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Review: HP 2133 Mini-Note PC

HP aims its newest notebook - not an UMPC - squarely towards the K-12 market. It plays well as a secondary business laptop, too.

That's generally the case for small notebooks -- high on portability, but priced at a premium. HP blasts that assumption by introducing the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC, a notebook that is both portable and affordable. While designed specifically for the education market, the 2133 Mini-Note is also appropriate for business and mobile professionals looking for a secondary (or tertiary) laptop. HP first briefed the Test Center on the Mini-Note and then sent a unit to the lab for review.

The HP 2133 Mini-Note PC features a VIA CN896NB chipset with VIA c7-M ULV 1.2 Ghertz processor, 894 Mbytes of memory, VIA Chrome 9 graphics, and a 8.9 inch-diagonal WXGA screen. The size matches schooldesks and children, measuring a little over an inch thick in the front, 10 inches wide and 6.5 inches deep. It's slightly thicker in the back to accommodate the battery. The Mini-Note weighs 2.63 pounds, but it can be slightly heavier, depending on the hardware configuration. The notebook has several hard drive options: a 5400 rpm SATA drive, 7200 rpm SATA drive, or SATA Flash. The SATA drives come in either 120 Gbytes of 160 Gbytes; the flash drive ships only in 4 Gbytes. Prices range from $499 to $749 depending on hardware configuration.

HP is trying to carve out a new space in the portable notebook market with the Mini-Note. It's too large and too functional to be considered a UMPC, and but slightly less powerful than a conventional ultra-portable. It uses VIA processors, commonly seen in a UMPC, rather than an Intel Core 2 Duo or similar processor. For its functionality and price, the closest match in the market appears to be the EEE PC from ASUS. It should be no surprise that HP had an EEE PC on the table next to the Mini-Note as part of the briefing.

The timing of the announcement is appropriate. As the end of the school year approaches, students start dreaming of summer vacation. School districts and teachers start evaluating and purchasing supplies and equipment for the new school year. Solution providers can offer customers this brand-new solution to be considered in time for when schools reopen in the fall.

Like the EEE PC, the Mini-Note is available with Linux, Novell SuSE. However, the Mini-Note 2133 is also available with Windows Vista -- both Business and Home Basic -- as well as FreeDOS. The 4 Gbyte model, at $499, comes only with SLED 10 pre-installed. XP will be available down the road. The tested unit was a Vista system. For solution providers in the education vertical, the Mini-Note provides flexibility -- some school districts prefer Linux, others want to stick with the familiar Windows.

The all-aluminum casing gives the notebook a sleek, spacecraft-like feel reminiscent of the MacBook Air as well as feeling reassuringly solid. The magnesium alloy support structure protects internal components. Since this is intended for student use, the notebook was carried around for three days in a back pack filled with books, notebooks, and assorted odds and ends. It was small enough to fit easily in to the bag, and also emerged unscratched. It's not intended to fall under a rugged designation, so reviewers did not conduct any appropriate testing.

The keyboard was a reviewer favorite. The HP 2133 Mini-Note has a 92 percent full-size keyboard that is comfortable to use. The keyboard is big enough for smaller hands, but not so tightly cramped that large hands will have difficulty typing. The HP Dura Keys are spill-resistant and have a clear coating that protects the finish and makes it resistant to general wear and tear. The touchpad sensor is a narrow rectangle with buttons on either side. It has the same protective coating as the keys.

HP kept its intended target audience in mind when designing the notebook to be portable, spill-proof, and scratch-resistant. It also considered that students will be opening and closing the notebook fairly often (between classes, for example). To strengthen the hinges (a common place for wear and tear), HP used metal alloy hinges with hardened steel pin axles. To protect the notebook hard drive from sudden movements or shock, HP has 3D DriveGuard, a three-axis digital accelerometer chip, on its 7200 rpm SATA drives to act as a motion sensor to secure the drive when necessary.

The screen, at 1280x768, is small, but again, it would be enough for students in the K-12 market. Most Web sites and educational software targeting that market fit perfectly well in the screen. On-the-road professionals using the unit as a secondary laptop will not need a larger screen for light word processing, email, or Web browsing. The screen's brightness left a lot to be desired. Even at its brightest, it felt a little dim.

The HP 2133 has integrated stereo speakers, integrated stereo microphones, stere headphones/line out port, stereo microphone in port, one ExpressCard/54 slot, one Secure Digital (SD) slot, two USB ports, a VGA port, and an RJ-45/Ethernet port. A VGA webcam is an optional feature. Wireless -- 802.11a/b/g -- and Bluetooth 2.0 are supported.

For performance, reviewers ran the Geekbench software from Primate Labs. The 2133 notebook scored 423, which is consistent with other VIA processors.

The Mini-Note shipped with both the standard 3-cell and extended 6-cell batteries. Both batteries charged up within two hours. Using the standard battery test, or playing a movie off the hard drive with screen saver and sleep options turned off, the standard battery ran out of power at 1 hour 40 minutes. The battery lasted a over two hours when not doing something as intensive as playing a movie. The extended battery had a better lifetime, lasting about three hours on the battery test and almost four hours just using email.

HP offers solution providers a cross-partner initiative on rolling the Mini-Note out to teachers.

The Mini-Note uniquely fits the requirements of the K-12 education market. There is definitely interest -- as evidenced by VARs wanting to sell OLPC units to their US-based customers. While not the sub-$200 laptop, the Mini-Note is small for portability and takes in account that students (especially on the lower end of the K-12 spectrum) aren't always gentle. The internal components were chosen to optimize performance, yet because it's not the latest and greatest chip, keeps overall costs low. School districts want to provide each student a laptop instead of having them share units. Solution providers can now offer a system that will keep the project affordable.

The Mini-Note is a real winner, not just for the K-12 market, but for mobile professionals looking for a mobile notebook. The quality and finish is outstanding, it performs well for its purpose, and the various price configurations are both affordable and sensible.

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