The HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition netbook is thin, light, and cheap. But it has one of the best keyboards found on any netbook, and a unique operating system based on Ubuntu Linux that sets it apart from the crowd.
The Mi Edition interface is designed for users who aren’t familiar with Linux, and may not be familiar with computers at all. And for the most part, HP got things right, but there are a few quirks. Fortunately, power users can still pull up a root terminal and add their own applications.
HP lets you choose the screen size, storage capacity, and RAM. The model reviewed here has a 10.1 inch display, 1GB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive, and 802.11b/g WiFi with Bluetooth. This configuration sells for about $435, but you can pick up a basic model with an 8.9 inch display, 512MB of RAM, and an 8GB SSD for $280.
The hardware is identical to the HP Mini 1000 with Windows XP I reviewed a few months ago, so the bulk of this review will focus on the software.
I don’t want to dwell on the hardware, since this computer is virtually indistinguishable for the HP Mini 1000 with Windows XP until you hit the power button. But just to recap, there are a lot of things to like about the physical layout of the HP Mini 1000 series of netbooks. Every model has a large, nearly full-sized keyboard. And the netbook is super thin and light, measuring just 1 inch thick, and weighing just 2.25 pounds.
But HP has made some compromises to keep the size and weight down. For instance, there are only 2 USB ports, instead of the usual 3 found on most netbooks. HP is using a 1.8″ hard drive instead of a 2.5″ disk, and the highest capacity offered is 60GB. And instead of a VGA port, HP has put a proprietary video output that’s useless unless you purchase an adapter from HP.
The HP Mini 1000 also has a glossy screen, with glass that extends to the edge of the computer lid. That makes the entire display area a magnet for fingerprints. The computer also tends to reflect light when used in bright settings, which is great if you need a mirror and want to check to see if something is stuck in your teeth. It’s not so great if you’re trying to do some reading outdoors.
The HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition’s operating system is based on Ubuntu Linux. But rather than use the default Ubuntu, Kubuntu, or Xubuntu desktops, or the Ubuntu Netbook Remix interface, HP designed its own Home Screen. When you first boot your computer, this is what you see.
In the center you have a search bar and a bookmark toolbar and 4 user customizable thumbnail previews for the web sites you visit most often. For the most part, this section is awesome. For people who treat their computers as a web browser with a keyboard, this is practically like being presented with your web browser upon startup. Just type a URL or a search term in the search box and hit enter, and Firefox will launch within seconds, displaying your web page or search results.
The items on the left and right side of the home screen are a bit less useful unless you use your computer exactly the way HP intends. And they’re not easily customizable. For instance, on the left side of the screen you’ll see previews of your email messages — if you use choose to use Thunderbird to manage your email. And on the right you’ll see thumbnail previews for the last three songs you’ve listened to or photos you’ve viewed. And that would be great if the HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition were a multimedia-centered machine. But it has relatively quiet speakers, and the cheapest models come with just 8GB of storage, not exactly enough space to store a ton of multimedia files. I find I rarely use anything on the home screen except for the browser-oriented tools. Your results may vary.
And as for the browser tools, for some reason HP has set Yahoo! as the default search engine. If you want to change it to Google, you have to take the following cumbersome steps:
- Click the settings link in the upper right hand corner of the Home Screen
- Click the Advanced Tab
- Select Customize Settings
- Select Advanced
- Add the Configuration Editor
- Launch the Configuration Editor from the advanced settings menu
- Navigate to apps > harbour-launcher > search_url
- Change the value to http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=”%s”
- Hit OK
Whew. Now when you enter text and hit the search button, your default search engine should be Google. Thanks for Brandon from Just Another Mobile Monday for that tip. But seriously, HP what’s up with that?
Incidentally, when you type something in the search box and hit enter, rather than conducting a search, the software will assume you were typing a URL and attempt to open a web page. You can change this by changing the web_browser_command line to /usr/bin/firefox -url “http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%s” using the same configuration editor tool.
