We have had netbooks for quite some time now.Â In fact, they are all pretty much the same.Â The magic netbook formula consists of an extremely portable package including an Intel Atom processor, a gig of RAM, a 9 or 10″ screen and wireless Internet access (hence the nameNETbook).Â These machines don’t have the hottest hardware capabilities around, but portability is key.Â Netbooks allow you to work anywhere a very portable package is required.
What makes a netbook even more appealing is when a mobile network operator embeds a 3G card into the device, enabling you to get online just about anywhere.Â Anywhere you can get a cell phone signal, that is.
After quite some time, Verizon Wireless has finally released a such netbook with embedded 3G EVDO network access.Â The long-awaited device is actually a customized HP Mini 1000 unit.Â As for the review unit I trialed, the HP Mini had a 10″ screen, 92% size keyboard, integrated EVDO data network card with wireless LAN capabilities, 1 GB of RAM and a 160 GB hard drive.
The Computer Itself
HP has been pumping out many iterations of the HP Mini 1000 over the last year or so.Â The Mini 1000 is a svelte black machine that is about an inch thick.Â At 2.4 pounds, the Mini is very portable and easily slips into a backpack, womens purse, or other small bag.
As for ports and other capabilities, the right hand side of the HP Mini has one USB Port and an MMC/SD card slot for memory expansion or easily importing photos off your digital camera or mini-camcorder.Â On the opposite left side, there is the power port, an additionalUSB port, a SATA port to attach a portable hard drive to, a combo microphone/headphone adapter, and a gigabit ethernet port that is hidden behind a small flap you have to remove to plug into.
i wish the HP Mini had more than just 2 USB ports.Â By comparison, my Asus Eee PC 1005HA has 3 USB ports and is also a 10″ netbook with a similar form factor.Â Also, I don’t like HP’s choice to make the headphone/microphone adapter one port that requires a little adapter to have both plugeed in at the same time.Â If netbooks are all about portability and convenience, then having to remember to carry around an adapter is asking too much, I think.
Opening up the netbook (which is kind of a pain in the butt to do – no latch) reveals the well-sized keyboard, mouse trackpad, 10″ LCD screen and an integrated 1.3 megapixel webcam.
Keyboard, Screen and Speakers
The HP Mini is known for its great keyboard – a rarity on a netbook.Â You see, because of the small package, hardware manufactures have to shrink the keyboard down.Â In many cases, this makes the keyboard awkward and potentially uncomfortable to type on.Â The HPMini’s keyboard is good for typing on, but I don’t like it overall.Â They keyboard layout forces you to shift your hands over to the left a bit, making my keystrokes inaccurate.Â This is entirely personal preference though.
The screen is big enough and bright enough for comfortable use.Â One note however, the HP Mini has a glossy screen which is hard to see outdoors or in well-lit environments where glare can be an issue.Â With a netbook, you have to settle for lower screen resolutions so you won’t be able to edit a huge spreadsheet, but for web surfing, email writing, and document creation, the HP Mini suffices.
As for the speakers on the HP Mini, they’ve really done a good job.Â The audio quality, loudness, and overall music experience is phenomenal.Â The speakers are located between the screen and the keyboard and are perfectly positioned for listening to tunes while you work or even watching a movie.
I was severly dissapointed with this devices battery life.Â With even casual usage with no wireless or bluetooth networking turned on, I never got more than 3 hours of life on one charge.Â With networking (3G or Wi-Fi, same result) turned on, I got maybe 2 hours and 15 minutes of battery life out of the HP Mini.Â The 3 cell battery is just not enough to get a large amout of work done when you can’t be tethered to a power slot.
For comparison, my Asus 1005HA gets between 8 and 9.5 hours of battery life, depending on my usage.
The 3G and Network Performance
This review isn’t just about the HP Mini itself, but how does Verizon’s 3G network perform?Â On this device, which runs Windows XP Home edition, the Verizon Wireless VZAcess Manager utility is your gateway to getting online.Â This is true whether you’re accessing the 3G network or a nearby hotspot.Â Loading up VZAccess Manager shows you all nearby hotspots, both secured and unsecured and also powers up the 3G chip for accessing Verizon’s EVDO broadband wireless network.
What is special about this HP Mini is that it features the Gobi chip from Qualcomm.Â The Gobi means not only does the HP Mini operate on Verizon’s cellular network hear in the States, but if you travel abroad to Europe, Asia, or anywhere overseas that has aGSM 3G data network, the HP Mini can operate on that cellular network as well.Â So basically, Verizon has made it so you can get online anywhere, as long as you an have international data plan activated through Verizon before you travel.
For globetrotters, being able to hop online virtually anywhere you have a cellular signal without having to mess with USB dongles is a huge time saver.
I found VZAccess Manger incredibly easy to work with.Â Whenever I couldn’t find a hotspot to connect to, I’d hop on Verizon’s network easily and with no problems.Â Speeds aren’t as good on 3G as with Wi-Fi, but the key here is accessibility.Â With Verizon’s almost ubiquitous cellular network, getting an EVDO data connection almost anywhere is priceless.Â I found that when I had the netbook and had a few moments to kill, having a data card and a netbook allowed me to work during these otherwise useless times.Â Examples included: waiting for friends at restaurants, waiting at the doctor’s office and so on.
The HP Mini 1000 is a great purchase if you are looking to activate a netbook with a wireless data plan on a cellular network provider.Â At $200, the price is right.Â Of course, you have to pay $60/month for a data plan to Verizon, but if you are already going to buy a dongle and use this with your regular notebook, give thenetbook a look.
I was very happy with Verizon’s data throughput speeds on their network.Â In side by side tests in about 5 different geographies, my SprintEVDO card was about twice as fast for doing data throughput, but Verizon’s network performed OK for common tasks.
My advice, as with any netbook, try this computer out in the Verizon store to make sure you are comfortable with it.Â Since you’re buying this HP Mini on a 2 year contract, you better be sure you’re comfortable typing and working with it.Â This HP has a funny trackpad for the mouse, with the buttons on the left and right (rather than under) the trackpad.Â Make sure this works for you.
(Image credit: Flickr user Javier Aroche)