Om unimpressed by HP MiniNote, lays out Subnote Manifesto


Om Malik's review of HP's MiniNote begins with the now-compulsory attempt to decipher the twisty maze of marketing bullshit that surrounds miniature computers: UMPC? MID? HPC? Netbook? Lah-di-dah. Anyway, he thinks it sucks:

It has become obvious that they really need to go back to the drawing board and rethink how people are going to use these devices, if they want to participate in the next big shift of computing.

So far, all they have done is cram traditional notebooks into smaller, maybe-lighter-to-carry bodies. They’re neither good for computing nor for communication. To me, the dozens of models being touted seem like a genetic-experiment gone wrong, a fact that was brought home when I tested one of the most talked-about devices...

It's fair warning for those who've yet to use an Eee or one of its clones, and are expecting more than such things can deliver–the major point of annoyance for Malik is that 2.7lbs is a little too heavy for an ultraportable, when the additional weight of an extended battery is taken into account. It also get very hot, he says.

It's his first experience of the form factor, so the review's probably not much help to those who already like these things and are wanting, say, to get help deciding between this and the 9" Eee or Dell's forthcoming entry. Malik's unfamiliarity with the shelf still works to his advantage, however, and he produces a list of everything that small computers need, that they don't have:

1. Instant On

2. Doesn’t generate too much heat.

3. Minimum 5 years hours of battery life.

4. Must feature at least four communications options: WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth & Wireless Wide Area Network connection to, say, an EVDO or HSPA Network.

5. Less than three pounds (Batteries included).

6. Screen size of 3.5 to 8 inches (wide-screen proportioned)

7. The primary function of the computer should be cloud-based activities that can include everything from listening to live music, reading blogs and watching videos. Writing research reports or cranking out spreadsheets isn’t the primary purpose of these machines.

8. It should cost no more than $300. This isn’t a computer; it’s a communications device. It should really be an on-the-go device. It is a device for the moments when your cellphone isn’t enough, and laptop is too much. An iPhone should qualify.

9. Its innards, ports should be geared for Internet-based activities – from making calls on Skype to consuming RSS feeds – though it should be able to handle external peripherals.

10. In the future it should move away from the keyboard and have a touchscreen interface that allows one to sift through large amounts of data (or web pages) quickly, as cramped keyboards and touchpads can be hard to use.

Number 10 is a religious issue, but I'm on board for the rest. Number 8 is a bit fanciful.

What Makes A Cloud Computer? [Gigaom]

Published by Rob Beschizza

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  1. Who’s Om Malik? And why is he relevant?

    My main issues with the HP MiniNote are the crappy VIA processor and the high price tag. Other than that, the overall design is very nice. The keyboard seems usable for those of us that have normal sized hands.

    I’m waiting for Acer Aspire One. The specs look good. I just hope the price isn’t too bad.

  2. While I think they should have touch screens, I don’t think they should replace keyboards. They should replace (or complement) touchpads.

    The keyboard is useful for communicating, and for holding the thing up, and for protecting the screen when it’s not in use. The sideways-book design is pretty tried-and-true. When I first saw an EEE I was surprised by how much it resembled a portable DVD player. The keyboard could be removable though.

    @1 – I choose to interpret that as meaning “It should hold a 5-hour charge for 5 years.” Which is a good guideline. If you don’t drop your stuff too much, the battery tends to be the first thing to go.

  3. *Shrug* I have an HP Mini-Note and I’m perfectly happy with it, even at the higher price I paid (I got the high-end $750 model). I have no other laptop, and it functions perfectly well as one. The screen is a little hard on the eyes after awhile, but not prohibitively so, especially since I use it primarily for reading (not typing) so I can be viewing it at a closer distance than I usually would a computer screen – I almost treat it like an e-book at times.

