HP Mini 110—a netbook for the road

| September 10, 2009 | 19 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 f