HP 2133 Mini-Note wins over an anti-netbook buyer

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Since I've always been very open about my dislike of and complete lack of interest in netbooks, it is with great shame that I reveal the not-so-secret identity of my recent gadget confession. As many have already guessed in the comments, the great netbook wave crashed over me a few days ago, swept me out into its sea of sameness, and spit me up on shore holding a brand new HP 2133 Mini-Note PC.

And even though doing so breaks my 7-inch device rule (i.e., anything with a screen larger than 7 inches really can't be considered pocketable) once again, I promised in my confession that I'd write something about the sinful unit as penance if anyone correctly guessed what it was. Since I've already gone ahead and bought something from a class of gadgets that has always supposedly bored me, the least I can do is make good on one thing I've said and offer you the following mini review of the HP 2133.

Note: The reason I'm not doing a full review is that I really want to stick to my 7-inch device rule. If you take a look at my past reviews, you'll see that aside from the feature-specific pieces I wrote about the Vaio TZ, I haven't ever reviewed anything with a screen size larger than 7 inches. And I'm not about to start now!

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There are a multitude of 2133 configurations out there right now, so it's worth mentioning that the one I have is the FT268UA model ($599) with 2GB of RAM, 1024 x 600 screen resolution (most models have 1280 x 768), 120GB hard drive, 1.2GHz VIA C7-M, and Vista Home Basic. It is not one of the 14 models currently listed on the HP site, though it comes close to the KS103UT.

I chose this model because it was the only one at Fry's Electronics, where I first realized its allure and ended up buying the device from. If I wasn't such an impulse shopper or so driven by instant gratification (and if Fry's had every single configuration in stock), I would've gone with a faster processor and Vista Business.

Now on to my thought process, the reasons and justification for going against the fiber of my anti-netbook being.

But first . . .

Why I Shouldn't Have Bought It

I don't like netbooks. This is the biggest reason and the one that classifies as "sinning" in my book. I've called them "mind-numbing in their sameness," said that the device category "bored me to tears," repeated time and again how I had no personal interest in the 8.9- to 10-inch notebooks, and concluded that a "netbook wouldn't fit into my life." And yet here I am, typing this netbook post from my new netbook. It's embarrassing.

The 2133 isn't more portable than my Vaio TZ. I can understand how someone who lugs around a 5-pound laptop with a 17-inch screen could marvel at how small and light a netbook is (the computer guy at Fry's said "this is a very small computer," while the cashier couldn't believe it was a notebook because "it's so tiny"), but I am not that someone. My primary computer and daily workhorse is the 2.7-pound Sony Vaio TZ.

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The HP 2133 isn't much smaller than the TZ, which has an 11.1-inch display and an optical drive, and they're nearly identical in weight. So there's no size advantage here.

This is why I cringe when I see netbooks being called UMPCs. Yes, they're "ultra mobile PCs" in the general sense, but they're not UMPCs the way the Samsung Q1 Ultra, HTC Shift, and Fujitsu U2010 are. They're just small notebooks with less features than similarly priced full-size notebooks.

I have no use for it. Because its form factor and usage scenarios are exactly the same as that of the Vaio TZ, I have no idea how the 2133 will fit into my life.

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While it's true that most of my gadgets become dust-covered relics within a few months, I never intend for that to be their fate when I bring them home. With this, however, I don't know how I'll use it when I leave California (I'm staying here for a few weeks) and get back to my real life in Hawaii.

It's big. This is somewhat related to the TZ comparison above, but I'm listing it separately because unlike the TZ, the 2133 is designed to be a companion device. While netbooks may become a person's primary computer in the future, right now I think they're still secondary and maybe even tertiary machines.

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But as a companion device, the HP 2133 is quite big to me. Look at it next to my HTC Shift, Willcom D4, and Fujitsu U810 above and you'll see what I mean. If I'm going to take the 2133 somewhere, I may as well just take the Vaio TZ instead.

I'm not at home. I already left Hawaii last week with 11.5 pounds of gadgets on me. Now what?!

VIA C7-M processor. With the VIA Nano supposedly due to replace the C7-M in the next generation of Mini-Notes, not to mention the C7-M's less-than-stellar performance, the 2133's processor is certainly not one of its selling points.

Why I Bought It Anyway

I'm in vacation mode. Even though I'm not really on vacation right now, being in California for the past and next few weeks sure doesn't feel like being at home. My husband and I are kind of in semi-vacation mode, going out much more often than we usually do and buying things we normally wouldn't. It's so easy to forget about bills and the cost-of-living when you're out of town!

