The HP Mini 1103 is one of the latest "business class" netbooks on the market to offer extreme portability and battery life for an extremely low price. Is this 10-inch netbook worth $300 from your company's coffers, or should your IT manager spend a little more on a serious laptop?
Our review unit of the HP Mini 1103 features the following specs:
Those familiar with the business-class HP Mini netbooks know that these low-cost ultra-portable laptops have better build quality than what you'll find among the consumer-grade HP Minis. Well, that was the case until the HP Mini 1103 arrived.
At first glance, there is genuinely little that differentiates the new HP Mini 1103 and the consumer-friendly HP Mini 210 HD. The new design of the 1103 features an exterior shell similar to the HP Pavilion dm1z and Pavilion dm3t, but it looks virtually identical to the rest of the Mini lineup. In fact, the only design element that really stands out as possibly being business oriented is the use of matte black plastics on the lower half of the chassis and the keyboard.
Despite the consumer appearance, the build quality is good enough for the average road warrior. I wouldn't recommend using the Mini 1103 outdoors in a rainstorm, but I wouldn't hesitate to toss it in a briefcase or purse and run to a client meeting. When the screen lid is closed the HP Mini 1103 feels sturdy and doesn't show much flex under pressure. The palmrest also offers plenty of support while typing, although adult-sized hands will probably find little room for comfort beneath this tiny keyboard.
The HP Mini 1103 has the same upgrade friendly design we've seen on multiple HP netbooks and notebooks. Simply remove the battery from the back of the netbook, slide the orange release switch to one side and you can remove the entire bottom plate of the Mini 1103. You only need to use a screwdriver if you plan to remove the hard drive or wireless cards. Simple RAM upgrades require no additional tools. In short, you don't need to have an IT manager to perform basic upgrades.
Ports and Features
The HP Mini 1103 features three USB 2.0 ports, VGA-out, one audio headset jack, and Ethernet. The system also includes a SDHC card slot. This isn't a particularly impressive collection of ports for a business notebook, but the port selection here is par for the course when it comes to netbooks. Maybe we'll at least see a USB 3.0 port on next year's model.
Left: DC-input, VGA-out, HDD activity light, one USB 2.0, headset jack
Right: SDHC-card slot, Power switch, two USB 2.0, LAN, Kensington lock slot
Screen and Speakers
The display on the HP Mini 1103 is a standard 10.1-inch LED-backlit display with a matte screen and 1024 x 600 resolution. This is a pretty entry-level screen for a modern netbook and a step down from the screen on the HP Mini 210 HD which has a higher WXGA (1366 x 768) resolution. The lower screen resolution means that some websites won't render properly and you may have to scroll vertically or horizontally to see your business documents. This also means the Mini 1103 cannot display 720P HD video. Granted, the lack of HD video capability is a given for the weak processor and graphics in this netbook, but it's something to keep in mind when you watch HD video webcasts for work or need to show clients video while on the road.
Despite the resolution issues, the matte screen surface is very easy to read under direct sunlight (great for typing quick emails in your car). The panel itself delivers a maximum screen brightness of 178 nit in our lab and a contrast ratio of 194:1. Viewing angles were average compared to other netbooks; colors started to invert or distort when the screen was tilted about 15 degrees forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles are much better, and the matte screen makes it easier to share images or documents without reflections getting in the way.
The small speakers on the HP Mini 1103 are located on the front edge of the palmrest, angled downward towards your lap. On a flat desktop, they easily filled up a small room with music that sounds like it's coming from a tin can. Unfortunately, it gets worse when you place the netbook in your lap because the speakers are muffled against your legs and easily blocked by clothing.
The HP Mini 1103 features a 93% full-size keyboard that is a hybrid of a traditional keyboard and a modern "Chiclet" style keyboard. Each key features a raised platform shape that mimics the feel of extra space between the keys similar to a Chiclet keyboard. Unfortunately, since the lower half of each key bumps up against the surrounding keys, it's pretty easy to end up with an email full of typos if you're typing fast. I found it easier to type on this keyboard using the two-finger "hunt and peck" method of typing rather than traditional 10-finger typing.
Performance and Benchmarks
System performance of the HP Mini 1103 boils down to one question: What do you consider to be "good enough" performance? Let's face it; for $300 you're getting what is essentially a disposable ultraportable laptop with great battery life. Unfortunately, it's slow when trying to access multiple files or open multiple applications and it's even slower when switching back and forth between multiple applications. Yes, HP gives you a reasonably fast 7200rpm hard drive, but that alone cannot make up for the painfully slow processor, weak graphics, or the fact that the base configuration only comes with 1GB of RAM.
As you can see by the synthetic benchmarks listed below, the new Mini 1103 offers essentially identical performance to the consumer-grade HP Mini 210 HD. In short, any netbook with a dual-core Intel Atom processor or any AMD-based netbook will deliver better performance in both standard Office applications as well as streaming video for teleconferences or webcasts.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
Heat output from the Intel Atom N455 and Intel HD integrated graphics was minimal at worst. Even under stress the system stayed cool in your lap. The warmest areas appeared to be the hard drive and the heat sink/cooling fan, but overall external temperatures never reached unacceptable levels. The temperatures shown below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit:
The cooling fan stayed on continuously, spinning at a lower speed when idle and picking up as heat output increased. Fan noise wasn't that bad, but you could tell it was on without having to be near the system. With an ambient noise level of 33dB, the fan measured 39dB at a distance of 12 inches.
The 6-cell battery on the HP Mini 1103 provides 55Wh of juice to keep this netbook running throughout your work day. True, models like the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE come with a higher capacity 63Wh battery, but the Mini 1103 is pretty energy efficient. In our testing with the screen brightness reduced to 70%, wireless active and refreshing a webpage every 60 seconds, and Windows 7 on a balanced power profile the Mini 1103 kept running for 8 hours and 23 minutes. That might not be enough for a flight from LAX to Taipei, but it's enough to get most people through a typical work day without needing a power cord.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
The HP Mini 1103 represents the latest evolution of business netbooks from HP. Unfortunately, this netbook is far from being the best choice for mobile professionals on a tight budget.
Yes, the Mini 1103 delivers great battery life and a budget-friendly price tag. Yes, if you just need a basic laptop for staying connected on the road, then this will get the job done. But regardless of these advantages, I can't get over the fact that you can find much better ultraportable laptops for a modest increase in price.
Considering that HP offers the very impressive (and significantly better) Pavilion dm1z for just $150 more than the price of the Mini 1103, I can't really come up with a good reason to recommend the Mini 1103 unless you simply cannot afford to spend more than $300.