Program launcher and taskbar modifications
At the bottom of the Home Screen, you’ll also see a list of running applications. You can bring up this list from any window by hitting Alt+Tab or by clicking on the little icon in the center of the area where you would normally expect to see a taskbar, dock or panel. It looks like this:
And the task switcher looks a little something like this:
This task switcher gives you large icons with descriptive text explaining which apps are running. It’s a lot easier to decipher than the tiny icons you’ll find in the Windows taskbar or OS X dock, and an HP representative tells me that’s why HP decided to use this task switcher in lieu of a more traditional taskbar. There’s just one problem: There’s no way to see at a glance which programs are running or trying to send you notifications without taking user action. For instance, if you’re in Firefox, but you have the Pidgin instant messenger open in another window and someone sends you a new message, you won’t see anything flashing anywhere on the screen to let you know about the incoming message.
I could understand HP’s decision to use the task switcher instead of the taskbar if it helped you regain some precious real estate on the computer’s low resolution display. But it doesn’t. The bottom of most windows is still filled up with status icons as well as the task switcher icon and an HP icon that will take you back to the home screen.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather see running program icons down there.
When you click the Start New Program button, an application launcher pops up. It’s similar to the Ubuntu Netbook Remix program launcher or the ones found in the Asus Eee PC version of Xandros or the version of Linpus Linux Lite user on Acer Aspire One netbooks. Applications are divided into the following categories: Internet, Media, Utilities, Work, Play, and All. Each tab has icons and text describing programs in plain English. For example, “Instant Messenger” is written in large text over the Pidgin icon, while “Pidgin” shows up in small text near the bottom of the link. The web browser, which is basically Firefox, is just described as “Internet” and “Web Browser”
As application launchers go, it gets the job done. When you add new applications using the add/remove programs utility, they should show up in one of the tabs. But it feels like it takes more clicks than necessary to launch a program. If you’re in an application like Firefox, you need to first click the icon at the bottom of the screen, then click Start New Program, and then locate your application in the program launcher.
You can also pull up a file manager or the settings menu by clicking the Files or Settings links that show up in the upper right hand corner of the Home Screen and program launcher screens.
This is where you’ll find options to adjust the time and date, modify your network settings, or add and remove applications. There’s also a system monitor which you can use to track your system resources or to kill runaway processes.
HP has preloaded a number of popular applications including the Firefox web browser, Pidgin instant messaging client (which will let you chat with people using AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, and several other service), and OpenOffice.org for creating and editing text, spreadsheet, and presentation documents.
There’s also a media center application suite called HP MediaStyle, which is based on the open source Elisa media player. It provides a full screen interface for browsing and playing music, videos, and photo slideshows.
Because HP is targeting users who aren’t familiar with computers, the company has made three rather odd adjustments to the Firefox web browser. First, while HP has no problem calling the Pidgin instant messenger app by its proper name, it simply refers to Firefox as “web browser.” Second, the update feature has been disabled, which means there’s no simple way to install security updates for Firefox. Update: As has been pointed out in the comments, Firefox updates are handled by the package manager. About a week after this review was published, Firefox 3.0.6 became available as an update to Firefox 3.0.4, which came with the system.
And third, there’s an add-on called “HP Tabbed Browsing Customizations.” This add-on basically makes it so that there’s at least one tab showing all the time, even if you only have a single web page open. This takes up unnecessary screen real estate, but an HP rep tells me the idea was that some users could find it confusing if the tab bar appears and disappears, so HP wanted to make sure it was always visible. This is the same way Internet Explorer 7 handles tabs.
As mentioned above, you can add a number of other applications through the add/remove utility in the settings area. And HP doesn’t like to advertise this fact, but you can also access a whole world of software that’s not available through the add/remove utility by hitting Alt+F2 on your keyboard and entering “sudo synaptic” (without the quotes) and pressing enter.
The Ubuntu Synaptic package manager will pop up, letting you install any available program that’s been compiled for Ubuntu using the LPIA architecture (for some reason HP is using the LPIA architecture instead of the i386 architecture. This means if you find an application on a web site that says you can install it in Ubuntu by downloading and running a .deb file, it most likely won’t run on the HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition without a little elbow grease).
You can also use that Alt+F2 trick to launch any application by typing its name in the box. And if you like working with Linux terminal commands, you can type “gnome-terminal” to bring up a terminal window.
The HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition can handle most of the tasks you’d expect to throw at it without complaining. It has a capable web browser, does a good job with multimedia playback, and once I installed the GIMP image editor, I found that I could crop, resize, and compress images in no time flat. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing serious video editing on any netbook, including the Mi Edition, but I’m fairly certain that if you threw an open source video editor on here you could get some work done… slowly.
But I found that many programs were a little less responsive than I would have liked. The computer seems a bit laggy when you have multiple programs open, or even more than 3 or 4 tabs in Firefox. When I had Windows XP installed on this very same machine, it was able to handle multitasking duties and web browsing with multiple tabs much more smoothly.
Web video from YouTube and Hulu played smoothly. But when I try watching a Hulu video in full screen mode, playback is choppy. On the bright side, Flash comes preloaded, so you don’t need to download and install anything to start watching online video.
I don’t have a good battery testing utility for Linux computers. But I’ve found that I get about 2.5 to 3 hours of battery life when using the netbook to surf the web with the backlight at its medium setting. If you want more juice, HP plans to make a 6 cell battery available soon, but it’s one of the least attractive extended netbook batteries I’ve ever seen, so if looks matter, you might want to stick with the 3 cel battery or opt for another netbook altogether.
The HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition also has a rather bafflingly imprecise battery meter. A picture is worth a few words here, so how close would you say a battery would have to be to dying to display an image like this?
While it looks like this computer should be at death’s door, that’s what my power meter looked like when I still had 29% of my battery life left to burn through.
The computer takes about a minute to boot and 15 seconds to shut down, which is decent but not stellar. But sleep and resume is another story. When you close the lid, the computer goes to sleep in just about 7 seconds, and it resumes about 5 or 6 seconds after you open the lid. It takes another few seconds for it to find available wireless connections, but resuming from sleep is still far faster than waiting for the computer to perform a cold boot.
There are a lot of things to like about the HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition. The keyboard is excellent, and the device is one of the thinnest and lightest machines you’ll find for less than $500. And I think HP has done a better job than any other company to date of releasing a netbook with a user friendly version of Linux for users who have never used Ubuntu or another Linux distribution before. The user interface feels almost more like a cellphone interface than a computer operating system. And that makes launching, installing, and using programs less daunting. But I think it will also keep many customers from using this device to its full potential.
For instance, I’ve found the netbook to be excellent for blogging from coffee shops, but only after installing the GIMP image editor using the Synaptic Package Manager. Unfortunately HP doesn’t provide any easy to find links to the Synaptic Package Manager, s0 most users would be left struggling to find an image editing application in the add/remove programs window. Of course, you could also use a web-based image editing application like Picnik or Fotoflexer. But since it’s possible to install GIMP, it’s kind of annoying that it’s more difficult to do than it needs to be.
If you’re looking for an ultraportable laptop that you plan to use primarily for surfing the web and checking your email, the HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition could certainly fit the bill. With a starting price around $280 as of today, it’s certainly one of the cheapest netbooks available. But if you need a computer that can watch internet video in full screen, handle multiple tasks without slowing down, or let you know when you have an incoming IM message, you might want to opt for the Windows XP version of the HP Mini 1000. Or you could buy the lower cost Mi Edition netbook and try installing a different Linux distribution or another operating system.
You can read more about the HP Mini 1000 in the Liliputing Product Database. If you want to try out the Mi Edition software without buying an HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition, you can find our instructions for running Mi Edition from a USB flash drive.
And you can purchase the HP Mini 1000 from the links below:
- HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition – 1.60GHz; 512MB Memory; 8GB – Solid State HD; Linux – $279.99
- HP Mini 1000 Mi Edition – 1.60 GHz; 60GB HD; 1GB Memory; – $434.99
- HP Mini 1000 Notebook – 512MB Memory, 8GB Solid State Drive – $299.99
- HP Mini 1000 – 1.60 GHz; 60GB HD; 1GB Memory – $464.99
- You can also find a variety of HP Mini 1000 netbooks and accessories at Amazon, often for lower prices than found at the HP Shopping web site.