Tech Time: Looking for a netbook? HP Mini offerings are solid

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Sep 21st 2010 - by Fix My PC FREE in: News | 0 Comment

The HP Mini 5102 may be inexpensive, starting at $399, but the materials used are not low-quality.

Netbooks are an interesting breed of computer to me.I understand the need for their existence, but I have never been a huge fan of them for my own personal use.still, I had heard some positive things about the HP Mini 5102, so I was hoping this netbook would help sway my view. And while I still might not run out and buy one, after my time with the Mini 5102 I can understand why people might choose to do so.HP is being wise about their netbook lineup, recognizing that the smaller size and lack of power limits their ability to function as full-service computers.Instead, they are being promoted as a companion PC, which is a smart move because that’s the purpose they will best serve.For those unfamiliar with the terminology, netbooks can be described as small, lightweight, inexpensive laptops that are mostly used for general computing and Web access (in other words, nothing too intense). their specs are going to be on the lower end, and the processors aren’t going to be very powerful.but they do have one big bonus over the bigger, faster competition — and that is their portability. The Mini 5102 is about the size and weight (2.6 pounds) of a hardcover book, and can be carried around just like one. I can see them appealing to a variety of groups. Business travelers might want a smaller, more portable PC to complement that bigger, workhorse computer. People who only use their computer to check e-mail and surf the Web, and maybe video chat the kids or grandkids, may have interest. And then there are students, who can take advantage of the portability and bring a netbook to class to take notes.Now that we’re all up to speed on the basics about netbooks, let’s get to the details on the HP Mini 5102.First of all, the unit scores big compared to some of its netbook competitors in the category of materials used. just because this is an inexpensive netbook, that doesn’t mean flimsy materials were used. The body is not cheap plastic: It’s made of aluminum and magnesium alloy, which is not only durable but also looks good. This is because some of the design elements on this netbook have been carried over from HP’s business line of laptops.I was also impressed with the keyboard and its usability. In other netbooks I have tried to use, the keyboard is often cramped and features tiny keys, so it’s a frustrating experience to type on them. on the Mini 5102, the keyboard is 95 percent of a full-size keyboard so it’s not hard to use. its large, raised, square keys allow for much more agreeable typing, better than I thought I would see in a netbook. It still might be tight if you have massive hands, but for most people the keyboard size won’t be a concern.The operating system on the Mini 5102 is predictably a basic one: Windows 7 Starter. It offers only 1 GB of RAM, but it has a pretty impressive 160 GB hard drive, which can be upgraded. It features a 1,024×600-pixel resolution 10.1-inch screen, which you can upgrade to a 1,366×768 display. either way, the screen will look very clear and bright.A basic Intel graphics card is included, and the machine can access wireless networks. For a fee, mobile broadband can be included as an option, giving you more online access — a option that businesses might consider for workers on the go, where there might not always be wireless networks available.For a small machine, there is a decent number of ports. You get headphone and microphone jacks, a VGA video port, 3 USB 2.0 ports, a SD card reader and an Ethernet port. there is no optical drive for CDs or DVDs, though, which may bother some users.The sound from the Mini 5102’s speakers didn’t blow me away, but it was plenty adequate for a unit of its size.The Mini 5102 did, however, have some issues that are a product of it being a netbook. For starters, the screen was too small for my taste when viewing Web pages, but that just comes with the territory when you’re getting a netbook and is not a problem unique to the Mini 5102. That’s just my preference, though, and I recognize that 10.1 inches may be enough for a lot of people.also, the processor, a 1.66 GHz Intel Atom N450, can make things run pretty slow at times. but again, these slower processors are part of the territory when you’re getting a netbook. Expect some delays when doing more complex things like streaming video.A 2-megapixel Webcam is included on the Mini 5102 and it provides clear images of the people with whom you speak. I had an issue with the people I called not being able to hear me well, but HP said it has implemented a hardware fix and that problem has been solved. The Webcam can also be used to log you on to your computer, and even some websites, by recognizing your face.as far as software, HP includes the Corel Home Office Suite, which allows for creation and editing of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint-compatible files. also, HP QuickSync helps automate syncing e-mail, bookmarks, and files between the Mini 5102 and another computer, something that will be helpful if it’s used as a companion computer. HP QuickWeb and QuickLook are included, and let you check basic contacts or browse the Web without a full Windows boot-up, in case you’re in a hurry.Battery life was average, but HP offers a battery upgrade for just $25 that will improve the performance … and I would recommend that because it pays for itself since you’ll be charging the machine less.there are a lot of other options available on the Mini 5102, including the mobile broadband and a touchscreen option, but be aware that the more you add to the computer the more you will pay. And those numbers can add up quickly.The base cost of the HP Mini 5102 is $399 (or $424 with the better battery) and you can customize to your heart’s content.  also, you may want to consider the newer HP Mini 5103, an almost identical netbook with a few changes in styling and better processor specs (the 5103 features a dual core Atom N550 processor).With the 5103 model’s release,  a little Web searching shows the 5102’s price has already started dipping lower into the 300s on some sites, making it even more of a deal.You can either go for a deal on the 5102, or go with the 5103, pay a little more and get the latest (and faster) model.The bottom line: If you want a companion PC to take with you on the go, and are on a budget, the HP Mini 5102 and 5103 are among the better options you have on the market. The limited size and speed eliminates their ability to function as a main, all-in-one computer for most people, but if you’re on the go and want to be able to get online and access your files, they serve that purpose well.Matt Myftiu can be reached at matt.myftiu@oakpress.com or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime” to see the latest technology news and reviews. On the WebFor more information, visit hp.com.

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