With the netbook market really having an impact in 2008, HP have lined-up new models for 2009. Building on the Mini-Note 2133 comes the Mini 2140, which steps up incrementally in terms of hardware, and also seems to drop the "Note" part from the name, which to be fair, did sound a little silly. But does it also perform?
Pulling the same design trends as its forebear, the 2140 comes in silver-grey, which spreads around all sides of the dinky PC, save for the screen bezel, which remains in black. The LED screen is a 10.1-inch glossy affair, with a 1024 x 576 pixel resolution. This does mean it is a 16:9 aspect, great for watching movies, but sports a lower resolution than many rivals. The aspect also means that you lose some page depth which might hamper you if your main requirement is working online.
The display is nice and bright and sharp enough for most uses (a higher resolution display will be available at extra cost later in the year). The glossy finish, as with the 2133, means that glare is a serious problem, especially if you often find yourself working outdoors, or in bright sunshine, opposite a window or on a train for example. This is a trade-off with nice sharp images, however, and those whose sole concern is watching movies during air travel this might not be such an issue.
The hinge design, common amongst premium notebook makers, is the drop down design, so when the laptop is opened you don’t gain an inch of height on the screen, which means is fits more comfortably within the space limits of economy aircraft seats, whilst still retaining a comfortable viewing angle. The hinge feels solid, as does the outer aluminium casing, giving the overall impression of a solidly built netbook, and measuring in at 26.14 x 16.62 x 2.67cm.
The keyboard is 92% full size and takes advantage of the width available, stretching the full expanse of the device. The keys are all of a good size, larger than many rivals, so using control and number keys feels natural. The typing action overall is reasonable, but the keys are all flat so it does take a little while to get used to. If there is a criticism, it is that the Fn icons are all in black, so it takes a second glance to pick them out - we’d have preferred them to be accented in a different colour.
Sitting under the hood you’ll find a conventional Intel Atom N270 processor, running at 1.6GHz and backed by 2GB RAM (a 1GB variant is also available). These are fairly average specs nowadays, and so is the 160GB hard disc drive you’ll find installed, which benefits from HP’s DriveGuard. At least you’ll have plenty of space for music or movies to take advantage of that display, which we found felt more natural for watching movies than on some rivals. The onboard graphics, handled by an Intel GMA 950 chip, combined with the VGA port will allow you to output higher resolutions on a second monitor.
In terms of connections you’ll find two USB 2.0 on opposing sides, as well as Gigabit Ethernet and a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2 (which has its own toggle switch on the front edge), so you’ll have no problem getting connected. However, there is an absence of a 3G modem option, something that is rumoured for later this year, but on this level of netbook it seems a strange oversight and is something of a drawback.
Built-in to the bezel of the screen you’ll find a 0.3MP webcam, which again seems to be a little behind the standard with many netbooks now coming with 1.3MP. There is also a built-in mic, so you’ll be fully equipped for Skype on the go, even if your video is not the best it could be. You’ll also find 3.5mm jacks for headphone and microphone. The built-in speakers, however, are pretty good, better than many rivals, delivering audio which is acceptable at least.
There is also an ExpressCard 54 slot, something that is not always found on small format PCs, and an SD card reader.
And so we move to the trackpad. Making space for all that keyboard means that your trackpad shrinks down to 6 x 3cm and flanked by left and right buttons. This is a less conventional arrangement than normally found and we didn’t like it on the 2133 and don’t like it here. Ok, so connecting a notebook mouse is a simple enough work around, but if you are working on your lap, you might not have that option. Turning the sensitivity down, we found, made it more practical, but when it comes to doing anything too intensive, it is far too fiddly.
Battery life, however, is pretty good. The 3-cell battery we found would reliably give you over 3 hours, extended if you turn the screen right down, and it can be dimmed a lot. There is also the option of purchasing a 6-cell battery, which we didn’t test, but reportedly will extend the battery life up to around the 7 hour mark. HP batteries also feature HP Fast Charge, so you’ll find that batteries will charge to 90% capacity in 90 minutes.
There are three configurations of the 2140 to watch out for so worth checking the specs that you actually get as there is an XP version as well as a Vista Business and Vista Home Basic option. Bundled software gives you trials to McAfee and Microsoft Office, but little else.
So taken as a complete bundle it is clear where the strengths of the 2140 lie. For the international traveller, it has the durability, capacity and battery life to let you work or stay entertained whilst on the move. It also lends itself to keyboard work, but stumbles when it comes to trackpad usage. The 2140 is also well connected, save for the omission of a mobile broadband modem, so should cater for most needs.
But if your primary use is to use it to surf the Internet whilst on the move, then some of the competition deliver a better package. The 16:9 screen does mean you’ll see less of web pages, whilst the gloss finish means it’s difficult to see outdoors or in direct sunlight. The awkward trackpad too means that mobile workers will be hampered and wishing for a desk.
By setting its stall in one distinct area, the HP Mini 2140 will appeal as much as it repels and given the step-up in specs appearing in rival machines, you need to carefully consider your requirements before making a purchase.