Business netbooks: IT revolution or contradiction in terms?

InfoWorld sifts the wheat from the chaff in the current crop of enterprise-oriented netbooks

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Note to HP: Most users would gladly trade a few ounces for a slightly deeper palm rest area with a taller track pad. Also, consider adding support for circular scrolling a la the aforementioned Precision and the Acer Aspire One. A little chiro-action would go a long way toward mitigating an otherwise annoying deficiency.

Another potential ergonomic faux pas: the optional six-cell battery, which protrudes from the bottom of the unit like an elongated tube of Necco Wafers. While I can understand HP's desire to leave the overall dimensions intact, rolling the extra cells under the 2140 simply ruins the unit's otherwise elegant visual lines. It also makes removing the 2140 from its companion case or neoprene sleeve an awkward proposition (much wiggling inevitably ensues). On the plus side, the battery bump gives the unit's keyboard a nice tilt when placed on a desk or table, though I found the default angle with the more discrete three-cell battery to be perfectly adequate.

[ Apple's MacBook Pro is still the best notebook you can buy. Dell's Precision M6400 is the best mobile workstation. See InfoWorld's 2009 Technology of the Year Awards. ]

Assuming you can live with these minor nits, you'll likely find the 2140 to be a real pleasure to use. HP has stocked the unit with all sorts of clever touches, including a USB port with an integrated power extension for driving the optional external DVD/HDD media bay. But of course the real focus of the 2140 is on business users, and in this department the unit doesn't disappoint. I already noted the sleek aluminum shell. The robust build quality, with steel hinge pins (rated at over 200,000 open/close cycles) and a glossy, edge-to-edge screen cover, add to the 2140's overall solid feel -- and its ability to survive more than a few hard miles. Factor in HP's Quick Charge, for rapidly recharging the battery while on the run; 3D Drive Guard technologies; and a full-sized ExpressCard 54 slot, and the Mini 2140 seems right at home on a corporate RFQ sheet.

One particularly thoughtful feature, which I used frequently while writing this article, is the track pad disable button. A quick press and this centrally located button (placed just below the space bar) lights up red to indicate that the 2140's track pad is inactive, allowing me to touch-type without fear of accidentally brushing the cursor halfway across the screen or injecting some random click event into the typing stream -- always a problem with devices this small.

In terms of performance, the Intel GMA 950-equipped Mini 2140 delivered OfficeBench times on par with similarly configured netbooks, outpacing the much more expensive Asus N10Jc even though the latter unit features a discrete Nvidia 9300-series GPU. HP's new HD display option, which swaps the much-maligned 1,024-by-576-pixel LCD panel of the first-generation 2140 for a higher-resolution, 1,366-by-768-pixel screen, makes viewing large spreadsheets or navigating long Web pages a much more pleasant experience, but comes at a slight cost in terms of readability; the panel's size hasn't changed, but more data is squeezed onto it. Battery life was uniformly excellent, with the three-cell (28 watt) unit delivering just over three hours of continuous use during OfficeBench battery rundown testing. The six-cell (55 watt) unit yielded nearly 6.5 hours of use under the same test.

Overall, the HP Mini 2140 is the quintessential business-class netbook and the clear leader of this emerging market segment. A slightly taller track pad and a better-integrated six-cell battery are the only things left on this reviewer's wish list for the 2140's successor.

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