Now that HP has officially announced the 2133 Mini-Note PC, I’d like to discuss why I don’t believe it will succeed like the ASUS Eee PC has. Note that since I don’t have a unit in my possession, I can only base my analysis on what the initial reviews have observed. (By all means, if HP wants to send me a sample to review, I’d be more than happy to do so…) For reference, the Notebook Review article is what I’ll be speaking to mostly.
I previously wrote about the HP 2133 mini-notebook back when it was but a rumor in the blogosphere. I touched on some key points it aimed to address, namely screen size, keyboard usability, and battery life. By combining these three improvements with what the Eee PC does well, I reckoned it could be a very compelling choice in the sub-notebook space, assuming appropriate pricing. It looks like HP’s nailed two of the problems, completely missed the third and added a few issues of its own along the way.
Screen and Keyboard
Let’s talk about the good things first – the screen and the keyboard. There will be people who dislike the WXGA resolution display (1280×800) on a relatively small 8.9″ display, but I think it’s great. That’s a ton of real estate – the same as most mainstream widescreen laptops these days, which means you’re really not sacrificing much, despite having a much smaller chassis and display. The keyboard is also significantly larger than what the Eee PC has, advertised as 92% of the regular size (although there’s some weirdness going on with the number keys). These two key improvements over the 7″ Eee PC could make the 2133 a significantly more useful productivity tool. That is until you reach the next couple points.
The Steve Ballmer
Battery life, battery life, battery life. Battery life, battery life, battery life. (Imagine me saying that while dancing on a stage if you like.) You cannot make a small, portable, mini-laptop, touting it as the mobile internet browsing, email writing machine and then give it about 2 hours of battery life. That’s what the reviewers are getting on the 3 cell default battery (productivity work gives anywhere between 2 and 2.5 hours). Granted the review samples are running Vista, which isn’t exactly the most efficient system, but if you’re selling them in that configuration, make sure it works well. Upping the battery to the 6 cell (55Whr) makes it awkwardly thick towards the rear and brings the weight up to over 3.2lbs, making the whole ‘just toss it into your bag‘ proposition go out the window. And even then, the 4-4.5 hours of battery life isn’t anything to brag about. The Dell XPS M1330 I’m typing this on gets close to 4 hours of productivity battery life on the standard 6 cell (56Whr). How does a 8.9″ display, an ULV VIA C7-M processor, and integrated graphics consume almost as much power as a standard voltage Core 2 Duo, a discrete 8400M GS video card, and a 13.3″ LED backlit panel?
VIA As a Scapegoat
Many people are blaming the CPU, a VIA C7-M ULV ranging from 1.0GHz to 1.6GHz, for almost all of the machine’s problems. I don’t believe this to be the case. However, it may very well be the cause of one problem – performance. Typically performance would be a non-issue for laptops in this category. The ASUS Eee PC wasn’t designed for number crunching, but at least internet performance was fluid. Based on Notebook Review, the tasks the HP 2133 was designed for, internet usage and productivity, are somewhat hindered by sluggish performance.
On paper the 1.6GHz VIA C7-M processor should provide excellent speed for general computing tasks. In reality, web pages rendered slower than expected, multi-tasking was painfully slow, and most processor-hungry applications like Photoshop or video encoding software just didn’t like the VIA processor. – NBR
I’m not worried about Photoshop or encoding performance, but web page rendering and multitasking issues? With the reviewed system being the absolute top-of-line 2133 (1.6GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, 160GB 7200RPM hard drive), it should eat up multitasking with ease. Slower than expected web page rendering is appalling. Whether these issues can be chalked up to Vista remains to be seen (hopefully some testing with the SuSE Linux version will show a different outcome), but regardless, as I mentioned above, the out-of-box experience is what most people will end up having and it’s not looking good. In addition, heat dissipation seems to be a problem, and for a laptop that’s very portable, having the fan constantly running and the bottom of the chassis heating up to close to 50C are not conducive to classroom use or use on one’s lap.
Temperatures in Fahrenheit. Courtesy of Notebook Review.
One reason HP may have decided to go with the VIA platform is the upcoming Isaiah processor. It looks like it could be very well suited for the mini-laptop design, and being pin compatible, it should be a simple switch over for HP when it becomes available. In the meantime, the top-end 2133 will be stuck with a processor that performs similarly or worse than the 900MHz Celeron M in the Eee PC. I don’t even want to think about what the user experience would be like with the 1.0GHz C7-M for the $499 version.
Pricing is out-of-line
Add that all up and we come down the price. The starting $499 price isn’t bad, until you consider the $399 Eee PC will vastly outperform it and weight half a pound less. If you can wait for the 8.9″ version of the Eee PC, you’ll get a similar sized display as well (albeit at a lower resolution). When you start moving up the 2133 price chain, things get expensive awfully fast, with $50 more giving you a 1.2GHz, 1GB RAM, and a 120GB HDD. the $749 model gets you a 1.6GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, and a 120GB 7200RPM drive. The samples reviewed by most sites included a 160GB 7200RPM drive, which will add even more to the price. When you consider the laptop from a performance point of view, it’s an abysmal price proposition. At the top end of its price range, I’d imagine even something like the $999CAD XPS M1330 would start to enter into the equation, with similar battery life to the 6-cell 2133 and about a pound heavier, but sporting a full Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, and a 160GB hard drive, not to mention other features.
The Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario for the HP 2133 Mini-Note currently being reviewed would be that the power management system isn’t functional. That would explain things like the heat dissipation and poor battery life. I’ve asked the reviewer at Notebook Review to confirm that the expected power saving features (such as downclocking the CPU and/or voltage) are working, but I haven’t heard back yet. The nicely designed shell and gorgeous screen and keyboard are more than offset by failing at the one the thing it’s designed to be, a mobile, internet browsing and productivity machine. Without some serious changes, it’ll be but a pretty face.