HP Mini 210 HD review

The HP Mini 210 HD is a small laptop that’s both stylish and a bit more capable than many other 10 inch netbooks thanks to its high resolution 1366 x 768 pixel display. HP first introduced the Mini 210 series earlier this year, but after phasing out the budget model with a lower resolution screen, the HP Mini 210 HD is all that’s left.

But with a starting price of just $330, this model isn’t exactly going to break the bank, and if you’re in the market for a 10 inch netbook there are a number of reasons to consider the HP Mini 210 HD.

On the other hand, the high resolution display is both a blessing and a curse in some cases and it may not be for everyone. The touchpad and keyboard can take a little getting used to. And the base model ships with a 3 cell battery which doesn’t provide the same kind of run time I’ve come to expect from other netbooks.

HP sent me a demo unit to review. It features a 10.1 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and integrated GMA 3150 graphics. It has 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive, 802.11b/g WiFi and Bluetooth and runs Windows 7 Starter Edition. As configured, this netbook would run $370. The base model comes with Windows XP and has a black lid.

Some models are also available with a Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator, GPS, Windows 7 Home Premium or other features, which will increase the price, but my test unit didn’t include this feature.


Design

When the lid is closed, the HP Mini 210 HD is one of the most attractive mini-laptops around. It measures just about an inch thick with a 3 cell battery and the slim design is made a bit more interesting because the lid matches the bottom.

Unlike most laptops which have a black plastic base with maybe a few vents and space for access panels, the HP Mini 210 HD has a single sheet of plastic covering the bottom, and it’s the same solid color as the lid.

While this definitely gives the netbook a distinctive look, it means there’s no space for vents on the bottom. Instead you find one on each side of the laptop, and while I’m used to hearing a little fan noise from most netbooks when the CPU kicks into high gear and the fan snaps to attention, the fan really seemed to be running most of the time I was using the Mini 210 HD. It’s not the loudest computer fan I’ve ever heard, but it is loud enough to be noticeable if you’re in a quiet room.

But back to the base plate for a second. While you might think that a solid base would make it difficult to upgrade the RAM, hard drive, or other internal components, HP has actually made the Mini 210 series one of the easiest netbooks to upgrade.

You don’t need a screwdriver at all. Just pop out the battery, press two yellow buttons hidden in the battery compartment, and you can remove the entire base panel.

It takes a little more effort to remove than you would expect, but the plastic is sturdy and odds are you won’t break anything unless you really try.

The video below shows how to remove the panel and what you’ll find once you get inside.

The netbook is available in black, white, silver, blue, red, or pink. But the sides of the laptop and the keyboard, touchpad, screen bezel, and pretty much everything that’s not the lid and base plate are black.

Around the sides of the laptop you’ll find the usual array of ports including 3 USB ports, a VGA output, Ethernet jack, and SDHC card slot. HP also placed the power button — or switch, rather, on the right side.

For some reason the HP Mini 210 HD has a combination mic/headphone jack — which works pretty well if you’re planning on using a headset to make calls over Skype. But I personally prefer separate audio jacks.

The 3 cell battery is designed to fit snugly with the back of the netbook. If you opt for the higher capacity 6 cell battery, it will jut out from the back of the netbook and extend downward a bit — which has the effect of tilting the netbook by a few degrees.

If you like your keyboard to be propped up at an angle, you may actually prefer the 6 cell battery, even if it does look a bit awkward tacked onto an otherwise very sleek netbook design. Of course, the 6 cell battery should also provide roughly twice the battery life.

Display

When you open up the laptop you’ll find one of the defining characteristics of the HP Mini 210 HD — the display. The 10.1 inch display has a fairly wide black bezel around the edge, but there’s a single piece of glass covering both the screen and bezel, to give the screen a sort of edge-to-edge look. Sort of.

The glossy display looks bright and vivid under most conditions, and the viewing angles are good, with content looking just as good from a 45 degree angle as it does when you’re staring directly at the screen.

But the thing that really sets the HP Mini 210 HD apart is the fact that the display has a native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, while most netbooks top out at 1024 x 600 pixels. This isn’t the only high definition netbook around.

The HP Mini 5102, Asus Eee PC 1005PR, and a handful of other recent netbooks also come with high-res display options. But the HP Mini 210 HD is one of the cheapest 10 inch netbooks with a high resolution screen.

The main benefit of the HD display is obvious: You can fit more on a screen. That means more text or images when you’re surfing the web. If you have programs that require additional screen real estate, ranging from Office software to audio or video editing applications, the HP Mini 210 HD provides much more screen space.

But there’s a catch. While Apple can get away with throwing a 960 x 640 pixel display on a 3.5 inch display and everything just looks better, things are a bit more complicated with Windows. In a nutshell, out of the box everything looks amazingly sharp. Almost too sharp, in fact. The text is crisp and clear — and you may have to squint to read Windows system menus or text on web sites.

You can adjust the DPI settings in Windows to make the menus, icons and other Windows settings easier to see — but then you lose part of the of benefit of the high resolution display, since these elements take up more screen real estate. And adjusting the default Windows DPI settings doesn’t necessarily adjust the settings in every third party app. For instance, when I fired up the Google Chrome web browser, the menu elements were larger after tweaking the DPI settings, but web page text and images were still very sharp.

If you find the in-app text and graphics too be squint-and-headache inducing, some apps (including most web browsers) will let you adjust your zoom level as needed. Others don’t.

Overall, I prefer my 1366 x 768 pixel screens to come on Windows computers with 11.6 inch or larger displays. But your results may vary. There’s no disputing the fact that a 10 inch netbook like the HP Mini 210 HD is smaller, lighter, and more portable than a larger machine. And to be fair, this isn’t intrinsically a problem with the display. It’s a problem with how the operating system works with high resolution displays.

That said, when I used the HP Mini 210 HD to read web pages, edit blog posts, and perform other actions, I found the extra screen real estate did make a big difference. While I had to lean close to the screen to see some items, the fact that I was able to fit significantly more material on the screen than I could with most netbooks made this mini-laptop a pleasure to use.

I should also point out that when I tested earlier Intel Atom-based laptop and desktop computers, I tended to notice that models with HD displays tended to feel more sluggish than their lower resolution counterparts. I never managed to get anyone at any major PC maker to agree with me, but a number of users noticed similar things.

But it appears that Intel has addressed this issue — whether intentionally or not. The HP Mini 210 HD has a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and GMA 3150 graphics, and I didn’t notice any of the lag I used to see on machines with high resolution displays and Atom N270/GMA 950 chips — except when it came to HD Flash video playback. You can read more about that in the Performance section.

Keyboard and TouchPad

The netbook has an island style keyboard, which means that the keys are flat and there is the little space in between each key, making it easy to type without looking down at your fingers.

There are a few quirks though. For example there are no labeled home and page up page down keys. You have to push the function key and the arrow keys in order to perform these actions, but there’s no indication on the keyboard that this is the case.

HP also makes the default behavior of the function keys at the top of the keyboard the actual functions, such as adjusting the volume, brightness, or wireless settings.

That means you have to hold down the Fn key if you actually want yo trigger an action that requires pressing something like the F11 key. But given how much more likely you are to want to hit the volume buttons than the F11 buttons anyway, it doesn’t take very long to get used to this arrangement.

Early HP Mini netbooks had buttons on the left and right side of the touchpad in order to save space on the tiny netbooks. This was a bit awkward, and eventually HP updated its design by placing the buttons below the touchpad. The HP Mini 210 takes a different approach by integrating the buttons directly into the touchpad.

This provides far more surface area for scrolling your finger over the top of the touchpad. This aids in moving the cursor or performing multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling. On the other hand, I’ve had bad experiences with this type of touchpad with integrated buttons. A common problem is that the cursor will seem to jump when you try to perform a drag-and-drop action or anything else that requires using one finger to press and another to slide.

When I first unboxed the HP Mini 210HD, it suffered from this same problem. But HP officials suggested I download the latest touchpad driver update, and it really did seem to help.

I’m still not a huge fan of this style of touchpad design, but with the latest drivers installed I didn’t have too many problems with the HP Mini 210 HD touchpad. Then again, after playing around with the touchpad for a while, I plugged in a USB mouse anyway, because I still prefer a mouse to pretty much any touchpad I’ve ever used.

Performance

The good news is that the HP Mini 210 HD is just about as fast and responsive as any 10 inch netbook with an Intel Atom processor I’ve used. The bad new is it’s no faster than others.

While the netbook is perfectly capable of running most PC apps including office software, web browsers, or casual games it struggles with Flash video. And I don’t just mean HD Flash video. When I went to YouTube to watch a few movie trailers I wasn’t surprised that 720p and 1080p HD videos looked like photo slideshows.

What I was surprised to notice was that even 360p and 480p standard definition movies looked bad when you blew them up to full screen — although they looked fine in windowed mode.

