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.


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.


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″.


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.


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. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.