HP Mini 110—a netbook for the road

| September 10, 2009 | 17 Comments
hpmini HP Mini 110—a netbook for the road

We wanted a robust netbook that we could take on our travels.

The Virtual Backpack is all about finding those pieces of kit–the ones that stand out. The ones that have won important volume in your pack and deserve to be lugged around the planet. Join us as we take a closer look at netbooks—specifically the HP Mini 110—from the perspective of the long-term traveler.


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After having spent some time traveling with the HP Mini 110, we have come to see the advantages and disadvantages of working on a ‘netbook’. What exactly is a netbook? Netbooks are low power, lightweight, small form factor laptops that have increased in popularity this year and last. Most are about the size and weight of a Condé Nast publication—and about as thick, too. They offer a good deal of computing power in a package that is smaller than most higher-end laptops. Specifications are generally uniform regardless of manufacturer and typically include a 7–10-inch display, 1GB RAM, a basic graphics processor and a modest storage drive. They aren’t meant to be supercomputers but they do allow you to stay in contact with the outside world wherever you go, offering more power than a smartphone, so you can still type up documents, surf the web and watch movies.

What makes a netbook attractive to long-term travelers is not just their low price, but their small size, low weight and energy efficiency, which allow one to continue working while mobile. Netbooks make it easier to stay in contact via email as well as publish updates to the web, download photos from various cameras with the built-in memory card reader and edit images to upload to the web.

Cost

Netbooks are popular with long-term travelers in part because they’re light and they’re cheap; hence, if they are lost or stolen, they are replaceable—certainly not as bad as losing a $1,150 laptop. That’s one of the reasons we opted for the HP Mini 110. It is priced near the $300 mark, which makes it a viable option.

Size

Portability is likely one of the most important factors for long-term travelers. Most modern notebooks are either built for business, multimedia or video gaming and often clock in at 5–7 lbs, leaving a fairly large footprint on your desk (and in your backpack) as a result of 15-inch or larger screens. On the other hand, most netbooks weigh in at less than 3 lbs resulting in far less strain on your body when you are mobile for long periods of time. As far as we’re concerned, with a netbook, size is more important than bells and whistles. The HP Mini 110 is light (less than 3 lbs) and small—it measures about 10” by 7” and is about 1″ in height. The screen is ~10.1″.

Security

Netbooks offer a secure alternative to the ubiquitous internet cafes that line the tourist trail. Coupled with a good virtual private network (VPN), they offer a means to pay bills, make purchases, and check bank accounts. Backpackers are generally hesitant to enter personally identifiable information into public computers—a good precaution in the event the computer in question is compromised by keystroke loggers or other malicious software (of which the owner may not even be aware). Note that another alternative is bringing along an operating system on a USB thumb drive, which also provides a safe, secure environment, even in an Internet café! While this is beyond the scope of this article, we will explore this further in a future post.

Wi-Fi—the Holy Grail

Increasingly, hostels and guesthouses are offering wireless access, but for those backpackers with laptops in their rucksacks, free wireless internet access is still a holy grail. With the increasing amount of access available, however, it’s likely that airports and cafes will be forced in time to stop selling it at a ‘premium’. Indeed, a number of hostels and guesthouses are starting to recognize the benefits of offering their patrons free Wi-Fi access. Luckily, some companies are starting to realize the benefits of offering customers free Wi-Fi internet access.

What sets the HP Mini 110 apart

Keeping in mind that netbook specs are generally uniform, you’ll find a standard set of netbook components on the HP Mini 110, including an Intel Atom N270 CPU, 1GB of RAM, Windows XP, and a 160GB 5,400rpm hard drive. Rather than provide you with an exhaustive list of specs (other sites do a much better job than we could), we’ll concentrate on a few factors that influenced our decision.

Keyboard. The first is a very practical consideration. Indeed, the small size of a netbook often means a cramped keyboard. However, HP has fit a near-full-size (92%) keyboard into the HP Mini 110. Best of all, the right ‘Shift’ key is full size and placed directly under the Enter key. Additionally, there is a complete row of dedicated function keys. While this was our first netbook, we were at odds with the smaller form factor for the first week, but have now gotten used to typing. Of course, you wouldn’t want to type for long stretches, but emailing, instant messaging and short letters shouldn’t prove to be too problematic.

Webcam. The HP Mini 110 offers a built-in webcam and Skype for staying connected with friends and family. The integrated 0.3-megapixel webcam provided pretty decent images in a video call over Skype; our caller could see clearly. The microphone, located just to the left of the webcam, picked up some background noise, but our caller could hear us just fine without our needing to speak up.

5-in-1 memory card reader. A dedicated card reader provides the ability to transfer photos and music without the need to connect your device (ie digital camera, camcorder, mp3 player, etc.) directly to the netbook. Compatible with SD Card, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, and xD cards—no additional cables needed!

Some things we didn’t like

The touch pad. While the excellent keyboard is a significant plus, its inclusion comes at a cost—a poorly designed touch pad—which remains an overall weakness in the Mini’s design. It’s wider than it is taller, and that makes scrolling a pain. Moreover, the mouse buttons are located to the far left and right sides of the pad, rather than sitting underneath. The reasoning for the unique button placement is to make room for the larger keyboard, larger screen and a full row of function keys. It’s a trade off for a better typing experience, but can prove to be annoying.

The AC adaptor. The AC adaptor sports a very small power brick—which is a good thing; however, the total cord length is over 60 inches. This configuration might be okay in the context of a larger laptop but for our purposes take up too much space in our backpack.

