You’re lucky to be able to buy the HP 2133 MiniNote. Originally it was developed just for the education market, but when the notebook division at HP saw it, they decided to bring it to a wider audience. We tried a prototype model for two days at HP’s partner conference in San Francisco, and discovered a very portable machine that feels much more like a real PC than do most machines this size.
The unexpected success of the Asus Eee PC means other UMPCs are measured against it. On paper, HP’s MiniNote ultra-mobile PC might sound like the Eee, but when you lay your hands on it, you find a lot of differences. For starters, the case is sleek brushed aluminum, which looks good combined with the glossy black screen surround. More practically, the metal case and magnesium alloy chassis will stand up to a lot of knocks and bumps in your bag - it was designed to survive in the schoolyard. Unusual for a budget machine is a built-in accelerometer, so the MiniNote can park the hard drive to prevent damage or data loss if you drop it. That makes it slightly heavier than the Eee PC - and much more solid.
The MiniNote has a 10" case, like the Eee, but the screen is much larger: its 8.9" widescreen display has a resolution of 1280x768, compared to the cramped 800x400 on the Eee. The custom-designed keyboard also makes much better use of space.
Most notebooks have space on either side of the keyboard to strengthen the chassis. The magnesium alloy construction means the MiniNote doesn’t need the reinforcement, so the keyboard runs right up to the edges. That, in turn, means much larger keys than on other machines this size - the keyboard is 92% of the width of a standard notebook keyboard, and even users with large hands and fingers will have no problem touch-typing on it. Like the case, the keys are metal, with a durable coating so the legend won’t wear away over time. The keys are smooth and square, with an excellent feel so you can type quickly, and enough of a gap between them that you’ll never accidentally hit two keys at once (something that’s far too easy to do on the Asus Eee PC). We wrote this preview on the MiniNote itself, with a minimum of typing errors.
The Windows key and right mouse key are in the usual places to the left and right of the spacebar. You get two Alt and Ctrl keys, an extra-large Backspace, Shift and Enter key, and the cursor keys are arranged in an inverted T shape in the bottom right of the keyboard, making them convenient to use. The Caps Lock indicator is above the full function key strip, so it’s not taking up any space needed by the keys.
The keys on the HP MiniNote are almost full size - just 8% smaller than standard - making for an excellent keyboard.
The wrist rest isn’t particularly deep, but the wide touchpad matches the aspect ratio of the screen, and the left and right mouse buttons are on either side to make better use of the space. If you find the touchpad too sensitive for the small area, you can use the Synaptics utility to customize it extensively. The two buttons are very responsive, and you can also double-tap on the touchpad to double-click. The right-hand side of the touchpad lets you scroll, and there’s a scrollbar marked there to remind you. If you’re using a mouse and you don’t want to move the cursor by brushing against it, there’s a small button under the spacebar to turn the touchpad on and off.
The screen doesn’t have quite the same richness of color as those of larger HP models like the 2710p, but it’s extremely bright and clear, with crisp text and vivid color. The scratch-resistant screen is flush with the black border, which also conceals a Webcam. While the screen is very glossy, we didn’t notice problems with glare or reflections using it next to a window. The solid metal hinges open smoothly and drop the bottom of the screen behind the keyboard, so the screen takes up even less space in use. You’d have no problem fitting it onto an airline tray, but it would also perch happily on smaller tray tables on trains. The 2.5 lb weight isn’t too much to carry around all day, but you couldn’t quite balance it on one hand.
Although there’s room for stereo speakers and a Webcam around it, the 8.9" screen is larger than most UMPC screens.
The stereo speakers on either side of the screen are surprisingly good for a machine of this size. They don’t have a great deal of bass, but mid-tones and treble are well reproduced, with good, crisp detail. There’s plenty of volume, and the volume and mute function keys allow you quick control.