Review by A reader:
PLUSES: Takes 2gb memory module; SD card can be used for ReadyBoost; easy access to memory, PCI-e card slot, and hard drive via “pop off” bottom cover; available slot for PCI-e card (in my case, a Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator, mail order, but you may want to insert a 3G card etc.); MATTE SCREEN for glare free viewing; more ergonomic keyboard than most in this category; earphone jack is also compatible with “headsets” with combined stereo earphones and mono microphone; no bottom vent slots that are easy to block if set down on a carpet or other soft surface.
MINUSES: Shorter battery life (on this entry level 3 cell battery model); “standard” netbook screen resolution (there is an HP Mini 210 HD version available with a higher than normal resolution screen); “simpler, ” non-multi-gesture touch pad (but it works very well); “speed step” is not implemented, although the N450 Atom chip now supports it (see the Asus 1001p if you want this feature for extended battery life); fan runs a little more to circulate air, there are no bottom slots to pull air through; no stereo microphone slot.
Since these netbooks have a built-in microphone on the screen, and speakers under the keyboard, it’s easy to Skype on them without a headset in “speakerphone” mode.
On the horizon (next 3 months): N470 Atom processors running at 1.83 ghz instead of the N450 in the current models running at 1.66 ghz; but the fact that this one has a PCI-e card for the Broadcom Crystal HD card is probably more important than the upcoming boost in speed (which will also run the battery down more quickly).
Prices have come down on the HP Mini 210 series at Amazon to the point where there is no reason to go with another maker (Acer is generally the price leader) unless you are looking for a particular feature (like wireles “n” instead of “g”, a 6 cell battery for the same price etc). As promised by the reviews I read, the HP Mini 210 is slightly better designed (keyboard doesn’t flex, keyboard is more ergonomic) and finished than its competition (I have owned Acer, Gateway, eMachines, and MSI Wind netbooks – no Asus so far).
The HP Mini 210 is also “cleaner” finished – no advertising stickers on the front panel below the keyboard, even the Win7 license sticker and other “bottom of computer” stickers are gone, the Win7 license sticker is inside the case (where it can’t get smudged, a big plus, should you set it down on a gob of jam on your breakfast counter).
I purchased this 3 cell battery model expressly to keep weight down and keep the case smaller (the 6 cell battery version isn’t flush to the case). I got to save as a result, which is an extra bonus. The old HP Mini 110 was rated at 3.75 hours with a 3 cell, with the new chipset in this one, battery life jumps to 4.25 rated hours. Keep in mind reading the NY Times on line with the screen dimmed will give much better battery life than watching transcoded h.264 videos with full screen brightness (in non-geek speak, reading is less taxing than movie watching).
Please note this has a MATTE screen. Not impressive in a showroom, where glossy screens just seem to sparkle, but MUCH better for actually watching video and working, no reflections to reduce image quality. Matte screens are actually rarer than the glossy variety – most Acers are glossy, the Asus 1001p (nearest competitor to this HP Mini 210 “no frills” edition) is matte too.
Manufacturers approach upgrades 3 ways: the Acers generally have little hatches held down by screws and snaps which allow access to the memory module, available PCI-e slot, and hard drive; MSI has no hatches but lots of screws (to remove the entire back panel) and an ominous “warranty voided!” sticker; and this HP seeming has no hatches OR screws.
Fortunately before this arrived I was reading the HP on-line documentation (which is much better than Acer’s and eMachines) and they showed how to pop off the bottom panel to access the memory module, PCI-e slot, and harddrive – it’s pretty easy to do, and I marveled at HP’s design team when I snapped it back together. The PCI-e slot, BTW, is included in most netbooks so you can install a 3G telephone wireless card; some netbooks have two such slots; some have a slot shared with the wireless LAN card; but this HP has a single, uncluttured slot and I used mine for the Broadcom Crystal HD accelerator card. This card is designed to accelerate certain video streams (but not all); it is supposed to work with Windows Media Player if it is decoding H.264 video (the current “standard”); with Hulu and other sites running Flash for video support (but not too well yet, Flash 10.1 has not yet been released and is still buggy); and with some DVD/BluRay software player programs. For mail order from Hong Kong (off eBay) I was willing to give it a try.
