HP’s QuickWeb feature crops up within seconds of starting the Mini 210, offering access to a number of Internet-connected tools including a browser, IM client, and Skype. Unfortunately, the browser crawled along at a barely usable pace when it did work, and completely failed to load anything about nine times out of ten. Even features that didn’t rely on a Web connection, like the photo browser, plugged along so slowly that any time saved from accessing them instantly on startup quickly evaporated in the ensuing moments of awkward navigation and waiting.
Once you hit the Windows desktop, you’ll find an unfortunate gaggle of clutter including the obligatory eBay shortcut, TimesReader from the New York Times (which you need a subscription to actually use), and Norton antivirus trying to worm its way into your heart from the first boot. It’s nothing a little time in the uninstaller won’t clean up, but having to scrub a brand new PC still disappoints us.
We do give HP credit for a few useful programs, including ArcSoft WebCam companion for capturing footage and snapshots from the built-in webcam, a number of decent ad-supported games including Plants vs. Zombies, and HP CloudDrive for saving documents where you can get them from anywhere – 2GB comes free.
Our Mini 210 hit the Windows 7 desktop in about a minute 20 seconds, and opened a browser window about 20 seconds later, putting it on the slower side, even for a netbook.
The feeling of sluggishness carried over to general Windows performance to some degree, as well. While it’s no Sony Vaio P Series, opening new windows and even menus always seemed to carry a delay longer than we’re used to, and software like HP QuickSync and HP CloudDrive fidgeting away from the taskbar didn’t seem to help matters. PCMark Vantage seemed to confirm this below-average desktop performance with a score of 1302 PCMarks. That’s on the low side for netbooks, which can sometimes reach above 1,500.
Despite it shortcomings in other departments, the Mini 210 actually steamrolled competing notebooks on video. Because the Broadcom chip supports H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 compression, most downloaded clips have no issues tapping into it for silky smooth playback, including 720p Mad Men clips encoded in H.264 that we used for testing (with the lean and efficient Zoom Player Standard). Unfortunately, video formats that fall outside the Broadcom’s repertoire are left stuttering as the load falls to the Atom and Intel graphics chip. Even with Flash 10.1 installed, Hulu content played only smoothly at 288p, and even with those settings, it couldn’t scale to full screen without turning into a slideshow. With YouTube, we could push content to 480p, but again, full-screen playback stuttered even with quality at minimum.
HP calls the 10.1-inch display on the Mini 210 “HD” due to its 1336 x 768 resolution, and while while it’s no substitute for the high-def set in your living room, it does pack an impressive number of pixels for its physical size. Although average brightness and a glossy screen can make it finicky in outdoor situations, the wide viewing angle, vibrant color and high resolution make for a superb airplane cinema. An we’ve never been more grateful for one than when we dodged the in-flight movie “Have You Heard About the Morgans?” in favor of 720p Mad Men episodes on the Mini 210. When you’re not watching Don Draper fool around with his sixth mistress of the season, all those pixels also go a long way in making text and graphics on the Web exceptionally crisp and sharp, not to mention cutting down on scrolling.
HP advertises up to four hours and 30 minutes of battery life with the basic three-cell battery. As usual, that proves to be quite optimistic, with the Mini 210 delivering more like three hours and 30 minutes of usable life with brightness to full and Wi-Fi engaged.
After taking in the sleek finish, solid feel, and crisp display, we wanted to love the Mini 210 right out of the box. Sadly, that’s not the end of the story. Its less endearing traits take time to ooze to the surface, and when they do, the honeymoon is over. We could forgive a few extra milliseconds for simple tasks like opening a folder or a browser, and a splashtop OS that doesn’t actually seem to work, but that touchpad is harder to live with than a roommate who watches The Nanny every waking hour with the TV on full blast. This trait alone would have warranted a return from us, had we bought and paid for the Mini 210, and it shows in the final score. If HP can manage to fix this one glaring failure and find a little extra pep, we can see the next iteration being one of our favorite netbooks on the market. But as it stands, recommending any laptop with this touchpad is like recommending a car with a dinner plate for a steering wheel and sandwich for a brake pedal. It works… but not really.
- Large, high-resolution screen
- Stylish design with fingerprint-defying finish materials
- Excellent build quality
- Broadcom chip tears through downloaded video up to 720p
- Clean, uncluttered keyboard
- Atrocious touchpad
- Preinstalled trialware and junk
- QuickWeb feature borders on worthless
- Less than snappy around the desktop
- Extended battery jiggles in place
- No HDMI output