If you plan to watch a lot of web video in full screen mode, you’re probably going to want to spend the extra $40 to pick up this netbook with the Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator installed. This card isn’t a full-fledged graphics processor, but it can decode HD video, taking some of the strain off of the processor and integrated graphics.

While Flash video playback wasn’t perfect, I had no problems playing a 720p HD WMV video from the hard drive. 1080p videos, on the other hand stuttered a bit.

HP also loads the Mini 210 HD with a quick-boot operating system called HP QuickWeb. Basically this lets you open a web browser, media player, or a handful of other apps within a few seconds of hitting the power button on your computer. But if you typically put your Windows computers to sleep instead of completely shutting down, QuickWeb doesn’t really save you any time. You can disable the application using the HP QuickWeb Configuration Tool in Windows.

Battery

HP offers 3 and 6 cell battery options. The unit I tested came with a 3 cell battery, which ran for just under 3 hours while I used the netbook to surf the web, do some writing, and watch one 5 minute video.

Your results may vary, but if you need more than 180 minutes of battery life, you might want to either invest in the 6 cell battery or consider using your netbook with the backlight on its lowest setting and the WiFi turned off.

Verdict

The HP Mini 210 HD is an attractive little computer with decent performance and an excellent display. What’s more, this may be the first time I’ve used a netbook and decided not to hold its integrated touchpad buttons against it.

Don’t get me wrong — I would really like the HP Mini 210 HD a lot more if it had separate left and right buttons. But the experience of using the touchpad wasn’t that bad, and I’m giving HP a lot of credit for producing a 10 inch netbook with a high resolution display and a relatively low starting price.

That said, I personally find the HP Mini 210 HD to be too sharp at times. I’m also underwhelmed with the way the base model handles Flash video playback. If you’re looking for a 10 inch netbook with a 1366 x 768 pixel display this may be one of the cheapest options around, but you should really consider spending the extra $40 on a Broadcom Crystal HD video decoder if you think you’re going to spend any time watching web video in full screen.

It’s also worth noting that there are a number of 11.6 inch and 12.1 inch notebooks available which aren’t all that much bigger than the HP Mini 210 HD and which don’t weigh much more. They have the same screen resolution and the advantage of larger keyboards and displays that won’t give you a headache when you look at them too long. On the other hand, machines such as the Dell Inspiron M101z, Lenovo ThinkPad X100e, or Asus UL20FT all come with a higher starting price.

The HP Mini 210 HD is available from HP.com for $329.99 and up.

You can check out a brief video review of the HP Mini 210 HD below, featuring a look at how the laptop handles YouTube video playback.

  • Thekreal

    good review, I have yet to find a review of the Hp Mini 210 with the 2G, HD accelerator, as well as the Hard drive upgrade & N card with Blue tooth. I want to see those video test results with the souped up model. I think it should be able to handle full screen HD. I hope so. Mine is being built. Very good review, best of the several I have seen.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MWNQUH3AJAI2377B3DDM4KNMDQ Lee Sky

    Your results may vary, but if you need more than 180 minutes of battery life, you might want to either invest in the 6 cell battery or consider using your netbook with the backlight on its lowest setting and the WiFi turned off. there is another solution, buy a high capacity spare laptop battery, just go batteryexpress.org.uk find out what you want

  • http://twitter.com/mjgraves mjgraves

    Excellent review! I presently carry the Mini 5102. I find that the HD display & 90% keyboard redefined my relationship with my netbook. It made it profoundly more useful than even the Mini 2140 that I had previously.

    The 10″ form factor remains ideal for the road warrior who commonly suffers through coach class seats on aircraft, but the HD display heralded a return to productivity.

    I custom ordered my 5102 when they were new for a whopping $700! That was without the Crystal video option. I was a little disappointed with the video playback capabilities. However, your earlier post (http://www.liliputing.com/2010/07/habey-sells-t…) notes that the Crystal decoder is offered aftermarket for only $50, which I may yet order.

    The Mini 210 HD looks like just what I was after in the 5102, but at a lower price point.

  • PC

    I have a Dell Mini 10 (1010) with the 1366×768 screen. It took a while to get used to it after having used the 1024×600 or 1024×576 screens, but it was crisp and readable.

    Yes, as you noted with the HP, it did seem more sluggish than the same model with the standard definition screen.

    Regarding the HP Mini 210 models, I don’t like HP removing the Home/End/PgUp/PgDn key labels. How much trouble would it have been to do the same as it did with the function key labels? Also, I wonder if there is a setting in the BIOS to toggle the function key response between function and F-key as on the Dells?

    A thorough review as always, Brad!