HP announced their new Mini 311 notebook/netbook on Tuesday and we were luckily enough to get our hands on the new model for a quick play. Hands-on is perhaps a liberty, as some of the time we spent with the new Nvidia ION-packing PC it was being demoed by an Nvidia spokesperson.
Following many of the design trends of the HP Mini series (although it will be sold under the Compaq brand in the UK and some other territories), it has a generous sized 92% keyboard which nearly spans the width of the chassis, and gives similar large keys to those seen elsewhere across the Mini series.
HP has obviously turned their attention to a more cohesive design, as the Mini 311 looks good from all sides, including underneath, which isn't always the case. The lid of the 311 is glossy, so fingerprints easily, but is attractive none the less. The deck is silver, as in previous devices, which looks good and doesn't get too smeary.
It isn't the slimmest of notebooks in this size, with a wedge shape that is distinctly plump at the back. This is partly down to the use of the Intel Atom processor and Nvidia ION chip, as opposed to the an Intel CULV processor which would give a slimmer profile, but cost more and arguably lack the benefits offered by ION.
The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 pixel resolution display means it gets that "HD" tag, and thanks to the Nvidia ION chip, it can exploit that screen to best effect. The screen has a glossy finish, which brings punch to action on the screen, but won't be so popular with those who want to use the notebook on the move – reflections can be a problem. The hinge arrangement means the screen folds down over the back, so despite having a slightly fat rear end, the screen doesn't sit too high when opened, meaning it will be convenient for use on planes and trains, where conditions are cramped.
The overall size, however, is one that we like. At 11.6-inches, it is still small enough to be highly portable, measuring 28.9 x 20.4 x 3.06cm (1.98cm at the leading edge). It weighs in at 1.46kg, which shouldn’t be too much to lug around.
Given the extra size on the chassis, HP has had the chance to rearrange the often-criticised trackpad, so the buttons are now in a more conventional location underneath. We didn't have too long using it, so we can't comment at this stage on how the keyboard and trackpad respond in everyday use.
The unit is decked out with a full complement of connections, which are becoming more common in notebooks of this size. You get both VGA and HDMI connections for hooking up to a larger display, as well as three USB 2.0, a multi-card reader, and the normal headphone and mic sockets. Networking comes courtesy of Wi-Fi b/g and Ethernet, with Bluetooth also thrown in.
But the real thing here is the pairing of Intel's Atom processor with Nvidia's ION GPU. We've seen this partnership previously in the likes of the Acer Aspire Revo and other nettops and we've been watching various manufacturers slowly announce notebooks/netbooks with this configuration (see the Lenovo S12 and Samsung N510).
In practice, you'll find that the HP Mini 311 delivers on the HD promise. We saw the unit connected to an HDTV to playback Full HD 1080p content, which it handled with no problems. It will even play some mainstream games, albeit at low settings and we demoed Call of Duty 4 on the unit, which netbooks with integrated graphics will simply refuse to play.
Some might argue that given the 311's small screen, the ability to play HD content isn't necessary. Whilst this is true to an extent (you aren't going to miss the fine details whilst sitting on a plane), it is really about content handling. If you have an HD camcorder, you want to know your notebook can play the files back. Ditto if you have downloaded HD content, it's better to play what you have than be downscaling just because you want to use a more portable device.
The HP Mini 311 also comes preinstalled with ArcSoft's TotalTheatre3 with SimHD, which will allow you to upscale you digital video content for playback on an HDTV. If you have a digital catalogue of movie files in standard definition, then they'll benefit from the upscaling treatment.
Although we didn't get to test a full range of our own content from various sources, from what we've seen, the HP Mini 311 looks to deliver a more solid all-round entertainment offering than the previous generation of small format notebooks. These may seem like superficial offerings for those who only want to surf the web and work on their emails on the move, but for consumers who want and expect a little more, then it may whet your appetite.
Although listed as coming with XP, the model we saw was running Windows 7 with no problems, and was packing 3GB RAM, so it is worth checking the options available at the time of purchase.
Available from around $400 in the US, or branded as the Compaq Mini 311 in the UK from £349, the HP Mini 311 looks to combine some of the best features of the Mini series with great performance in a package that, whilst not the slimmest, has been considerately designed.
We'll be getting our hands on the Compaq Mini 311 soon to test out how it stands up to abuse on the move and whether there is a huge impact on the battery life, in a full review soon.