User Interface, Display and Audio Quality
Although HP’s Mini netbooks don’t have quite the same mindshare as the ASUS Eee PC or Acer’s ever-affordable offerings, the Mini line has always been competitive and well reviewed. The early Mini netbooks had fabulous keyboards and great build quality, but were harped on for some odd decisions, such as placing the touchpad buttons to the sides of the touchpad instead of underneath.
The HP Mini 210’s keyboard is a standard island-style model with small keys that are separated by wide gaps. There is a fine line between a gap that is too wide and one that is too small, and in this case I think HP has gone too wide, resulting in keys that are a little smaller than they need to be. Thankfully, the keys are at least pleasant to press.
The layout of the HP Mini 210 is cramped, and the palmrests small, which means I can’t comfortably type on it for long periods of time. This, however, is not the fault of the HP Mini 210, but rather the 10.1”netbook in general. I’ve yet to find a typing experience on a netbook of this size that fits my hands well, but the HP Mini 210 certainly has one of the better netbook keyboards currently available. A person with small hands would likely have no problem navigating the Mini 210.
While the touchpad on the HP Mini 210 doesn’t place the buttons along the side, it still deviates from the norm. The touchpad buttons are not actually buttons at all, but instead a part of the touchpad surface itself. If you’ve ever used a MacBook, you’ll be instantly familiar with this design. The downside of this is that the buttons offer little tactical feedback, but the advantage is an improvement in the touchpad’s usable surface area. Given the limited real estate on a netbook, it’s a tradeoff that is worthwhile.
Display and Audio Quality
At first glance, the display on the HP Mini 210 is drop-dead gorgeous. In another design nod to Apple, the Mini 210 has an edge-to-edge glass (well, plastic, most likely) panel that covers both the 10.1” display and the bezel. The bezel itself is quite substantial, so the effect is not as dramatic as it could be, but this approach is undeniably better than that taken by most netbooks – so long as your keep the Mini 210 in a dark room.
In a sunlit room, however, the Mini 210 becomes a victim of glare. There is plenty of it to be found, and the problem is distracting even when using the Mini 210 near a window on a cloudy day. In full sunlight the Mini becomes difficult to use. The problem seems to be a combination of an extremely glossy display material, a backlight of only moderate brightness, and a glossy display bezel that only serves to enhance the impact of reflections.
Once you fight past the glare you’ll find a thoroughly average display. Viewing angles aren’t great, black levels are poor, and contrast is decent. In other words, it’s no better or worse than the display you’ll find on any other netbook or mid-range laptop. Since the display is of the smaller 10.1” variety, the resolution is 1024×600, which is fine considering the size. Overall, while it’s easy to see the faults, the Mini 210 is in no way behind the competition. Virtually every netbook display has similar issues.
Although the audio on the HP Mini 210 is simple, it gets the job done. The speakers are mounted at the very front of the netbook and given a slight downward tilt. This actually does wonders for the volume of the Mini 210’s audio if you’re using the netbook on flat, hard surface.
Using the netbook on your lap can be a different story, as the audio will become muffled because of the speaker position. If you don’t mind or can avoid that scenario, you’ll likely be happy with what the Mini 210 offers. Music sounds a bit tinny and there is no bass to speak of, but you can at least fill a small room, and there’s not much distortion. If you’re listening to a podcast or watching a YouTube clip you’ll likely have no complaints. Voices come through clear and with substantial volume.