HP Mini 5102 netbook ideal for business road warriors

The Mini 5102 is the latest in HP’s line of business-optimized netbooks, featuring a ruggedized metal chassis and design elements tailored for the office road warrior. It does a great job of offering features that business users care about, but they come at a considerable price; the configuration we tested, with a touchscreen, 2GB of RAM, an Atom N450 CPU, and an extended six-cell battery, clocks in at around $729–easily the cost of a larger, more full-featured laptop.

The fit and finish are excellent, if a bit angular. The brushed metal finish on the lid is handsome and doesn’t attract fingerprints or smudges. If you don’t like basic black, you can pay $28 more for a red or blue finish. Open the lid and you’ll find a keyboard that is quite easy to type on, with extra-wide , , and keys.

It has a good clicky feel with plenty of travel, but no backlight or keyboard light for working in the dark. The touchpad looks a little small (a common problem with netbooks), but in practice it isn’t much of a problem. It tracks well, and the buttons are separate, distinct, and easy to use accurately without looking at them.

The screen quality is slightly better than average, with decent contrast and viewing angles, but the resolution is a bit limited. The 10.1-inch screen features a resolution of 1024 by 600, which simply isn’t a lot of desktop real estate–it results in lots of scrolling to read Web pages or long documents and e-mail messages. You can pay a bit extra for a higher-res, 1366-by-768 screen, and it’s probably worth it, but this option isn’t available if you go for a multitouch screen, which our review unit has. You can choose from a variety of operating systems: SUSE Linux, Windows XP, Windows 7 Starter, and even Windows 7 Professional. (If you opt for the multitouch screen, you have to get Windows 7.)

The variety and layout of connections is reasonable, with two USB ports on the front left edge and a VGA port on the back left edge, along with an ethernet port and a third USB port on the back of the right edge, followed by headphone and microphone jacks in the middle, and a card reader up front. The front edge of the system features only a Wi-Fi switch. Above the keyboard you’ll find only a power button and two quick-launch buttons, one for e-mail and the other for your Web browser.

Besides the ports and jacks mentioned, you have other connectivity pathways: 802.11n wireless networking is standard, as is Bluetooth. Mobile broadband with GPS by Gobi is a $125 option, but you can’t combine that with some of the other options, such as the touchscreen or the Broadcom Crystal HD graphics decoder module.

In addition, you can choose from a variety of hard-drive options, from the 160GB drive our test unit came with up to 320GB, or an 80GB or 120GB solid-state drive. If you really deck out the system with all the most expensive options you can combine, you can get the price up to over $1100! That’s outrageous for a netbook. The base model with 1GB of RAM and a 4-cell battery costs $415, slightly more than many other similarly-specced netbooks.

Since most netbooks are based on the same Intel “Pine Trail” platform, the performance of the Mini 5102 doesn’t vary much from its contemporaries using the same Atom N450 processor. The WorldBench 6 score of 34 is in line with most other netbooks based on this CPU, though in practical use the 2GB of RAM makes things a little snappier when you have multiple applications running at once (many netbooks only have 1GB of RAM).

Our test unit has the extended six-cell battery, which adds only a little bump to the bottom of the machine but seriously improves battery life. It took 9 hours, 41 minutes to kill the battery in our tests. As with other Atom-based netbooks, the graphics and video decoding capabilities are quite poor–this thing is useless for playing games, and it struggles with Flash-based Web video, especially in high definition. If such capabilities matter to you, you’ll definitely want to pick up the Broadcom Crystal HD upgrade, which our unit didn’t have.

The design and feature set of the HP Mini 5102 is quite good, especially for the business audience it targets. The keyboard and touchpad are an improvement over the consumer-focused HP Minis, and scores of options are available. Unfortunately, this all comes at a price. All but the barest configurations cost as much as many full-sized laptops–laptops that may not go for over 9 hours on a charge but that certainly perform a lot better.

This is a great netbook for simple note-taking and document editing on the go, or for those long business flights, but most consumers hunting for an inexpensive companion PC would be better off considering less expensive models.

Source: PCworld.com

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