HP’s Mini 210 should be boring. Like the Ford Fiesta of the PC world, it’s a point-A-to-B budget box from a well-known manufacturer not particularly well known for taking risks. But also like its automotive doppelganger, the Mini 210 yields some unforeseen surprises. Besides styling that breaks the monotony of countless Taiwanese clones, it sports an exceptionally high resolution display, optional Broadcom video decoder chip, and a touchpad that emulates Apple’s MacBooks. As we found out, that last point proves to be a major – debatably fatal – stumbling block for the Mini 210, but buyers who can learn to live with the mind-bogglingly-bad pad, or spring for a wireless mouse, can learn to cope with an otherwise very well put together netbook.
Features and Specs
Like most machines in this class, the Mini 210 runs Intel’s popular Atom processor, with the base model picking up a 1.66GHz N455. Buyers who want multimedia performance can spec a machine with the faster 1.8GHz Atom and Broadcom’s Crystal HD Video accelerator for an extra $40. With or without them, all machines carry Intel’s GMA 3150 integrated graphics processor. Buyers can also choose to outfit it with up to 2GB of memory, a 250GB hard drive, as well as embedded broadband from AT&T, Verizon or Sprint. The 10.1-inch LED-backlit display offers 1366 x 768 resolution.
At 10.55 inches long and 6.9 inches deep, the Mini 210 has a footprint no larger than the average notebook with its screen size, and at 1.1 inches thick at its thickest point, actually comes in on the thin side. It won’t quite challenge the inch-thick Asus Eee Seashell, but it’s not far behind. And at 2.69 pounds, you won’t notice it a backpack or briefcase any more than the average netbook.
Our Mini 210 came equipped with an Intel Atom running at 1.66Ghz, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, and Broadcom’s Crystal HD Video accelerator.
Toss a couple cheap netbooks in lineup, and we’re guessing even the guys that designed them couldn’t tell their creations apart from 20 feet away. In a field cluttered with knockoffs of knockoffs, the HP Mini 210 actually manages to stand apart with a few fresh, practical styling cues, not to mention build quality well above its peers.
The geometric design etched on lid is nothing mindblowing, but it’s dark enough to help hide fingerprints and scuffs, subtle enough to overlook if you don’t care for it, and unlike a vast majority of companies, HP actually carried the same material and pattern over to the belly of the netbook, where you would typically find a black plastic carcass dotted with screws and fan cutouts. HP also offers it in six different colors, two of which come with matching keyboards (white and pink).
Inside, the Mini 210 pulls off a respectable MacBook Pro impression with an attractive slab of edge-to-edge “glass” over the LCD. The wrist rest and other touchy feely parts (including the keys) have been cast in a rubbery feeling black plastic. Although a hump above the keyboard and the crevices between the keys sport a glossy black finish, neither spot managed to actually collect fingerprints during our weeks of testing.
The whole package has a remarkably sturdy feel when closed, without the creaks and rattles you come to expect from a $400 machine, and the screen and keyboard both exhibit minimal flex. The only exception to this almost-German level of build quality? The weight of the extended six-cell battery tends to jiggle around on its rails when you move the Mini 210 quickly.
As far as connectivity goes, the Mini 210 actually comes in on the thin side. You’ll get the three standard USB ports, Ethernet jack and VGA video out, but no HDMI, no eSATA, and a shared jack for microphones and headphones. Most of these probably won’t present an issue for buyers, but considering the machine’s 720p decoding capabilities, the missing HDMI output does seem shortsighted.
Netbook keyboards are never ideal, but the broad chiclet-style keys on the Mini 210 work well enough, and look good doing it. We liked the bold, square-shouldered keys, their velvety plastic feel, and the clean, easily legible sans-serif typeface on them, even if keystrokes do feel rather short and ungratifying – a hallmark of nearly all netbooks.
If only the same could be said of the touchpad, which is so profoundly awful that we sat for 15 minutes trying to translate the frustration it had caused us over the course of the review into words. Worst touchpad ever? That only hints at the profound level of wrong here. Using the touchpad on the Mini 210 not only felt like operating an iPhone with a wet pair of ski gloves, we’re pretty sure it had some longterm effects on elevating our blood pressure and eroding our sanity.
How did HP manage to backpedal from the perfectly workable touchpads of its past netbooks? Naturally enough, they were trying to make it better. We imagine it went something like this: In a valliant effort to copy Apple’s brilliant MacBook touchpad, which forgoes buttons altogether in favor of one giant pad that clicks down, HP started R&D on its own version, fell flat on its face, and apparently decided to stuff it into a production notebook anyway.
Like the aforementioned MacBook touchpad, the entire pad clicks down in place of right and left click buttons (a fat T-shaped divider etched on the bottom hints at the zones for right and left clicking). If it worked anything like Apple’s MacBook masterpiece, the sheer size of the pad would shoot it straight to the top of our favorites. But the software for the multitouch pad becomes completely boggled by the use of just two fingers on the pad. Using your left index finger to click while your right hand does the pointing usually causes the cursor to hop over a couple inches on the screen, rather than clicking the icon you wanted. Or stalls the cursor in place, if you drop another finger while it’s moving. Or locks it into a scrolling up and down motion. The symptoms vary, but the result is the same: utter frustration.
Unless you switch to one-finger mousing, the Mini’s touchpad can be bad enough to make you want to fling it against a wall after only a couple minutes of Web surfing. (Seriously, HP. I’m sure you’ve gotten at least one of these back completely trashed by an irate owner in the grips of Mouse Rage?)