by Perry Longinotti
The HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition (Mini 1110NR) is a cool-looking, low-cost netbook focused on easy Web access and entertainment. It uses the same design as the Mini 1000, but runs the Mobile internet (Mi) software rather than Windows. Mobile internet is an easy-to-use interface built on Linux, but is it enough for most people to enjoy their e-mail, Internet, digital photos, music, and video?
Last year’s HP Mini-note 2133 looked great, but it was let down by a pokey slow VIA C-7 CPU and 4200rpm HDD. I can imagine many people who got to handle a 2133 trying to rationalize how they probably didn’t need too much CPU power because of how well-built and attractive the 2133 was. I know I did, but thankfully I came to my senses before plunking down $500 on what was sure to be a disappointing investment.
We’ll never know why the VIA/Centaur C-7 was picked for the 2133 (everyone loves to cheer for the underdog, and I am sure that the VIA Nano will rock when its released in 2012), but its descendants like the HP Mini 1110NR we are reviewing here come equipped with the much better Intel Atom processor. Here are the 1110NR Specs:
- Processor: Intel Atom N270
- Graphics: Intel 900 IGP
- Operating System: HP Mobile Internet UI (Ubuntu Linux)
- 1GB DDR2 667 RAM
- 8GB SSD (1.8” Form Factor)
- 8.9” LED LCD (1024 x 600)
- 802.11g, 10/100 Ethernet, Bluetooth
- MSRP: $379 USD, $449 CDN
Build and Design
Even before we get our hand on the 1110NR configuration of the Mini 1000 Mi edition we can see that HP has really pushed their game up a level. Much like their recent Touchsmart and HDX line, the Mini comes in an attractive black box. In terms of packaging, HP is not quite at Apple levels yet. For example the Mini box is much larger than it needs to be, but HP are giving us a better first impression than Toshiba or Acer.
Inside the box, you have a nice startup guide. The Mini is suspended in two nasty plasti-foam blocks (come on HP, cardboard works just as well). Its battery is pre-installed and the power cord is stored in a cardboard compartment and that’s all you will find. There is no case/sleeve nor is there detailed documentation or recovery media. HP’s documentation claims that we will be able to download a Mi recovery disk utility ‘soon.’ For now, a recovery partition on the SSD allows you to go back to factory fresh.
Netbook specs are so similar that manufacturers have to find other ways to differentiate them. Right now appearance seems to be one of the big differentiators, and the HP Mini looks great. Its black body is clean and svelte. You will immediately notice how thin it is. Actual dimensions are: 10.3 in (L) x 6.56 in (W) x 0.99 in (H). It weighs 2.25 lbs so you will hardly notice the extra heft of this netbook in your bag.
Construction and materials used on this netbook feel solid and durable. Like many other HP notebooks the Mini has a distinctive geometric pattern on its lid. This motif is carried into the OS with matching operating system. It’s cool and pulls the design together.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Pop the lid open and you’ll see a nicely proportioned keyboard – complete with function buttons. Keys make a light plasticy sound and travel is short. The base of the keyboard does not flex at all. You’ll notice that the Windows keys are replaced with dedicated HP MI ‘Home’ and ‘Task Switcher’ keys. The hardware is well integrated to the software. A selling feature for English speaking Canadians is that you can get a plain US English keyboard on the HP Mini up here in Canada – something that is becoming rare in favor of French keyboards.
The touchpad borrows the unorthodox layout from the Acer One and HP 2133, putting buttons on the left and right side rather than underneath. A vertical scroll zone is present, but unlike the Asus Eee and Apple MacBook there is no multitouch capability. The mouse control panel has a couple of interesting options such as Dwell Click (where the software detects no mouse motion and prompts you if you want to click) and Simulated Right Click (hold the left button down for a definable period to right click) but neither of these works as well as two finger clicking and scrolling.
On the 1110NR a 8.9” LCD screen fits where a 10.2” would normally be, so this means there is a large bezel to fill the otherwise empty space. Resolution is 1024*600 like almost every netbook on the market. Its LED backlit is bright and even.
A solid looking metal hinge with integrated speakers holds the screen in place. Hinge tension is good, but the range of motion is limited – you can’t open the HP Mini enough to lay it flat.
Ports and Features
Port selection looks like this: On the left side there is a power jack, USB 2.0, proprietary connector (you can buy a VGA cord that fits this port), multipurpose minijack, and Ethernet (with rubber cover).
On the right side you have an SDHC Card slot, one normal USB 2.0 and one recessed USB 2.0 (HP has a line of flash storage accessories planned for this slot). Whether these ports are sufficient really depends on personal preference and need. I suspect most folks will be disappointed that there are not more ports (standard VGA being a real sore point).
