibility you'd expect from HP, and the Mini-Note's potential grows.
Targeted squarely at students, the Mini-Note looks on paper to be a more reasonable compromise than the infectious Eee PCone suitable for a much wider range of computing tasks. But does it work in the real world? Read on for our in-depth look at HP's first budget subnotebook PC.
A subnotebook with style
Looking at the first wave of budget subnotebooks to hit the market, it's clear aesthetic appeal wasn't a priority for most manufacturers. The Mini-Note, however, has a definite sense of style. Rather than encasing the system in pedestrian plastics, HP splurged on a brushed aluminum shell that has understated but undeniable industrial sex appeal. Yeah, I'm a sucker for anything wrapped in brushed aluminum. Or bacon. But I digress.
The small size of subnotebook systems forces manufacturers to get creative when it comes to placing various system components. On the Mini-Note, for example, HP squeezes the power buttonwhich is really more of a spring-loaded slider than an actual buttononto the front edge of the system. A second slider over on the right-hand side of the front edge controls the system's integrated Wi-Fi and optional Bluetooth 2.0 capabilities, allowing users to toggle wireless networking with the flick of a switch.
Speaking of size, HP says the Mini-Note measures 10" wide, 6.5" deep, and as little as 1.1" thick (255 mm x 165 mm x 27 mm if you're not interested in multiples of the king's forearm). According to our trusty tape measure, however, the Mini-Note actually measures 10.3" wide, making it a good inch and a half wider than the Eee PC. The Mini-Note gets close to 1.26" thick at its beefiest point, and that's before you take into account the additional girth of our test system's optional 6-cell battery, which adds another 0.8" or so.
In addition to being slightly larger than the Eee PC, the Mini-Note is also a little heavier. In its lightest configuration, with a 3-cell battery and solid-state drive, the Mini-Note tips the scales at 2.8 lbs (1.27 kg)nearly three-quarters of a pound more than the two-pound (0.92 kg) Eee PC. That's a significant difference as a percentage of total system weight, but it doesn't feel like nearly that big of a handicap in the real world, where volume seems to matter more than weight. I certainly don't mind carrying around an extra pound if it's well spent, and Mini-Note has enough advantages over the Eee PC to make the additional weight worthwhile.