I saw it in person. Aside from my brief affair with the Eee PC 2G Surf and a quick look at the Acer Aspire One at Circuit City and Fry's, the HP 2133 is the only netbook I've ever seen in person. The "same ole, same ole" specs and barely distinguishable casings of the devices were never enough to get me to hunt one down out of curiosity. That said, I've previously admitted that if I was ever forced to choose, I'd pick the 2133 over any other netbook because of its design and my undying love of silver gadgets. So when I saw it for the first time at Fry's last week and held the strokably smooth brushed metal casing in my hands, I didn't want to leave California without one. I wrote about it in the forum the next day, visited it at two different Fry's a few more times, and finally walked out of the store with it four days after my first encounter.

If I had never seen the 2133 in person, I wouldn't be writing this right now.

Keyboard. I remember reading about how well received this netbook's keyboard was in early reviews, but I couldn't have imagined it was this good and this big.

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The keys are enormous and touch-typing is a breeze with no practice or adjustments. At 92% the size of a standard keyboard, the 2133's keyboard is even bigger than the Vaio TZ's 90% one.

Price. The 2133 may be one of the most expensive netbooks on the market, but it's a bargain compared to what I spent on the Vaio TZ last year. At one-quarter the cost, the 2133 is a decent alternative to the TZ when traveling and/or used in public. The netbook isn't as capable as the TZ, but if all I need are Firefox and a great keyboard (which is usually the case), it's a good choice that eliminates my paranoia of being mugged for my notebook. While the 2133 could easily be the target of a crime, there's a big difference between mourning the loss of $600 vs. $2500. I don't think the 2133 is a casual purchase, but it isn't a monumental one either.

I don't mind the VIA C7-M processor. Since I'm not a power user, I've used the C7-M with no major complaints before, and my 2133 comes with 2GB of RAM, the long-in-the-tooth CPU doesn't bother me. Yes, I would've chosen the 1.6GHz CPU if it had been available, but since it wasn't, it's not a big deal.

Why I'm Keeping It

Build quality. It's exceptional. The brushed aluminum casing, scratch-resistant glossy display, protective HP DuraKeys finish on the keyboard, sturdy silver hinges, rounded corners/edges . . . everything is exquisitely crafted.

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The Acer Aspire One sitting next to it at Fry's looked and felt like an absolute toy in comparison. The Acer was $250 cheaper, but you definitely get what you pay for.

Design. As mentioned earlier, I've always considered the 2133 to be the best-looking netbook around. Seeing it in person only confirmed my opinion.

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The hotel lighting and my makeshift backdrop don't do the device justice. It's really quite lovely to look at.

Lots of ports. As much as I love my UMPCs, many of them are certainly lacking in the area of I/O ports. Some have just one USB 2.0 port and most rely on a port replicator or separate dongle/hub of some kind for ethernet, VGA-out, and other ports.

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The 2133, on the other hand, is so similar in form factor to full-size laptops that it can provide nearly the same array of ports. Like my TZ, it offers VGA-out, two USB 2.0 ports, microphone and headphone jacks, ethernet, power, ExpressCard (54 vs. TZ's 34), SD card, and Kensington lock slots (FYI: the TZ also has an optical drive, memory stick slot, and a few other ports). This is a definite advantage of the netbook's size.

It has an ExpressCard slot. This goes hand-in-hand with the "lots of ports" item above, but it deserves its own mention because ExpressCard slots aren't often seen on netbooks.

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It also lets me use my Option GT Max 3.6 Express card (though I'm having trouble getting it working at the moment), which is a quick and easy way to give the netbook HSDPA internet access when on the go.

Vertical mouse buttons. The mouse buttons, which flank the touchpad rather than sit below it, are often criticized for their non-standard location, but I really like where they are.

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I have an unusual two-handed habit of using notebook touchpads (right index finger for the touchpad, left index finger for the buttons), so the 2133's buttons feel really natural to me. In fact, even though it's only been a few days since I've had the netbook, I've already tapped the empty area next to my TZ's touchpad (which I've used every day for over a year!) expecting the left mouse button to be there.

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And that's how the HP 2133 Mini-Note won over an anti-netbook buyer.

Now back to Pocketables' focus on 7-inch or smaller devices . . .

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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