    It’s light and small enough that it can tuck into the satchel bag I always carry without needing its own bag/case, and the battery life is good enough that I don’t need to take the cord unless I’m going on a trip. After replacing the pre-installed Vista with XP, it hums along quite nicely and performs well even with multiple apps running, and the built-in mic and webcam make it perfectly serviceable for Skype and other VOIP apps.

    I wanted 80% of the functionality of a full-sized laptop (I don’t care about its lack of a CD/DVD drive, for example, and I’m not going to use it for gaming) without the size and weight of a full laptop, and that’s pretty much exactly what I got. For someone who knows what s/he’s getting into, I call it a good buy.

    He’s right about the heat issue, though – that is a legitimate design flaw. It does get uncomfortably hot, and I find myself resting it on something other than myself because of it.

  4. It sounds like he should just buy an iPhone and just be happy. Seriously, almost everything that’s listed there comes with the iPhone, and this is coming from an Apple Hater.

    I don’t think under $300 is too fanciful either, this was supposed to be the promised reality of these sub-notebooks when they hit the streets.

  5. I have no idea why he thinks writing wouldn’t be a primary purpose for one of these machines, that’s exactly what I’ve been considering one for.

  6. I have a MiniNote. Being a flash git, I also have a Macbook Air (albeit the cheapo spinning-disk model). Weight wise, they’re comparable. Keyboard wise, the MiniNote is actually better than the larger machine. Screen wise, the Airbook has a brighter backlight. Otherwise, it’s down to the choice between OS/X and whatever-your-mininote-runs (in my case, Ubuntu), and the battery life and price issues.

    The Macbook Air is wonderful. But? I’ve got a trip coming up with loads of economy-class flights. So I guess I’ll be taking the portable OpenOffice/Firefox/Thunderbird engine that I can open on a tray table, then.

    What Malik is asking for seems to be the original Microsoft Origami UMPC concept, which — weirdly — doesn’t seem to be what real people want to buy. What real people seem to be buying is things like the MiniNote or the Eee. Maybe there’s a message for the pundits in here?

    1. Exactly right. The first mini computing device to really hit traction was the Eee. What did you hear from everyone who bought one? “Yes, I can type on this thing.” It’s all about the keyboards.

      And while I’m reiterating, what’s weird about Om’s complaints is that the device he already wants already exists. It’s just that he doesn’t want one, apparently, or he’d already have it. (And Om’s a fairly big gadget hound.)

      I also don’t understand why people put “web browsing device” and “something with proper input” into two different columns. I can deal with the relatively crappy iPhone keyboard because it fits in my pocket. But that doesn’t mean I’m not often frustrated by seeing some great post or discussion on my phone that I can’t properly chime in on because I’m not going to thumb type out a 500 word response.

  7. Joel, I’d kill for a 3G iPhone if it had a working Bluetooth HID so I could use my folding bluetooth keyboard with it. Add Documents to Go on top and I’d begin questioning why I need a laptop.

    I think the folks who think we can use computers without keyboard are not folks who use computers for creating content very much at all …

  8. The MSI Wind is the new ‘netbook’ to watch. It’s coming out this week and has all the competition beat, and at the best price point for its features.

    As for the points given in the post:
    1. Instant on is coming soon with a version of Ubuntu ‘remixed’ for netbooks, tailored specially for each specific netbook hardware. They estimate about a 5 second bootup.

    2. The HP MiniNote is notorious for its heat – it’s far worse than any other netbook. The MSI Wind for example doesn’t get uncomfortably hot, just “warm”ish.

    3. The new netbooks with the Intel Atom CPU will get at least 4-5 hours (except for some which have fewer-celled batteries to save on weight, but there is usually a higher capacity one available for just a little more weight).

    4. MSI Wind has Wifi/bluetooth/ethernet. EVDO etc. support is coming in the next version.

    5. All the netbooks I know of are under 3lbs. MSI Wind is about 2.3, with a 9″ screen.

    6. MSI Wind is 9”. Somewhat large for a netbook but much much easier to read than the MiniNote’s tiny high-res screen.

    8. MSI Wind is $399 with Linux. Not too bad with all its features though.

    10. MSI Wind’s keyboard is around 85% the space of a full-size keyboard, so it’s not cramped like the terrible Eee keyboard. Touchscreen keyboards really suck if you’re a decent typist – they’re only good for smartphones (iPhone) and people that don’t know how to type (hunt and peck).

