Review: HP Mini 5101 Is A "Business Netbook"

The HP Mini 5101 is the kind of business netbook that businesses might buy if businesses were buying business netbooks. But are most businesses buying netbooks?
After spending a couple weeks testing the HP Mini 5101, it's clearly the best business netbook I've tried to date -- with a wide variety of thoughtful touches and useful features. At heart, though, it's saddled with many of the same components that grace most other netbooks -- 10.1 inch screen, Intel Atom N280 processor, etc. And with prices running from $400 to $600, it's at least 33% more expensive than most netbooks these days.

So, what do you get for that extra cash? And is it worth it?

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Share The Netbook Wealth
Well, you some features that make the Mini 5101 more suitable for sharing among multiple users in a corporation.

First off, instead of plastic you get an anodized aluminum case for the display and a magnesium alloy base, all in a sleek black finish. The metal case should make the machine less vulnerable to breakage in high-use scenarios.

HP Disk Sanitizer permanently destroys data on the hard drive to make it easier to redeploy the Mini Note from one user to another without worrying about data that may be left on the machine.

There's also a Durakey coating designed to reduce visible wear on the slick chiclet-style spill-resistant keyboard. More important, the keybaord is 95% of full size with a layout that maximizes the size of the most important keys, shrinking the function keys instead. (I found it relatively easy to type on compared to other netbooks, but still requires more attention than a full-size keyboard.) Oh, and the touchpad has a handy scroll zone.

HP mini note 5101 Four different views of the HP Mini 5101 "Business Netbook."

This Netbook Actually Offers Some Choices
And unlike many netbooks, HP actually offers options on the Mini 5101.

For $25 you can upgrade the resolution of the 16 x 9 aspect-ratio screen from 1024 x 600 to 1366 x 768. I tested the lower-res version, but if you're going to go high-end netbook, the extra pixels are likely to make the machine much more usable -- dramatically reducing scrolling when surfing Web pages, for example. (Of course, it's worth noting that 16 x 9 screens display slightly less real estate than do squarer shapes.)

HP offers both 4-cell and 6-cell battery options, with the 6-cell version rated at 8-9 hours of life. I never came close to that figure, but I did get more than 4 hours in real-life use, which beats my experiences with other netbooks with 6-cell power supplies. And HP's Fast Charge system promises a full recharge in 2 hours.

Finally, the $600 version includes upgrades to 2 GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive -- options that aren't available on most netbooks.

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Other features come standard on all versions:

The Mini 5101 sports 802.lln Wi-Fi (not just a/b/g), and a 2 MP Webcam instead of the industry-standard 1.3 MP versions. And HP includes an accelerometer that protects the hard drive when it detects sudden movements.

HP also includes the Corel Home Office suite, which it says is a $69 value. It's not clear to me, though, why businesses who don't want to pay for Microsoft Office wouldn't just use Google Apps,, Zoho or one of the many other free office suites.

Interestingly, the unit ships with Windows XP, not Windows 7 (although Linux is also an option). Jeremy Brody, an HP product marketing manager, explains that adding Windows 7 would raise the price and lower the battery life. "The jury's still out" on Windows 7 for netbooks, Brody said.

Well, maybe so. But XP isn't going to be a option at all for much longer, and you'd think HP would want to be ahead of the curve on a premium product like the Mini 5101.

So, is the HP Mini 5101 worth the extra scratch for your small or midsize business? It all depends on how you plan to use it.

The added reliability makes it better suited for use as a "loaner" model for occasionally mobile employees. Alternatively, the extra memory and hard drive space could help it replace standard laptops for users with light computing needs. But the Mini 5101's higher-end versions don't save much compared to full-fledged laptops, so it's best suited for heavily mobile users.

Frankly, the bigger question of how netbooks fit into business environments has not yet been settled. Until it is, the idea of a "Business Netbook" remains a bit of a stretch.

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