We've always been more partial to the Netbooks put out by HP's business side (such as the Mini 5102), but budget-conscious buyers can get largely similar systems from HP's consumer side with lower starting prices. The consumer lineup, previously anchored by the Mini 110, has gotten a modest makeover in 2010, morphing into the Mini 210.
New to this version are Intel's latest Atom N450 CPU and optional lid colors. Most importantly, the awkward side-anchored mouse buttons have been moved to a more traditional spot below the touch pad, fixing one of the major annoyances of the Mini 110. There's also an option for the Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator, which allows HD video playback (but is more of a mixed bag for streaming online HD video).
With its excellent keyboard and touch pad, the Mini 210 is one of the nicer-looking overall Netbook packages available. The base $299 version includes the same hardware you'd find on competing $299 Netbooks from Dell, Acer, or Asus (so it's largely a matter of personal aesthetic preference), and this $384 configuration includes the HD video accelerator and a higher-definition 1,366x768-pixel display, making it a good deal.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$299 / $384|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Atom N450|
|Memory||1GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150 (integrated), plus Broadcom Crystal HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Starter|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.5x6.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.9/3.5 pounds|
The outside of the Mini 210's chassis looks very similar to previous HP Netbooks, such as the Mini 110. HP's design aesthetic for these systems relies on rounded corners, gently curved lid edges, long central screen hinges, and a long, narrow body. Our main complaint is that the "silver crystal" lid color on our review unit looked especially plain. Red, blue, or black options cost an extra $20.
The island-style (some say "chicklet") keyboard has been adopted from the more business-like HP Mini 5101 and 5102 models, and provides for large, flat keys that are widely spaced for easy typing. The keyboard has good-size Shift, Tab, and other important keys, which is crucial for a small Netbook. HP also wisely continues its trend of making the Function keys actually functional; the typical alternate tasks (such as volume and brightness controls) have become the F1-F12 keys' primary function, and the old F-key uses require you to hold down the Fn key (in other words, a role reversal for the Function keys).
We're also fond of the new touch-pad design, which borrows from HP's recent Envy line of laptops. The mouse buttons are built right into the lower left and right corners of the pad, and the entire pad depresses with each click--much as you'd find on a current MacBook. The real win here is actually that the older HP Netbook touch pad, with its wide-but-short surface and side-mounted mouse buttons, is no more (it's actually been relegated to an entry-level Compaq Netbook).
The 10.1-inch wide-screen display offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is becoming more common over traditional 1,024x768-pixel versions. The higher resolution makes sense if you're going to using the built-in HD video processing hardware to watch HD video, and we just generally like having a little more pixel real estate on the screen. We also like the slick look of the edge-to-edge glass over the entire display, even if it makes the surface even glossier and more reflective than usual.
|HP Mini 210||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Our Mini 210 came well-equipped, although 802.11n Wi-Fi really should be standard at this point. The HP Web site offers a decent amount of configuration options; you can choose Win 7 Starter or XP, a larger 250GB 7,200rpm hard drive, and the Broadcom Crystal HD video chip is a $35 option. Locked in, however, are the Intel Atom N450 CPU and 1GB of RAM.
As one might expect, the performance of this Intel Atom Netbook was largely in line with similarly configured systems. Even with a slight edge in some tests to Netbooks that are not also powering HD video chips, the real-world difference would be negligible. Our usual Netbook admonitions apply: they're fine for e-mail, Web surfing, and other basic tasks, but certainly not powerful enough to be your main or only PC.
As for the HD video acceleration, full-screen 720p and 1080p video playback was great, just as we saw in the Dell Mini 10. However, playing HD streaming Flash video via YouTube and Hulu requires you to track down and install the new Flash 10.1 beta 3 player (make sure you have the latest Broadcom drivers, as well).
After this upgrade (remembering to uninstall the current Flash player first), both 480p Hulu and 720p YouTube videos had smoother playback and were more watchable, but there was still some stutter and frame-skipping, and it seemed to vary from source to source. You can see a before-and-after comparison in this video.