  9. There’s not going to be a lot of agreement on the essentials in this sphere for a while, because these thing are too new for it to become obvious. That said, here’s my take.

    The MSI Wind will not make much of a splash. It’s huge, and certainly doesn’t fit the Ultra Mobile description. It’s just an Ultra Cheap Laptop.

    The great thing about the Eee isn’t so much the price, but that it fits in a cargo pocket. If the 901 doesn’t do well, it’ll be because the few millimetres they’ve added onto it has pushed it out of that niche, not the extra price.

    As I see it, new entrants to this market have to hit these targets:

    1: Fit in a cargo pocket/purse. If it needs a laptop bag, you may as well just carry a laptop.

    2: Light enough to sit in a cargo pocket/purse comfortably.

    3: Wireless net access. 802.11g is a must, n support is preferable and will soon be a must. WiMax support will be a necessity as service becomes available. Bluetooth is nice but not necessary just yet. Ethernet is nice, but not at the expense of size/weight/power.

    4: Long battery life. The longer the better, preferably by way of more efficient components than larger batteries.

    5: Reasonable heat generation. It shouldn’t overheat if left on in a cargo pocket/purse.

    Going forward as the installed base grows, we’ll start to see new uses for these things. As ubiquitous wireless data plans become cheap and available, landline telephony may make a resurgence, routed from the home over the net to these devices. There will need to be innovation in the user interface, and I envision them splitting into at least two physically distinct items.

    1: A “Personal Server” that holds a reasonably sized data store, and manages connection to Wireless WANs. This may be a UMPC as they are today, or perhaps just a data puck.

    2: A small handset that gives quick and easy access to simple features like voice and sms-like text chat. Probably a bluetooth like connection to the data puck.

    3: For some, a larger handset with something resembling a full keyboard and a larger display than in 2. May be integrated with the data puck or just an larger version of the handset along the lines of Nokia’s N95.

  10. Hmm, let me think.

    Instant on, low heat, 20 hour battery life, light weight, full size keyboard. How about a bunch of nice built in apps and pda-type functions within simple, uber-robust task-switching OS. Anyone remember the Cambridge z88?

    No wireless/net of course, but for some purposes that’s an advantage, I still use mine for writing without internet distraction.

    Wouldn’t fit in a pocket, but does fit nicely in a small rucksack.

    We’ve not actually progressed that far in 20 years in some ways. 😉

  11. All I really need is a keyboard, screen, wifi, open office, a browser, a USB port or two and a decent battery life. All else is candy.

  12. I think he’s over thinking it. And what he wants I don’t need.

    I need to be able to write anywhere, anytime, on something cheap enough that I can afford to drop it.

    For me, cheap enough to drop it is right around 200$, but I’d be willing to pay 300$ for something that had a 9″ wide keyboard with as many full sized keys as will fit.

    (You’d have remap or move the ~ and \ key, and half the ] key. I don’t spend much time on the command line so no great loss for me.)

    Maybe I should just hack a folding keyboard and palm pilot together.

  13. I’ve been using this class of device for years, from the libretto 100, U100, various sony’s through to my last incarnation the JVC(actually ASUS) xp7230. I buy them because I want a fully functional (doesn’t have to especially fast), portable machine.

    While I do want to use cloud-like features I also want full PC functionality. I can deal with the cramped keyboards, dodgy pointing devices and other compromises. If it acts like a PC and weighs under 1kg I’m there.

    Various forms of wireless access are all a necessity for these devices.

  14. “The great thing about the Eee isn’t so much the price, but that it fits in a cargo pocket.”

    This is hilariously stereotypically ‘nerd’.

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