Conclusion

The HP Mini 110 is one of the best netbook options in the sub-$400 budget netbook category. It offers a nice hardware configuration, a good-looking design and an excellent keyboard. The HP Mini 110 is a very nice option for those on the lookout for a low-cost netbook that they can toss into their packs. For these reasons, it has won itself a place in both our real-world and virtual backpack!

For more information, check out the HP Mini 110 on Amazon.


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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (17)

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  1. I definitely want to get a netbook at some point to make staying in touch and blogging easier when traveling (you can only write so much with an iPhone!). I am intrigued by the ATT netbook since it offers 3G service in case you can’t get wifi or ethernet where you are. But the website doesn’t give much detail on the pricing for that service, so I’m wary…

    • Daniel says:


      Thanks for the comment, Emily. Those wireless provider netbooks are interesting, as they are really beginning to blur the line between smartphone and netbook. Looks like both are going to converge into one appliance, eventually—when things get small enough that is! Until then, we’ll likely have to carry both!

  2. Louis says:


    i have had this for a while, i like it alot – but here are some issues
    - Video is sort crappy i have the mino HD and cant view HD video very well, but thats trivial i think for most people
    -Heating – the unit heats up way too fast
    -Other trivial issue are the audio in /audio out have same input which mean connecting to external speakers gets only one channel of sound [i know trivial but important sometimes]
    -proprietary video out – in case you want to connect to an external monitor
    - Otherwise pretty good for travelling

    • Daniel says:


      Hi Louis. Some great points. I use the Flip Ultra (non-HD) and the HP Mini can handle non-HD video pretty well. I understand that you can order it with an upgraded HD-capable video card but that, of course, would drive up the price. I haven’t noticed any heat issues yet, but then again, I haven’t really cranked up too many intensive applications.

      I wasn’t aware that the audio out only did one channel of sound — thanks for that info. However, the version of the HP Mini that I’m using has a standard VGA out; although, I understand that earlier versions (ie Mini 1000) had a poprietary connection.

      After having googled around a little bit, I think that you might be referencing the HP Mini 1000. It’s known to run a little hot and, moreover, has a proprietary video out. Both of these issues were addressed in the 110, owing to customer feedback.

      Thanks for the comment. Really appreciate it!


  3. You can end up becoming obsessed with finding wifi on the road.

    I’ve just found that guesthouses that have free wifi in Laos are the exception rather than the norm whereas in Thailand the wifi flows as freely as Tiger Beer.

    It’s important not to be too hung up on it. I make sure that I milk free wifi when I have it so if I end up at a place without I don’t get too out behind in my posts / uploads.

    Having a good offline editor helps, there’s not much out there but I use Windows Live Writer – a decent enough free piece of software that allows me to drum up a post, I can then simply hop to a bar with wifi and upload it easily enough.

    • Daniel says:


      Hey Andy — thanks for the comment. Will check out Windows Live Writer — I’ve heard it is a decent product! I’ve also seen something out there by Adobe. I think it’s called ‘Contribute’ or something. Maybe will give that one a shot, too.

  4. Corbin says:


    Superb review hombres. I bought a laptop just a few months ago. During the decision making process, I was considering the whole Netbook craze. I think they’re great pieces of hardware, my mom proudly sports her girly coloured netbook whenever she travels. I love the size, and the fact that they can handle day-to-day use by everyday users. I think within the next couple years we’ll see some serious “balls” increase behind the netbooks. But for web designers, video editors, and graphic designers, I could definitely see them causing a headache or two.

    I however, decided to go with an HP Tx2, it’s small (12.1 inches), it’s quite a bit heavier thoe, so not quite as easy to haul it around. But the trade-off seems worth it. It’s a couple pounds heavier than the netbook, but it’s got some meat behind the potatoes, if you catch my drift. Definitely happy with it. And just 5 days ago it survived it’s first fall from a 4 foot dresser with the lid open. (although, i think I just got lucky, it should probably be destroyed) But yea, I think next full year trip I take I’ll probably just grab a 300 dollar netbook. Getting it stolen or lost or broken won’t make me cry, and they do pretty much everything you need.

    @Andy – Agree with you, I was using live writer for a while, and it worked great as an offline editor.

  5. Tom says:


    I was considering a netbook, but I just coudn’t get into the concept. Guess I’ll always need a full fledged laptop. Great for the grab and go crowd though. Thanks for the great review.

  6. Ayngelina says:


    If you’re willing to pay a bit more I would suggest the HP Mini 311 vs the 110. It has a 1,366×768 screen which beats the other netbooks. CNEt has rated it the best netbook so far. Click here.

    • Daniel says:


      Thanks, Ayngelina. And progress marches on. Truth be told, we purchased this netbook for our travels almost two years hence — it’s likely that by then, our current system will seem bulky, heavy and expensive.

  7. Social says:


    I can honestly say it would have been fantastic to have this little bad boy with me on my travels but I think from my point of view it may have been a bit of a headache not only carrying the extra weight but also the chance that it may get stolen.

    On the flip side it would have been great for emails and keeping in touch with relatives. I presume if you are travelling with a ‘netbook’ then you would do thinks a little differently!

    Love the style and design and have always been a fan of HP products.

  8. Glenn says:


    You make some great points about using internet cafes. The only one’s i would consider using these days are one’s that automatically rebuild themselves after every use. There are just too many of them that have been compromised from a security perspective.

  9. Danny says:


    HP and Toshiba are two of my netbook/laptop manufacturers, but HP do stand out because of the HD capability in their newer model of netbooks within the same price range.


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