HP Mini 210 HD Edition Review

hp mini 210 hd edition review

HP Mini 210 HD Edition

“HP's Mini 210 wows with smooth lines, soft curves and an ultra-sharp screen, but offers a touchpad so astoundingly foul that simple navigation becomes a challenge.”
  • 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

Introduction

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.

Design and Build Quality

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.

Ports

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.

Keyboard and Touchpad

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?)

Software

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.

Performance

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.

Display

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.

Battery Life

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.

Conclusion

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.

Highs:

  • 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

Lows:

  • 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

Editors' Recommendations