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Home / Laptops / Budget laptops (Ultraportable)
Hands-on with the HP 2133 Mini-Note PCBy Philip Berne, 8 April 2008
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HP 2133
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We get an exclusive look at HP's new ultraportable laptop. But please, don't call it a UMPC.

HP's 2133 Mini-Note PC is very similar to a UMPC. It is small and lightweight, with wireless connectivity through Wi-Fi, though it wisely eschews built-in WAN for an Xpress Card slot. It is sturdy enough to be thrown into a backpack, aimed specifically at students, and seems to need a niche audience to justify its existence (students, tech journalists, etc). It even steals some of the best aspects of a PC, like the full-blown desktop OS, while managing to toss some of the least successful, like the touchscreen, which most UMPCs haven't quite figured out yet. It's even a little more expensive than we'd like, starting at about $500 and working half-way to a $1000 when you start piling on the options.

Don't call it a comeback

But it would be a mistake to call this a UMPC. For one thing, we've never picked up a UMPC that we actually thought about buying, whereas the HP Mini-Note is a purchase we could easily justify, as a second or traveling machine. For another, HP has included a full keyboard, as well as plenty of connectivity options, including two USB ports, the Xpress Card slot we mentioned as well as an SD card slot, and VGA for connecting to a projector. Add Ethernet and audio in/out ports, and your done. We could complain about ports it lacks, but this seems like plenty for an ultraportable. With the 3-cell battery the device was quite small; it could easily fit a large handbag. With the 6-cell, the battery acted as a nice stand in back, but the machine gained just a little bulk.

In person, HP was unafraid to show us the 2133 Mini-Note PC right next to an Asus EEE PC (compare specifications), and the difference was striking. We've been testing an EEE PC in house for a couple weeks, and our first impressions are that the device is a simple, toy-like laptop, with some adult capabilities. The HP 2133 is the opposite. This feels like an adult laptop, shrunk down to fit an ultraportable case. The aluminum casing on the HP 2133, compared to plastic on most devices this size, makes it feel very sturdy and solid, and HP has made the screen a bit more scratch resistant, knowing students might throw it around.

We don't need no thought control

As an editor with former classroom teaching experience, we grilled HP execs about whether this is really a new device for the classroom, or a second machine for gadget fetishists, and they had an interesting response. Besides the benefit of working on a full desktop OS (though SuSE Linux is available as a configuration), the size is right for a school desktop. Students get the benefit of the large keyboard, but should have no problem looking over the desk at the teacher in front. The device isn't so big it dominates a desk, nor so small that it isn't usable for long-term reading and writing assignments.

Of course, the biggest issue, then, is the price. Sure, there are plenty of schools buying carts of MacBooks at nearly $1000 a pop, but those programs are still few and far between. We imagine that for real adoption, the HP 2133 will have to be available, configured for education (stripped down, in other words), for half that, and that's an attainable price in the future of the Mini-Note PC. Plus, the device is built to take some abuse, either from business travelers or students, carrying it from home to school. Besides the screen, the shell is tough aluminum, and the hard drive uses accelerometers to park the drive heads before a fall. A feature we've seen elsewhere, but no less welcome here.

The best UMPC?

So, has HP released the standard bearer for UMPCs? No, but that's not the point. Instead, HP seems to suggest that the UMPC idea is fundamentally flawed. Having seen devices scratch by with touchscreens and lousy input methods, we might be inclined to agree. In any case, the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC definitely has us curious for a longer look.
Best Budget laptops (Ultraportable)
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C
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