The B1900 is an ultraportable laptop, and normally that means two things -- you'll pay a small fortune for the privilege of not ripping your shoulder off lugging it around all day, and you'll have to put up with a ton of system compromises due to the constraints that a small form factor brings. While the B1900 doesn't entirely escape the latter problem -- more on that later -- it does come to market at a very wallet-friendly AU$1,999, around a thousand dollars (or more) less than comparable ultra-portable units. It measures in at 287mm by 223.8mm 34mm and weighs a scant 1.75kg, making it an easy laptop to carry for extended periods of time.
That kind of weight and size does limit the screen size -- it's a 12-inch widescreen 1280x800 pixel panel using HP's BrightView technology to deliver images. The keyboard, while naturally small, has good tactile response and like most laptops without a full keyboard, marries a large number of additional functions, including a virtual number pad, to the function key. The trackpad at the base of the B1900 incorporates a virtually standard scrollbar on the side. There's not much space around the sides of the B1900, and none of it is wasted, with three USB ports, a Kensington lock slot and power adaptor on the right hand side and S-video out, optical drive, 4-in-1 memory card reader and single Express Card slot on the left. The front of the laptop is by comparison a little bare, with only headphone and microphone sockets alongside a flip-down socket for a FireWire connector. The rear of the notebook houses a 10/100 Ethernet port and 56K modem socket.
The B1900's technical specifications are quite impressive given the asking price; for a dollar less than your two grand you get an Intel Core Duo T2250 (1.73Ghz, 2MB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB), 1GB of RAM over two 512MB DIMMs and an 80GB hard drive. One unusual feature for an ultra-portable with travellers in mind comes in the form of the graphics solution. Many ultra-portables opt for the cheapest integrated graphics -- usually the Intel solution -- but the B1900 uses the ageing but hardly shabby ATI Radeon Xpress 200M. The one caveat here is that it still uses a shared memory solution, so it'll eat up to 128MB of your memory while running. On the networking front, the B1900 supports 10/100 wired networking, as well as the entire base of ratified wireless standards -- 802.11a/b/g as well as Bluetooth, all of which are switched on via the function keyboard. Annoyingly, there's no way to enable just wireless or just Bluetooth; it's all or nothing. The optical drive, which can be removed if you really want to cut down the carrying weight, is a super-multi DVD burner that supports all currently available DVD formats; at this price you're not going to get Blu-ray or HD DVD, naturally enough.
Our review sample of the B1900 came with a little sticker extolling the laptop's virtues, including an image of a Swiss Army Knife with the hyperbolic statement that the B1900 is "power packed with the coolest features!". To be honest, we're not that happy resting our palms on a pocket knife, even if it is only a sticker, but claims like that need testing, and that's just what we did, running the B1900 through a test suite of benchmark applications including Bapco Mobilemark 2005, Futuremark PC Mark '05 and 3DMark '05.
The B1900's benchmark performance scores were, on the whole, either average or somewhat poor. Futuremark's PCMark 05 application gave us a test score of 2767, which is only average for a sub-AU$2000 notebook system. Likewise, despite its slightly shinier graphics solution, the B1900 limped across the line with a 3DMark 05 score of 217. We've seen worse for notebooks in this price range, but we've also seen significantly better. Then again, with a small keyboard and 12-inch display, the B1900 was never going to be the gamer's notebook of choice.
Bapco's Mobilemark 2005 revealed the B1900's real Achilles heel, however. While its Productivity score of 185 was reasonable, it married that to a battery life of only two hours and 13 minutes. Even the less taxing Mobilemark Reader test only bumped that score up by seven minutes. Two hours is still decent going for a laptop, but users do expect ultra-portables to last a bit longer out in the field. Naturally, you can extend that battery life by disabling wireless, minimising optical drive access and dimming the screen (as you can with any notebook), but anyone pondering the B1900 should seriously consider investing in the optional 6-cell battery. The only catch there is that it bumps the carrying weight up to 1.9kg.
As we mentioned in the introduction, there's often compromises to be made with ultra-portable laptops, either in cost or features. While we were disappointed in the battery life and only average performance of the B1900, they're forgivable sins given that it comes to market at a price that's considerably lower than many other ultra-portables on the market today. It's a genuine case of getting what you pay for, and in our estimation it's a compromise that's well worth making.