HP Mini Netbook has Small Edge on Asus Eee PC 1000

I bought an Asus Eee PC1000 last Saturday at BestBuy and exchanged it this morning for HP Mini . Why? The cramped keyboard.

After all, I am a word guy and my major interaction with the machine is through my fingers banging on the keyboard. The keys were plenty small and tightly-packed causing me to frequently hit two keys or the wrong key. While the HP keyboard is considerably better, the Mini isn’t a slam dunk. With netbooks, it’s about what you are and are not willing to give up.

Two additional but smallish complaints with the Asus were washed-out display colors and inability to horizontally fit everything on the 10.1 inch display. As a result of my latter beef, the mouse arrow when reaching the edges of the display caused the image to move.  The Asus had a button allowing users to instantly change display resolution to make the image smaller or larger. That mitigates the problem somewhat, but didn’t eliminate it. Watching things jump around on the display made me dizzy.

Ahh, such are the compromises we accept for the netbook’s wonderfully small size and low price relative to full size notebooks. Therein lies another advantage of the HP Mini. It’s thinner and lighter at 2.38 pounds. The Asus weighs about 3 pounds and feels considerably bulkier.

The Asus is a lot of computer for the money – 1 .6 Ghz Intel Atom processor, 1G of DDR2 memory and 160G hard drive and higher display resolution than the Mini. It’s also come way down in price: I picked it up for $330 at BestBuy and a lesser model, according to CNet,  was selling as for between $380 and $599 last Fall. I paid $400 for the Mini.

Ounce for ounce, the Asus offers more for the money by way of tech specs. The HP Mini’s I bought comes with a  measly 16G of memory-based storage. That could be a problem so I suspect I will be relegated to using USB memory sticks which tops out at 8G. And there a slot of an SD card which also top out at 8G, getting me up to 32G if I need it. HP does have Minis with a 60G and 160G hard disk drive, but BestBuy didn’t stock those models and I did not want to make another trip.

(By the way, BestBuy charges a 15% restocking fee if you ask for your money back so it made more sense to do the exchange. Also in the Best Buy fine print? You have only 14 days to return or exchange a computer after you buy it.)

Already Windows, Firefox and few other basic apps have gobbled up 7G of that precious storage. But the Mini should do just fine serving as a twitter, email, surfing and blog posting tool. My desktop will remain the repository for all my photos, videos and other junk. Both the HP and Asus came with 1G of memory which should be sufficient.

The Mini keyboard is vastly superior to the one in the Asus. The flush-set and non-tapered keys are bigger and the keyboard feels wider. That’s was the deal breaker for me. Secondarily, the HP’s  more svelte form factor is appealing.

Besides, the 160G hard disk, the Asus had three display resolutions (highest: 1024×768 as I recall) to the Mini’s two (highest: 1024 x 600). Then again, the HP Mini display is 10.2 inches versus 10.1 inches for the Asus. These are nano-quibbles. Annoyingly, the display in the Mini goes back only a bit beyond 90 degrees, making viewing the display diffcult when slouching or balancing it on crossed legs.

The fit and finish in the Asus was decent, but better in the Mini whose keyboard and mouse feels crisper. The HP seems a little faster and its the colors brighter and more in the display. However, the display’s shiny screen does produce significant glare. Power wise, the Mini should do better on a single battery charge given there’s no hard disk.

One thing that is really irritating is that it’s impossible to tell which model you have if you want to dig more deeply into the technical specs. The only place I initially found my model number is on the box (1030NR). The most prominent   sticker on the bottom has several long numbers, but bore no the model name. I finally located the model number on another sticker affixed to bottom swimming in a sea of numbers.  The Asus was a bit better in that it had a name – Eee PC 1000.

Nowhere in the Mini’s scant printed documentation did it publish comprehensive technical specs or answer questions such as whether the memory could be expanded. For an experienced user, the documentation is useless. Model numbers and documentation are important because so many new models are being released into this hot segment. It’s good to know where your model sits within the product family. I saw a stat recently that said around 25 million netbooks are forecast to be sold in 2009.

It remains to be seen if I can compute with only 16-32G of storage. If not, I’ll return the Mini to BestBuy and eat the 15% restocking fee. I also hope to get my hands of a Lenovo IdeaPad. Stayed tuned.

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