When we heard that HP was making some big changes to its small business Netbook, we were worried. After all, the current version--the Mini 2140--is probably our all-time favorite Netbook, thanks to an innovative keyboard (since adopted by HP's consumer Netbooks), full ExpressCard slot, and solid metal construction.
This new version, the Mini 5101, is indeed a stylistic departure from the 2140, trading the gently rounded silvery metal look for a sharp-edged black brushed-metal chassis. It's a little bigger than its predecessor, and also a little less expensive, at $425.
But since the start of 2009, we've seen a radical shift in Netbook prices, with entry-level models coming in under $299, for essentially the same combo of an Intel Atom CPU, 1GB of RAM, Windows XP, and a 160GB hard drive (in this case, you get the slightly faster N280 version of the Atom). The Mini 5101 offers some noteworthy extras, including a higher-resolution screen and a Gobi-powered mobile broadband module--but those cost extra, and are not included in the $425 base configuration. This new model also loses the ExpressCard slot found in the older Mini 2140.
Still, if you can spend a little more for your Netbook, you'll find that the Mini 5101's keyboard and touch pad are hard to beat, and the rugged metal construction screams quality. Battery life is also excellent, and the six-cell battery pokes out only slightly from the bottom of the system.
|Price as reviewed||$425|
|Processor||1.66GHz Intel Atom N280|
|Memory||1GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945GM Express|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 950 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows XP|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.2x7.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.9/3.7 pounds|
With a black brushed-metal lid and matte black keyboard and keyboard tray (the screen bezel is glossy black), the Mini 5101 looks every bit the business system, as opposed to the subtle patterns and more mod designs of HP's consumer Netbooks. It's not the thinnest or lightest Netbook ever, but it feels solid and durable, without being a brick.
The biggest selling point for HP's Netbooks has always been the fantastic keyboard, and the Mini 5101 somewhat shockingly ditches the large, edge-to-edge look of the Mini 2140 and Mini 1000/110 models. This new design adds some space between the keys, which are still flat and wide; the end result reminds us of Sony's Vaio keyboards. We were wary at first, having been big fans of the original HP Netbook keyboard design, but the new version works well without forcing too many compromises; the Shift keys, for example, are large and easy to hit. While we're not quite ready to say we like the new keyboard better than the 2140's, it's certainly just as good.
On smart move was taking the alternate uses for the Function keys (F1-F12), and swapping them with the original F-key duties. For example, hitting the volume mute button just requires hitting F8, rather the FN+F8 combination. The only headache: using ALT+F4 to close a window now requires ALT+FN+F4.
The Mini 5101's touch pad is a more traditional type, with the mouse buttons located under it, rather than the side mouse buttons and elongated touch pad found on previous HP Netbooks. We prefer this new style, and the slick, resistance-free touch-pad surface made mousing a breeze.
The end result of all this keyboard/touch-pad/chassis engineering is as good a user experience as can be found on a 10-inch laptop, and propels to the Mini 5101 to the upper end of the Netbook usability chart.
The 10.1-inch wide-screen display offers a 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, which is the Netbook norm. That's generally fine for most Web surfing, but long, vertical pages and Word documents can require a lot of scrolling to read. The inset panel is not as nice-looking as the edge-to-edge glass on the Mini 2140, but it does allow for a matte screen, which we generally prefer. A higher-resolution display, at 1,366x768 pixels, will be available as a $25 option, but we haven't had a chance to check that out in person yet.
|HP Mini 5101||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Even tough we lose the ExpressCard slot of the Mini 2140, the inclusion of 802.11n Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth is a plus. A $125 optional Gobi mobile broadband module works with Sprint, Verzion, or AT&T. HP takes pains to point out the inclusion of the Corel Home Office software suite (a $69 value!), but we'd be perfectly happy with the free Open Office suite as a Microsoft alternative. HP also includes a fairly standard feature from full-size business laptops, a hard-drive accelerometer called, in this case, HP 3D DriveGuard.
Intel's single-core 1.66GHz Atom N280 CPU is found in a handful of higher-end Netbooks, including Asus' 1005HA. The performance difference between that and Netbooks with the older N270 Atom CPU is minimal, but with Netbook performance generally pokey under the best of circumstances, we'll take whatever extra horsepower we can get. Our standard Netbook admonitions apply: they're great, as long as one keeps expectations modest, and sticks mostly to Web surfing, e-mail, and working on office docs.