I’ve mentioned a few times that there’s one major problem with the HP Mini-Note’s display: It’s almost too sharp. While the 7 inch 800 x 480 pixel display on the Eee PC is a bit too small to hold full web pages or some applications, the Mini-Note has the opposite problem. It’s 1280 x 768 display is amazingly crisp. But when you put a display that sharp on an 8.9 inch screen, the text is so tiny that you have to hold the computer a few inches from your eyes to read anything.
Once you’ve changed the DPI, you can also adjust the Windows system font size and choose whether to use small or large desktop icons. These settings are accessible by right-clicking the desktop again, choosing the appearances tab, and selecting the font size and clicking Effects to change the icon size.
But while these changes will help with the windows system fonts including program toolbar menus, and desktop shortcuts, they don’t help make web pages any easier to read. For that, you need a web browser with a built in text zoom feature, or better yeat, full page zooming.
My first thought was to use Opera as my primary browser on the Mini-Note. The Opera web browser not only lets you zoom in and out of web pages (as opposed to just making the text or images larger or smaller), but it also lets you set a default zoom rate. In other words, if you want every single page to open up at 130% its normal size all the time, you can do that. While Internet Explorer 7 packs a full page zoom feature, there’s no way to change the default zoom level. Plus, when you zoom in on some pages, IE7 doesn’t scale the text to fit the window, but instead adds a scrollbar to the bottom of the scren, which is annoying as all get out.
But I already knew I’d have one problem with Opera: It doesn’t work with Blogsmith, the web publishing tool we use for Download Squad, TV Squad, Green Daily, and other Weblogs Inc web sites. I tend to keep Blogsmith open in a window all day, which is why I haven’t seriously considered making the switch to Opera full time before. But I figured I could just load Blogsmith in Firefox or Internet Explorer and use Opera for everything else. And then I realized that Opera gets horribly bogged down when you try to use Gmail or Google Reader. While this issue is annoying on my primary computer with its 1.6GHz dual core processor, it’s a deal breaker on the Mini-Note with its underpowered 1.2GHz VIA CPU. Loading Google Reader in Opera drvies CPU usage up to 100% for an unbearably long time.
So I started downloading and trying every web browser I could get my hands on, including a couple built on Internet Explorer such as Maxthon and Avant Browser. None of them met my needs, so I finally decided to turn to Firefox 3 beta 5. While I love some of the features Mozilla has packed into recent test builds of this browser, I’ve avoided it because it too has some problems with Blogsmith. The latest nightly builds showed no improvement. But the page zoom feature was excellent. And using the No Squint add-on, you can set a default zoom level just like you can with Opera. Google Reader, Gmail, and other web services load quickly and efficiently. In fact, Firefox 3 beta 5 feels significantly faster when viewing most pages than Firefox 2. Many of my old plugins don’t work anymore, but I can live without most of them.
As for the Blogsmith issues I was having, it suddenly occured to me that I could configure IETab to always load the page in an Internet Explorer tab every time. I could even set Blogsmith as my homepage if I wanted to, and every time I launch Firefox 3 beta 5, the first page that will load up will be Blogsmith – in an Internet Explorer tab tucked away inside the Firefox interace.
So now I have a super-sharp 8.9 inch screen that still allows me to read the text on pretty much any web page. If I need to see a page in its original context, I can zoom out. But this is much simpler than constantly having to zoom in. And even with the font, icon, and zoom tweaks, I can fit far more information on my Mini-Note screen at one time than I can with my Eee PC.