The setup prompts are brief and you’ll be up and running in a minute or two. Pick your username, password, location and away you go. During startup a quick Linux error message flashes on the screen, and you’ll wonder if something is broken. But it does boot so be patient. Likewise when shutting down there is a crunchy static sound blast that emanates from the speakers.
Perhaps the most interesting feature is the Mini 1110NR’s operating system. HP has adapted Linux to their needs and the results are very good. Their distribution is called the Mobile Internet Experience and is built on top of Ubuntu (8.04 I think) and the Gnome desktop environment.
HP software, particularly the shells it has created for Windows and in this case Linux have a distinct look and feel. A black, high contrast theme couple with HP’s own user interface elements. It seems like a great way to differentiate their product in the WinTel world without resorting to making their own OS.
In this case HP has designed a simplified interface that is much better than those found on other Linux netbooks such as the Acer One and Asus Eee PC. The main feature is HP’s Home screen which gives you access to email, web, music, photos and program launcher. The Home screen has a dedicated button on the keyboard and an icon where you would expect to find the Windows Start menu. Switching between running programs is accomplished by clicking on a switcher icon in the system tray, or pressing the dedicated task switcher button.
I have to say, HP might be on to something here. I prefer this UI to both Windows (XP, Vista and 7) and OS X for basic computing tasks. I am not just referring to the eye candy factor. Having almost everything I want to do waiting for me on the Home screen as soon as the computer boots is great. It’s like the Today screen on PocketPC PDAs but adapted for full featured computers. You can ignore it if you like, but I like the convenience. Also, unlike some simplified Linux shells access to the terminal is just one quick setting away (Fn-F2 brings up a command line where you can launch the terminal – or anything else).
With only an 8GB SSD, of which 2.1GB is available for use, having music and photos on the Mi Home screen is a bit of a tease. This OS really calls for either a full sized HDD or integration to online services (such as Live, Flickr, Google, etc.). The Mini needs one or the other – its either a cloud computer or it needs proper storage capacity. As it stands the Mini seems to have a foot in each camp and that compromises the experience. It’s incomplete.
HP’s MediaStyle although striving for a Windows MCE look and feel is very basic. It’s like a simplified Apple Front Row. Sure, it can display photos but I was hoping to find some integration to online photo hosting. Pulling a photo stream from Flickr would be a great way to provide photos without requiring proper storage capacity. When dealing with local storage the app is too slow. Reading a series of forty 10MP images off a SanDisk Extreme III SD card was pretty sluggish. Thumbnails took a while to load, flipping through full size views was also a bit laggy.
Likewise, MediaStyle’s video playback was spartan. You’ll obviously need a memory card to keep a video library because there is no room on the Mini for more than a full resolution single Xvid movie. YouTube integration would be a good idea in MediaStyle.
MediaStyle’s music capabilities are more of the same; a nice simple interface but very little common sense applied to the challenge of how to play media on a device that has 2.1GB of available storage. Some Internet radio capabilities would be great for this device as it would give you access to lots of music despite the limited storage space.
If you click the MediaStyle “Settings” tab the only option is “About.” Perhaps this is so we know where to send complaints. If I were the developer of this product I would want to stay anonymous. Overall I really don’t see the point of this application it seems to be a big part of HP’s plans but it is too basic to really be of any use.
HP needs a service like Apple’s Mobile Me that is relatively full-featured with applications and tight OS integration. Lack of cloud service integration is the missing link here that HP needs to address – it would really fill the holes in a product like the 1110NR. HP does have an online storage and backup service called HP Upline that starts at $59/year for unlimited storage space – you get a free six-month trial if you live in the USA (other regions are not available yet). If they could tie the MediaStyle browser directly to Upline or their line of HP MediaSmart home servers they could really have a nice vertically integrated solution.
Looking at the installed client applications we find the staples of any Linux distribution: Open Office, Firefox, Thunderbird, Skype, Pidgin and a pile of crappy looking games. In general all the applications work well but there is a slight lack of polish. For example, the Open Office languages were not installed on my 1110NR, making a basic spell check impossible (my monkey-like typing style requires a lot of proofing).
HP directs the package manager/installer application to a special repository rather than the standard Ubuntu one. This gives them control over compatibility of the software with HP’s hardware, but it also makes it harder to install applications you might want. In my case, WINE and Gnome-RDP. I would really like to see something like Apple’s iPhone app store here.
Intel has done a great job of making the hardware sections of netbook reviews redundant. There is little to say about the Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz CPU and its matching rickety old chipset the GMA900. The CPU is a good performer, with low power requirements and Hyper threading for some added kick. The chipset however is weak, eating lots of energy and belching out lots of heat (22 Watt TDP).
There is one RAM slot, in this case occupied by a single 1024MB module. That means single channel memory (which could reduce performance ever so slightly). You can replace this with a 2GB module. Strangely, the memory compartment door is not secured to the chassis with screws.
Performance of the bundled applications is very good although it’s tough to measure speed without my usual array of testing applications. I can say that you won’t be waiting for programs to load or respond. The whole experience is snappy. Stability is good too, I have not experienced any crashes.
Heat is not a problem. On battery power the 1110NR gets warm. When plugged in for several hours the peak temperature I was able to record was 106 degrees Fahrenheit immediately below the space bar and 124 degrees Fahrenheit on the bottom of the unit next to the memory compartment.
Performance of the included 3-cell 26 Wh battery was 2 hours and 37 minutes using a highly unscientific mix of word processing, lots of Web surfing and a little bit of YouTube watching. In other words pretty close to the typical usage scenario for this type of device. The result is good but HP needs to figure out some form of Asus battery magic, or they need to equip these with bigger batteries. The less expensive Asus Eee 900HA gets almost double the battery life.
You might be wondering about the SSD. This is not one of the new generation of super fast SSDs, that is for sure. It is a SanDisk PATA (using a ZIFF connector) SSD. Booting time was (41.7 seconds), shut down (20.5 seconds) and restarts (58.3 seconds). These times are OK. Faster, bigger SSD drives (such as Runcore) or 1.8” mechanical drives can be installed with minimal fuss – simply remove two screws inside the battery bay and pop the keyboard off to access the drive. You will need to remove the recessed USB port to make room for a standard 1.8” drive. HP provides full service documentation on their support site.
There is a lot to like about the HP Mini 1110NR.
Cosmetically it succeeds on a hardware and software level. It is thinner than most netbooks in its class, and it offers more attractive styling (at least in my opinion). There are no batteries jutting out of strange places like on the Toshiba NB100 and Dell Mini 12. Materials are well chosen, and the lid’s finish is classy looking.
At a software level HP has taken the standard fecal brown aesthetic of Ubuntu and given it a glossier, sexier sheen. The theme is sharp and HP’s launcher/shell succeeds where several netbook Linux distros failed before it. This Linux OS is very easy to use and everything just works out of the box. This operating system is certifiably ordinary people friendly.
In terms of hardware and performance, there is little to choose from between most netbooks. This particular chassis was made for a 10” screen so the 1110NR’s 8.9” screen looks out of place. Also, the 8GB SSD is simply too small given HP’s current lack of Mi-integrated cloud services. Sadly, the 10” model that comes with a much larger mechanical HDD is only available with Windows XP. I would appreciate being able to buy the 10” model with hard drive running HP Mi (or even a dual boot). The Hp Mini chassis is very nice, but the memory compartment door is flimsy – a really bone-headed design decision.
I still think that in general the asking price for netbooks is a bit high for the functionality they offer. Looking specifically at the HP Mini some of its immediate competitors offer better bang for buck. At the moment you can get an Asus Eee 900HA for $30-50 less than this HP. The Asus comes with XP, a proper 160GB 5400 RPM notebook drive and a higher capacity battery – although it’s not as pretty looking as the HP and has a cramped keyboard in comparison. The Linux iteration of the Acer Aspire One with 8GB SSD is being blown out for as little as $279 CDN and it is very comparable to the HP Mini. Clearly value is an issue (at least in my tightwad opinion).
There have been recent promotions on HP’s own website taking the HP Mini Mi as low as $329. That price is better, but I would need to see a $299 USD price tag to unequivocally recommend the 1110NR. You might also want to wait for HP to fix the memory compartment door issue and actually release a restore utility as promised.
If you have your heart set on a netbook you will almost certainly find the combination of features and value you need – it just may not be this one. You might want to wait for the PC makers to bleed a bit more red ink and get aggressive with pricing before you plunk down your cash.
HP’s Mini Mi has been an eye-opener for me. This isn’t because the Mini Mi is a perfect product, clearly it’s not. The lesson I am taking away from this review is how friendly/easy/awesome Linux and specifically Ubuntu can be when a PC maker puts some sweat equity into it. I hope to see the Mi experience on other HP products in the future.
- Cool operating system: Ubuntu + Mi = Win
- Nice form factor – thin and stylish
- Great keyboard and touch pad
- Despite having some gaps, the Mi concept has some serious potential
- Without integrated “cloud” storage services the 8GB SSD is insufficient
- HP MediaStyle applications are of limited value
- Price still needs to come down a bit – there are better values on the market from HP’s rivals
- Memory compartment door pops off with almost no effort
- Battery life is too short