Most netbooks are designed to be cheap and portable above all else. As such, most netbooks are made of cheap and have inexpensive and often tiny keyboards that aren’t really designed to stand up to a lot of wear and tear. And then there’s HP’s line of netbooks designed for business and education customers.
These netbooks tend to cost more than their consumer-oriented counterparts. But they also have premium features including faster hard drives, metal cases, and higher quality keyboards. HP’s first netbook, the HP 2133 Mini-Note fell into this category, as did the HP Mini 2140, 5101, and most recently, the HP Mini 5102.
In some ways the HP Mini 5102 ups the game by offering an Intel Atom Pine Trail processor and a whole slew of options that you won’t find on most netbooks including an optional touchscreen, Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator, HD display, and a choice of operating systems ranging from SUSE Linux to Windows 7 Professional.
But even the base model has features that set this netbook apart from the competition, including a speedy 7200rpm hard drive, an accelerometer that shuts off the hard drive in the eventof a fall, and a sturdy magnesium alloy chassis. That netbook also has HP’s Durakey finish on the keyboard, which HP says will prevent the lettering on the keys from wearing off. And you also get HP’s QuickSync software which lets you synchronize your files with another PC, which is helpful if you’re picking up the HP Mini 5102 to use primarily as a secondary machine.
These extra features come at a price. While some PC makers are selling netbooks for $300 or less, the cheapest configuration of the HP Mini 5102 costs $415. And if you want to add bells and whistles like the touchscreen, HD display, or an optional handle, the price can easily double.
But if you’re looking for a durable netbook for use on business trips or in a classroom environment and don’t care about the fact that virtually all Intel Atom powered netbooks are pretty much the same in terms of performance, then the HP Mini 5102 might be worth a look. While it’s aimed at consumers, the HP Mini 5102 is available for anyone to purchase from the HP Small Business web site.
The demo unit HP sent me to review features a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, Windows 7 Professional, and a 10.1 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel touchscreen display. It also has 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 wireless.
FYI, this review is rather lengthy. If you want to cut to the chase, you can skip to the end for a video review.
The HP Mini 5102 is the first business netbook from HP to come in a variety of colors. You can pick it up with a red, blue, or black case, although the keyboard, touchpad, screen bezel, and bottom of the PC are black no matter which color you choose.
These color options add to the price of the netbook, but they give the netbook a distinctive look. The HP Mini 5101 which was released last year looks almost identical to the 5102, but that model is only available in black.
The netbook features a magnesium alloy chassis that’s just about as light weight as the plastic cases found on most netbooks. But it feels much sturdier. The lid has a brushed metal texture with the HP logo placed in the center.
Although I’ve found that it’s not impossible to leave fingerprints and smudges on the lid, it’s much more resistant to this kind of messiness than the typical netbook.
Overall, the HP Mini 5102 is a bit bulky looking, and while the corners of the netbook are rounded, the edges are a bit sharp, giving the netbook a boxy look. I suppose it’s a matter of opinion whether this makes the netbook look more professional… or just bigger than consumer oriented models such as the HP Mini 210.
The bottom of the netbook features a single access panel for replacing or upgrading the RAM. As with the HP Mini 5101, doing this with the HP Mini 5102 is a snap, since there are no screws to remove.
You simply push the two switches holding the battery in place to remove the battery. Then push them again and the RAM access panel door pops open.
Speaking of the battery, the HP Mini 5102 battery features a built-in battery gauge. Just press and hold a button and a series of lights will brighten giving you an idea of how much juice is left in the battery. This works whether the battery is removed from the computer or plugged in.
Around the sides of the computer you’ll find 3 USB ports, a VGA port, Ethernet jack, mic and headphone jacks, and an SDHC card slot.
At the front of the computer there’s a switch that you can slide to toggle the netbooks wireless modules on and off.
And above the keyboard there’s a power button and two dedicated shortcut keys for launching the default web browser and email applications. You can also use these buttons to launch HP’s quick start software that lets you load a web browser or email app without first waiting for Windows to boot.
Some of the design elements that make the HP Mini 5102 stand out from the netbook crowd aren’t visible. For instance, there’s the 7200rpm hard drive, which is significantly faster than the 5400rpm hard drives found in most netbooks. HP also offers a high performance solid state disk option for the HP Mini 5102, although that configuration option drives up the price dramatically.
