Review: HP 2133 Mini-Note

by Eric Grevstad

HP says its three-pound little laptop is headed for classrooms. But that doesn't mean business travelers can't ejoy configurations ranging from $499 with Linux to $749 with Vista Business.

Talk to HP executives, and they'll tell you that the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC introduced today targets the educational market. Ask about its place in the mainstream laptop segment, and they'll tie you to a chair and tell you it's meant for instructional use. Comment on its VIA processor or choice of operating systems, and they'll wrestle you to the ground and tell you it's designed with K-12 classrooms in mind.

They're not fooling anybody.

While it does compete with Intel's Classmate PC (and, to a much lesser extent, the $200 One Laptop Per Child notebook), the 2133 is unmistakably HP’s response to the two-pound, $400 Asus Eee that's been winning over business travelers -- and putting “Sold Out" signs in retail stores -- since it debuted five months ago.

Like the Eee, the HP handles daily productivity tasks such as spreadsheeting, e-mailing, and Wi-Fi Web browsing instead of trying to be a multimedia or gaming machine; it relies on a humble, single-core processor and lacks a built-in optical drive; and it's priced far below the thinnest and lightest notebooks from the likes of Sony, Lenovo, Toshiba, Dell, or Apple. The base model is $499, with our loaded, top-of-the-line test unit slated to cost $749.

If that's a couple of hundred bucks above the various Eee models, it's because the Mini-Note gives you more PC, beginning with a considerably more stylish and solid-feeling aluminum instead of plastic case. It surpasses the Eee's 7-inch, 800 by 640-pixel screen with a glossy 8.9-inch display with 1,280 by 768 resolution and a scratch-resistant coating.

Asus' forthcoming second-generation Eee will have a larger screen, too, but won't come close to what HP boasts is a 92-percent-full-sized keyboard: The A-through-apostrophe keys on the 2133's home row span a bit over seven and a half inches, versus our desktop's eight inches and the Eee's six and a half.

The Mini-Note's Ctrl and Delete keys are in their proper bottom left and top right corners, respectively, instead of being relocated on some designer's whim. And while the Insert, Delete, and function keys and the cursor arrows are half-sized, the alphanumeric keys seem as big as floor tiles at first glance, as well as styled to match the 2133's aluminum case.

And Four To Go

HP 2133 Mini-Note
The HP 2133 Mini-Note: Don't let the kids have all the fun.

At rollout, HP is offering the system in four configurations, with custom tailoring presumably available at the hpshopping.com Web site -- we say presumably because HP says the 2133 will be available with Windows XP in place of Windows Vista, but none of the four introductory bundles have XP preinstalled.

The $499 model is the most Eee-like: It runs Novell Suse Linux instead of Windows and has a 4GB solid-state drive instead of a hard disk. Its modest 512MB of memory and 1.0GHz VIA C7-M processor ensure its entry-level status, although budget buyers enjoy the same spacious keyboard and screen as their deeper-pocketed peers.

Next up are a pair of twins -- two Mini-Notes with a 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 120GB (5,400-rpm) hard drive, as well as the 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and three-cell lithium-ion battery pack seen in the $499 configuration. The difference is that the $549 model comes with Suse Linux, the $599 unit with Vista Home Basic.

For $749, the fourth and fanciest version offers a swifter 1.6GHz version of the VIA processor; Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi; the system maximum 2GB of DDR-2 memory; Windows Vista Business; and a larger six-cell battery pack that, instead of fitting flush, props the HP's rear an inch or so off your desk to form a fair typing angle.

Our preproduction version had a 160GB Hitachi hard disk (and an "HP Compaq 2133" label instead of the correct, Compaq-free moniker), but company spec sheets list the $749 Mini-Note as having the same 120GB hard drive as the middle two models. Options will include a 160GB, 5,400-rpm drive and faster 7,200-rpm drives in the same sizes (120GB and 160GB).

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Too Good To Let the Kids Keep It?

With the 4GB flash drive installed, HP says, the 2133 tips the scales at 2.63 pounds. Since our system had a hard drive instead, it weighed in at 2.88 pounds with the smaller or 3.25 pounds with the larger battery pack.

That's heavier than the 2.06-pound Eee, but not enough to notice the difference when lifting your briefcase; the Mini-Note is as much a pleasure to travel with as are far more costly featherweights like Lenovo's ThinkPad X300. At about 6.5 by 10.3 by 1 inches, the HP is almost as easy to fit into that briefcase as the Eee, though its AC adapter is bulkier and heavier (14 ounces).

Power and wireless on/off switches are handily located on the laptop's front edge. On the left side are headphone and microphone jacks, a VGA monitor connector, and a powered USB 2.0 port for an external storage device.

A second USB port is on the right, as is an Ethernet connector (what's that you say, Apple MacBook Air owners? You don't have these things?). You'll also find a slot for an SD flash-memory card and an ExpressCard/54 slot -- suitable for the 3G broadband wireless adapter the HP definitely needs.

As we've already noted, the Mini's keyboard is downright luxurious for a subnotebook -- its practically full-sized span makes up for a good-but-not-great (slightly flat and soft) typing feel. The touchpad is wider than you'd expect, too, with large, rubbery mouse buttons on either side. Except for a finger repeatedly straying into the vertical scrolling zone at the right of the pad, it worked fine.

Take a Long Look

Your first sight of the 2133's screen will be a dim one -- every time the system restarts or awakes from hibernation, it's turned the backlight brightness off rather than retain the level you set earlier for the sake of babying the battery. And we were happy with the LCD's brightness only at the highest or second highest of the settings available.

Once it's brightened up, however, the display is clear and colorful, if a bit prone to doubling as a makeup mirror. We're torn between cheering and complaining about its impressively high 1,280 by 768-pixel resolution -- images and fonts look ultra-sharp, but small pull-down-menu text (and the cursor, until we resized it) were almost too tiny for our middle-aged eyes. Yes, we wear bifocals, but we'd never found ourselves sliding them up and down our nose and bobbing our head like a sitcom geezer before.

Speaking of the battery, the 6-cell, 55-watt-hour battery is an option that should be standard. The flush-fitting 3-cell, 28-watt-hour pack averaged just an hour and a half in our real-world work sessions, while the protruding battery/keyboard prop lasted for a solid three hours, stretching to three and a quarter in non-heavy-duty word processing and Web surfing sessions.

Of course, we always wish for longer battery life, but that isn't our greatest wish for the Mini-Note. Our greatest wish would be more horsepower under the hood.

To be sure, the 2133 doesn't pretend to be a high-end gaming or video-editing platform, and it feels adequately responsive while you're typing documents or putting together presentations -- the 2GB of system memory sufficient to bear the ponderous weight of Windows Vista, although we're dismayed that the HP can't be upgraded above 2GB.

The bottom line? Seems those HP execs weren't entirely kidding about selling to the educational market: They could have waited until summer or fall to ship a Mini-Note with VIA's faster replacement for the current C7-M processor, or -- even more likely -- with one of Intel's elegant new Atom ultraportable processors. But that would have missed school districts' budgeting and buying for this September.

Size, Price and Style

So should you buy an HP Mini now, or wait for a probably improved version? That depends. The Eee still has its picture in the dictionary under cute, but the 2133 should be listed under style or glamour. You won't see a more chic handheld this year.

Against that, when Asus unveiled the Eee at $400, the conventional notebooks available at that price were easy to shun -- or to rationalize, "Yes, I know I could have more screen, keyboard, speed and storage, but I'll trade that for the convenience and portability of the Eee." Today, the fully loaded HP faces some pretty darn nice conventional notebooks available at $750.

But show us a configuration with a faster CPU, Windows XP instead of Vista, broadband wireless, and even a smaller (80GB?) hard disk if necessary to stay under $600, and we are so there.

Adapted from Hardwarecentral.com.

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This article was originally published on Friday Apr 18th 2008
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