This HP accepted a standard netbook memory module upgrade to 2gb without a hitch – no BIOS adjustments required. Check crucial dot com for memory specs; usually, but not always, when Amazon tells you other customers ordered a particular memory module to go with a particular netbook, you will be ok.
The fit and finish, ergonomics, and software welcome windows on the HP are much nicer than on any of the Acer variants (Acer makes Gateway and eMachines too) or the MSI’s I have – even the keyboard is easier to use, although still shrunken. The mini-led’s (really tiny dots) on the wireless function key on the top row of the keyboard, on the power slide switch on the side of the keyboard, and on the other side of the computer to indicate hard drive activity, each looks very classy. Be careful about pressing the top row function keys – unlike other netbooks, where you have to press the Fn activator key next to the space bar to access netbook functions (like wireless on or off, speakers on or off, volume, brightness) on this HP the top row keys default to netbook functions, and you have to use the Fn key next to the space bar to use them as normal F1-F12 function keys – while trying to hit F11 to maximize a browser window, I accidentally turned off my wi-fi.
I would have preferred to have the power switch under the cover, where it can’t accidentally be activated – it is on the right side of the case instead.
The touchpad works well – I don’t have my usual problem accidentally clicking when I meant to slide.
Although Pg Up and Pg Dwn aren’t labeled on the arrow keys, they are actually there, and activated by the Fn key near the space bar. The arrow keys themselves are laid out nicely in inverted “T” style.
Initial set up operations and downloards were quite zippy, felt quicker than on a 1gb Acer ao532h I just returned (but that may have been a function of the limitaton to 1gb on that Acer). Here are the Windows Experience Index numbers for this HP with an SD card inserted in the card reader and set up for ReadyBoost:
Processor, calculations per second: 2.4
Memory operations: 4.6
Graphics, Aero Desktop: 3.1
Gaming Graphics: 3.0
Disk operations: 5.3
Processor power # is the same as on my recent Walmart special eMachines 250 (N270 chipset, same as Aspire ao250 etc.), as are all the other numbers EXCEPT Graphics, Aero – Aero graphics on this new chipset jump from 2.1 to 3.1, a sizeable increase. (This number is not influenced by the Broadcom Crystal HD accelerator card I added, it is the same number I saw on an HP Mini 210 at Costco).
So basically the new chipset, just introduced in December 2009, mainly just saves battery power, with some small performance increases – except for the graphics, which is one generation better than the last GMA 950 processors but not capable of DirectX functions (you have to get a machine with GMA 4500 or an Ion for that). (FWIW the new N450 chips also run Win7 64 bit, and have Speed Step instructions for changing the clock speed to save power on netbooks that have software support built-in).
I don’t intend to load a lot of programs on this netbook, so the 160 gb hard drive is fine for me. Part of that space is used by HP for a restore partition (in lieu of providing restore disks), and that restore partition, which mostly goes to waste, is thankfully smaller than usual.
If you intend to haul around a lot of converted video or lossless music (FLAC or Apples loss-less) or photos, you should definitely pop the extra for the 250gb harddrive editions. My personal strategy is to use an external USB hard drive to hold my “library” and just download to the netbook as needed, so I am not as sensitive as some to hard drive sizes, and can remember then an 80gb hard drive in a laptop was “big.”
Finally, there is one very nice “feature” on this netbook that the others I have seen don’t have – it doesn’t have any vent slots on the bottom. It is engineered to vent solely through the side vent. This means you can actually set it on your lap or a soft surface without blocking any vents and overheating the unit. With our other netbooks and laptops we are scrupulous about placing them on a laptop board or cutting board, to keep access to the air vents open, but on this one we don’t have to worry about that. I’m good about keeping air vents open, but if you have kids who are going to set a netbook down on a plush carpet or on the bed, the HP Mini 210 is a better choice – they only have to keep the one set of side vents free and clear. Conversely, with no bottom vents, the bottom tends to get hot, but this does not bother me.