The netbook also features an accelerometer and HP’s DriveGuard technology which shuts off the hard drive in the event of a fall to help reduce damage and data loss.
One thing I should probably point out is that the netbook fan is rather noisy. Most netbooks have fans that run at least some of the time in order to keep the unit from overheating. But some are noisier than others, and while I wouldn’t say I had trouble hearing myself think while using the HP Mini 5102, I did notice that when using the netbook in a very quiet room, it was hard to miss the sound of the fan.
The HP Mini 5102 is available with several display options. The standard model has a 10.1 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel screen. You can also get a high definition 1366 x 768 pixel panel.
The demo unit HP sent me has a 10.1 inch, 1024 x 600 capacitive multitouch display. There’s no option for an HD touchscreen screen.
The touchscreen display is a little thicker than the standard display, so the review unit I received is a little thicker than other HP Mini 5102 models. But that’s the price you pay for the ability to poke at the screen and actually have it respond.
Because my demo unit shipped with Windows 7 Professional instead of Windows 7 Starter Edition, it included a number of touch-friendly features. For instance, in order to simulate a right-click action, you just tap and hold the screen for a moment until a circle shows up around your finger.
You can access Windows 7 Jump Lists by tapping an icon in the taskbar and dragging it. And when you’re using Internet Explorer 7, you can scroll up and down in web pages by dragging anywhere on the display — you don’t need to rely on the thin scrollbar on the edge of the browser.
Unfortunately you can’t navigate in Firefox, Google Chrome, or other browsers the same way unless you install third party plugins.
HP went with a capacitive multitouch display, which means the screen picks up electrical impulses from your fingertips. This means you can’t use a stylus or your fingernail with the display. You have to use a fingertip.
The screen recognizes two inputs, which means you can draw two lines at once, or perform multitouch gestures such as pinching to zoom or twisting an image to rotate it.
Overall I found the touchscreen to be quite responsive. The colors looked a little less vibrant than 10 inch displays on netbooks without touchscreens. But that’s not surprising. But here’s my biggest complaint with the touchscreen: It’s kind of pointless.
The problem is that there’s no way to use the HP Mini 5102 as a tablet style device. While other netbooks such as the Asus Eee PC T101MT or Gigabyte TouchNote T1028X have screens that you can rotate 180 degrees and fold down over the keyboard, the HP Mini 5102 is just a standard laptop-style netbook. Adding a touchscreen display doesn’t change that.
You can’t easily hold it in one hand while jotting notes with the other. Instead, you’re expected to spend your time typing on the keyboard and then reaching your hand up to poke at the screen to perform some actions — but it’s much simpler to simply shift your hands down a few inches to use the touchpad.
The capacitive display is also less than ideal for making handwritten notes. There’s no palm rejection technology, which means that if you rest your palm on the display while using your finger to write, you’ll most likely confuse the system and end up writing gibberish.
But this point is kind of moot since you’re probably not going to place your palm on a display that rests above the keyboard. The truth is, it’s just not comfortable to write on this display and I’m not entirely sure why anyone would choose to configure the HP Mini 5102 with a touchscreen.
Keyboard and Touchpad
HP adds its DuraKey finish to the HP Mini 5102 keyboard. The company claims this makes the keys 50 times more durable and that it should prevent the lettering from wearing out after a year or two as it does on some netbooks.
Since I was only able to test the HP Mini 5102 for a few weeks, I can’t really comment on that. But what I can tell you is that the chiclet-style keyboard is well laid out and very easy to type on.
The flat keys provide you with a decent amount of surface area, while the spaces in between the keys are large enough to keep touch typists from accidentally hitting the wrong key. I was able to tap out about 100 words per minute in a typing test, which is a slightly better than average score for me.
As with most notebooks and netbooks, there’s simply not enough space on the keyboard for every button you could ever want. So HP doubles up some keys and adds a Fn button. But while most netbooks require you to hit the Fn plus another key in order to adjust the volume, brightness, and other settings, the default behavior for the Fn key row is to use these features.
For example, hitting F3 and F4 adjusts the screen brightness up or down. If you want to actually trigger an F3 or F4 function, you need to hold down the Fn key. You can adjust this behavior in the BIOS menu, but to be honest, how often do you need to hit the F3 and F4 keys? It probably makes more sense to leave things this way unless you spend a lot of time hitting the F11 shortcut to set your web browser to full screen mode.
