Is “business netbook” a misnomer? Aren’t business notebooks supposed to be both portable and powerful, while emitting a confident and businesslike aura? Can a netbook ever be enough for a business user? HP is one of the few companies out there betting that a netbook can be appealing to a business audience.
The HP Mini 5102 certainly looks businesslike. Its squared-off, all-metal chassis, matte-black magnesium alloy base, and brushed-aluminum lid exude a much more professional vibe than most netbooks, including HP’s own consumer line. And though its base configuration hews close to the standard netbook build of this generation, HP offers a wide array of options that can turn the 5102 into something else entirely.
This “business netbook” starts strong and gets stronger—to a point.
The model tested here has a 1.66GHz Atom N450, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a 10.1-inch 1024x600 display, and Win7 Starter. Its 160GB HDD is 7,200rpm, which is nice. Its 6-cell battery (a $25 option), also offered notable benefits. The netbook performed to within a few percent of every other Pine Trail netbook we’ve tested, with the exception of battery life. In our rundown test, the Mini 5102 lasted eight hours, 10 minutes. That’s half an hour longer than the previous champion. The 5102’s square-key chiclet-style keyboard is spill-resistant, easy to type on, and doesn’t feel mushy. One thing we don’t like: the reversed function keys. To hit an actual function key, you have to hold the function button. Otherwise you’ll wind up triggering the Mini’s volume, brightness, or other secondary function keys. The convenience of hitting F10 to turn down the volume instead of Fn+F10 is counteracted the first time you instinctively hit F5 to refresh a page and send your computer into sleep mode.
At $425 (base price plus $25 for the extended battery), this Mini 5102 is a solid deal, if nothing to write home about. But it’s the more esoteric configurations that bump up the Mini 5102’s appeal—and price. Add $50 for a multitouch screen, or $25 for a 1366x768 screen res (no, you can’t do both). Likewise, you can spend $45 and get the Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator, but not if you have the $125 broadband modem. For $25, you can even boost the RAM to 2GB (but you’ll also have to pay for an upgraded version of Windows). You can even swap in a 128GB SSD for an added $325, if you’re so inclined. For what it’s worth, we did test a model with the integrated multitouch screen, which worked fine, though we don’t see much use for a touch screen on a non-convertible device. The optional $30 handle, however, is quite useful if you’re sans backpack, but it does add five ounces to the netbook’s overall weight.
The Mini 5102 has a lot of selling points, from the great keyboard to the good-looking (if fingerprint-prone) chassis. At the base model, it’s a match for any Pine Trail netbook out there, and fully decked-out, it’s considerably better. But even after you’ve upped the screen resolution, doubled the RAM, and added the 6-cell battery, you’re still hobbled by the Atom processor and integrated graphics. A $650 netbook is hard to justify—unless, of course, you can expense it.