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    Honey, HP shrunk their notebooks

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver June 24-30, 2008; issue 974

    High Tech Office column

    The past few weeks we’ve been looking at stuff that is smaller and lighter than usual but capable enough to make it worth taking with you.

    While slim and light notebooks such as Apple’s Macbook Air or Toshiba’s Portege R500 have been getting a lot of attention, they’re not the smallest notebooks you can tote.

    So-called Ultra Mobile PCs (or UMPCs for those addicted to acronyms) have quietly been sneaking into an increasing number of road warriors’ briefcases.

    UMPCs are bigger and more capable than smartphones or PDAs – and with more usable keyboards, but more portable, and hopefully more affordable than standard notebooks – even ultralights like the Air or the R500.

    Recently, I’ve had loan of two very different UMPCs: HP’s 2133 Mini-Note and the HTC Shift (available locally from Rogers Wireless).

    HP’s Mini-Note seems like a standard notebook if it had been in the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
    Imagine a high-end 15-inch notebook that has shrunk to about 60% of its original size, at the same time shrinking the high-end price. Its brushed aluminum case and solid feel make it seem more expensive than its $500 to $750 price.
    While it’s difficult to type on many smaller than usual notebooks, the Mini-Note fools users – its 92% scale keyboard feels full-sized and is far and away the best keyboard on any of this season’s crop of mini-notebooks.

    The 8.9-inch screen is also best of breed: clear and crisp with 1280 by 768 resolution, letting users view the entire width of most web pages – again, something unusual on UMPCs.

    The small size forced HP to compromise on the touchpad, however, placing the buttons on either side of the pad, an awkward arrangement that forced me to use two hands for mousing and clicking.

    The small size also affects the batteries – the standard battery gives only two to 2.5 hours of life. An optional larger battery doubles battery life but sticks out of the bottom of the notebook, upping the weight from 2.8 (1.23 kg) to 3.2 pounds. Even so, it remains exceptionally portable.

    All Mini-Note models include a pair of USB ports, a wired Ethernet port, and WiFi wireless. As with other small and light notebooks, there’s no optical drive, and no room for one. (Expect to see CD and DVD drives going the way of the floppy drive during the next few years in any event).

    My $749 test model sported two GB of memory, a 120 GB hard drive, a 1.6 GHz VIA processor, and Windows Vista Business; the $499 model comes with 512 MB RAM, a four GB flash drive instead of a hard drive, a one GHz processor, and SuSE Linux. Perhaps the best price/performance ratio is obtained in between: $549 (Linux) and $599 (Windows) versions with one GB RAM, 1.2 GHz processor, and 120 GB hard drive.

    Even with the 1.6 GHz processor, the Mini-Note is no speed demon, especially running Vista; XP might offer better performance with this configuration. But no one is going to buy this for complex photo or video manipulations; for standard web access and office computing on the road, performance is more than adequate.

    Ultra-light notebooks such as Apple’s Macbook Air or Toshiba’s Portege R500 SSD cost between $1,900 to $2,700. Buyers expect to pay a premium for notebooks that are somewhat smaller and quite a bit lighter than standard.
    HP’s Mini-Note is even smaller while weighing about as much as the Macbook Air, with the look and feel of a high-end notebook but at a much more affordable price.

    The HTC Shift is smaller and lighter, with features not found on most other notebooks. Next week we’ll see why it’s being offered by cellphone provider Rogers Wireless. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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