Businessmen don’t use netbooks. Sure, all-day battery life would be nice for those long flights. They do fit awfully nice in most briefcases, too. And the Intel Atom is more than enough for Firefox, Excel and Skype. But the humble netbook has always been plagued by an image problem. They look cheap, and that’s not the impression an executive wants to exude when he lays his laptop down on the walnut conference room table.
HP set out to reimagine the netbook for the boardroom with the Mini 5101. The magnesium-chassis netbook casts aside cheap construction techniques, sprinkles in a handful of business niceties, and earns our stamp as one of the few netbooks you don’t have to be ashamed of.
Features and Specs
Tear away the outside, and the main parts driving the Mini 5101 would resemble any other netbook: An Intel Atom processor running at 1.6GHz, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and a 160GB hard drive, all hooked up to a standard 10.1-inch LED-backlit display. But look a little closer, and you’ll find traces of a real business machine. For instance, this little guy sports the same HP 3D Drive Guard tech as HP’s bigger notebooks, which detects falls and braces the hard drive for impact. HP’s DuraKeys resist both visible wear better than ordinary keys, and spills. And the webcam offers 2.0-megapixel resolution for videoconferencing, up from the typical 1.3-megapixel model you might find in a typical netbook. It even comes preloaded with Corel Office – not the Microsoft suite we’re all used to, but an affordable way to get cracking on documents, spreadsheets and graphics.
Lenovo doesn’t make a netbook decked out in traditional ThinkPad style, but if they did, it would look something like the HP Mini 5101. Although HP built the Mini 5101 from a stiff magnesium chassis, that Terminator-like skeleton has been cloaked entirely by a thick coat of almost-rubberized plastic that reminded us, precisely of the legendary ThinkPad finish. Eye-catching? Not really, but the supremely durable plastic feels soft to the touch, laughs in the face of fingerprints and smudges, and shakes off abuse that would scratch harder plastics. This is a netbook built for the long haul.
HP spices up this dull-but-durable base with a handful of design accents. Most notably, the lid sports a brushed aluminum veneer that has been anodized black. The bezel around the LCD gets a glossy black coat, and the space between the Chiclet-style keys has been doused in the same finish. Frankly, we would have preferred matte black all around, but the limited application of gloss does add a certain zing, and if you’re careful, you can avoid smudging it up pretty easily.
All that metal certainly has a positive effect on build quality. The Mini 5101 has an air of solidarity seldom felt in netbooks, from the affirmative way it closes, to the lack of flex in the keyboard or above the trackpad. You’re not quite looking at a mini MacBook, for a netbook, this is about as good as it gets.