The touchpad has separate left and right buttons, which is something of a rarity on modern netbooks. I wish more netbook makers would realize that it’s easier to use this sort of a button layout.
The touchpad itself has a smooth, glassy finish. While I kind of liked this finish when I tested the HP Mini 5101 last year, for some reason it got on my nerves after a while this time around. I think that’s because I’ve spent a lot of time using touchpads with rougher textures that provide more friction recently. Your tastes may vary.
The touchpad does not support multitouch gestures, but there’s a scrolling section near the right edge that you can use to scroll up and down in a web browser or other apps.
One of the differences between the HP Mini 5102 and most netbooks is that even the cheapest models in this line ship with a 7200rpm hard drive. Most netbooks have slower 5400rpm hard drives, while some have shipped with 4200rpm HDDs.
But the truth is, the faster hard drive just doesn’t make much of a difference. I’m pretty sure that if you spent a few hundred bucks extra for the optional 80GB solid state disk you’d see an improvement. But in my tests, the only area where the HP Mini 5101 was faster than other Intel Atom based computers was in copying files and folders.
The HP Mini 5102 was actually one of the slowest netbooks I’ve ever tested when it came to transcoding audio and video files. In fact, it took nearly 10 minutes to transcode a 4:33 video file on the HP Mini 5102. The same task took just 7.5 minutes on an Asus Eee PC 1001P and just over 7 minutes on a Dell Inspiron Mini 10.
But to be fair, you’re probably not going to spend a lot of time performing CPU-intensive tasks like transcoding video on an Intel Atom powered netbook. A machine with an Intel CULV processor can transcode the same video file in less than half the time and is a far better choice if you’re looking for a low power computer with more number crunching capabilities.
In day to day use, the HP Mini 5102 was able to hold its own. The demo unit I reviewed also came with a Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator. This isn’t a dedicated video card and won’t help with 3D graphics performance. But it does help the netbook decode high definition video including Flash video. This makes it possible to watch 720p and 1080p local content. HD Flash video is supposed to be supported as well, but when I tried watching some 720p movie trailers from YouTube, I felt like I was looking at a slideshow instead of a video. Future software updates might address this problem.
The computer also easily handled basic multitasking such as surfing the web with 5 or more browser tabs open while listening to music.
I was able to get about 6 hours of run time out of the HP Mini 5102 while surfing the web with the screen brightness set to about 50 percent. This included watching a few short YouTube videos, but if you want to use the machine for continuous video playback, don’t expect the battery to last quite as long.
The review unit featured a 6 cell, 66Whr battery. The base model comes with a lower capacity 4 cell, 29Whr battery which should provide about half the run time. I should point out that HP says the 6 cell battery should be good for up to 10 hours. It’s possible that the touchscreen display on my demo unit ate into the battery life, so you might have better results if you get a unit with a standard display.
As I mentioned above, the other cool feature of the battery is that it has a built-in battery gauge. When you press and hold the button a series of blue LEDs will light up to provide you with an indication of how much power is left.
There are a lot of things to like about the HP Mini 5102. It’s attractive, durable, has an excellent keyboard, and premium features including a faster hard drive and HP’s DriveGuard technology to help protect it. But the mini-laptop is also much more expensive than most consumer oriented netbooks. Prices start at $415 and you can easily double that by choosing some of the more obscure options.
Is this netbook worth $415? Yeah, I’d say that it really is, despite the fact that it actually underperformed in my CPU benchmarks. But it’s definitely not the cheapest model around, and if price is more important to you than durability, then the HP Mini 5102 might not be your best option.
It’s also worth pointing out that the $415 Smart Buy model comes with a 4 cell battery. Upgrading to a 6 cell battery requires either choosing the $659 Smart Buy option or building a custom configuration, which automatically add ups the base price to $518 — and that’s before you add the higher capacity battery.
Ultimately, the HP Mini 5102 is aimed at business and education customers, and to get the best pricing you’re going to want to go through those channels — see if you can get your office IT manager to contact HP.
Finally, while I appreciate the option to configure the HP Mini 5102 with a touchscreen, I’m honestly a little baffled as to why you would want this option. I just didn’t find any real use in having a touchscreen without the option to fold the laptop into tablet mode and if it weren’t for the fact that I was doing my best to put the netbook through the paces, I’m not sure I would have spent much time using the touchscreen at all.
Here’s a brief video review that should give you an idea of what the touchscreen is — and isn’t — good for: