- Nvidia Ion graphics boost performance
- Improved port selection
- Good battery life
- Still using weak Atom processor
- Good graphics limited by CPU
- Touchpad surface isn't great
The HP Mini 311 promises the best possible netbook experience thanks to the use of Nvidia’s Ion graphics. Can this netbook with an 11-inch screen, HDMI, and a great keyboard overcome the limits of Intel’s Atom processor? Keep reading to find out.
Our HP Mini 311 (311-1000NR) features the following specifications:
- Operating System: Genuine Windows XP (32-bit)
- Processor: Intel Atom N270 Processor 1.60GHz (533MHz FSB)
- Memory: 1GB DDR3 SDRAM
- Storage: 160GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
- Display: 11.6-inch diagonal WSVGA+ (1366×768)
- Graphics: Nvidia Ion LE
- Wireless: 802.11a/b/g
- Expansion: 4-in-1 media card slot
- Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.78-1.20 x 11.4 x 8.0 inches (including feet)
- Weight: 3.34 lb (not including weight of AC adapter).
- Power: 6-cell Lithium-Polymer battery
- Warranty: One-year standard warranty
- MSRP: $399.99
Build and Design
The HP Mini 311 looks like an obvious evolution of the HP Mini design. In fact, if it weren’t for the larger size of the 311 you could easily mistake this netbook for the old Mini 1000. In short, nothing substantial has changed in terms of the build or design of the latest generation of Mini netbooks. That said, this isn’t a bad thing. HP engineers did a lot of things right with the earlier Minis, and the Mini 311 likewise offers a nearly fullsize keyboard, large touchpad, and acceptable build quality at a low price. The clamshell-like design gives the Mini 311 a very clean look and the “Black Swirl” Imprint finish features a nice spiral pattern design that looks like either a bunch of black/silver galaxies bumping into each other or a bed of black roses. This Imprint design not only gives the lid a distinct appearance, but also helps protect the lid from scratches.
When open, the glossy black plastic extends around the glossy 11-inch screen. The entire exterior of the chassis is a combination of glossy black plastic, glossy silver plastic, and matte black plastic. Obviously, whenever we look at a laptop with this much plastic we’re concerned about build quality … and the Mini 311 was a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand, the keyboard feels nice and firm with no flex. Likewise, the screen and rear of the netbook feel quite solid even under significant pressure. On the other hand, the front of the netbook suffers from some annoying “creaking” in the plastics of the palmrests. if you pick up the Mini 311 from either palmrest you will hear some unpleasant creaking sounds and feel some uncomfortable flex in the plastic. That said, we suspect the Mini 311 will hold up about as well as any plastic netbook priced below $400. The various parts of the chassis come together with tight seams and good attention to detail. The Mini 311 is also available in white just in case black isn’t your color of choice.
Screen and Speakers
The new 11.6-inch screen on the Mini 311 is a nice LED-backlit display panel with a 1366×768 native resolution. The glossy screen surface helps to improve color and contrast, but we noticed the colors look a bit “washed out” or “pastel” compared to what our test desktop background looks like on other laptops. Although the 1366×768 resolution is a nice step up from the 1024×600 resolution seen on most netbooks the washed out colors made the viewing experience less than perfect. Vertical viewing angles are average with some color distortion when viewing from below and some over-exposed colors when viewed from above. Horizontal viewing angles are better with colors remaining unchanged at extremely wide viewing angles; you won’t have trouble sharing a YouTube video with friends using this display.
The built-in speaker performance on the Mini 311 is extremely good for an 11-inch netbook. I’m not a fan of the location of the built-in speakers since they’re located on the bottom front edge of the netbook, but the audio quality is quite good. The speakers produce excellent volume (enough to fill a small room) and there is minimal distortion even at higher volume levels. The speakers lack much bass, but the range of highs and midtones are perfectly enjoyable.
Granted, most audiophiles will want to use external speakers or headphones for a better listening experience … but the built-in speakers work well in a pinch. The audio output from the dual-function headphone jack/microphone jack produced some high frequency background noise/distortion with some of the headphones we used during testing, but other headphones worked fine with no distortion.
Keyboard and Touchpad
As previously mentioned, the HP Mini 311 features a nice and large keybaord that is 92% of full size. Most of the primary keys are the same size as the keys you’ll find on a typical notebook and the spacing is likewise normal, but the space bar and some of the keys that are used less frequently are smaller than normal. If you prefer the shape and feel of traditional keys then you’ll probably like this keyboard. That said, I personally prefer the “Chiclet” style keyboard used on many netbooks and ultraportables since there is more space between the keys to prevent me from accidentally hitting the wrong key when working in tight quarters. Still, the keyboard on this netbook is quite usable and should be perfectly fine for typing quick emails or editing documents while traveling.
The ALPS touchpad used on the Mini 311 is a multitouch gesture-enabled model that allows you to use multi-figure gestures such as “pinching” your fingers together or “pulling” your fingers apart to zoom in or out. The ALPS control panel in Windows also allows you to customize these gestures as well. Sensitivity and tracking seemed accurate even when you move your fingers quickly over the touchpad surface. Speaking of which, the touchpad is covered in a glossy smooth surface that sometimes makes it east to slide your finger across the surface and other times causes your finger to “skip across the surface because of the lack of texture/traction. The left and right touchpad buttons are located beneath the touchpad and each button has shallow feedback with loud clicks when pressed.
Input and Output Ports
In terms of port selection the HP Mini 311 offers a few more bells and whistles than your average netbook. You get three USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 media card reader, dual-function headphone/microphone jack, Ethernet port, and two video out ports in the form of VGA and HDMI.
Here is a quick tour around the HP Mini 311: