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If 2007 was the year that Asus chose to introduce the small and affordable sub-notebook, then 2008 is the year that the concept has really begun to take off. Asus, predictably, has lead the way once again, with its updated Eee PC 900 putting right many of the issues raised by the original. Meanwhile, Intel has enthusiastically embraced the idea by launching its Centrino Atom platform for small, low-power, affordable notebooks and MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices). There are a few machines mooted to use Atom, most notably the impressive looking MSI Wind, but it appears it could be a while before we see Atom powered machines hitting retail.
As such, it's been necessary for companies to find alternatives while Intel ramps up production. Asus' solution thus far has been a 900Hz Intel Celeron CPU, but other companies have had to resort to less familiar options, the VIA C7-M 1.2GHz CPU being a popular alternative. It has popped up in a number of Eee PC-alikes, albeit with mixed success, so it was something of a surprise to see it powering HP's first foray into the sub-notebook market, the slightly awkwardly named HP 2133 Mini-Note PC.
Though it lacks a catchy name, compared to the toy-like Eee PC the Mini-Note PC is a stunningly stylish piece of design. Weighing in a heavier but nonetheless portable 1.27kg the brushed metal lid and underside complements the silver internals and gloss black bezel beautifully, while its curves make for a pleasingly tactile shape that immediately impresses. If the Eee PC borrows the MacBook's iconic white finish, the Mini-Note PC feels far more like a product produced by the house that Steve Jobs built.
This comparison, though, doesn't do HP much justice because it too has been designing and producing attractive notebooks for quite a while now and its experience is borne out in the Mini-Note. Everything about the machine feels exceedingly accomplished, with a compact but lightweight feel and a sturdiness that belies both its price and size. Try and bend the screen and you'll struggle to produce much movement at all. Apply some pressure on the outside of the lid and you'll be hard-pushed to transmit it to the LCD panel itself.
Nowhere is this quality more apparent, though, than in the borderless keyboard. Unlike the Eee PC that can be best described as "good for the size", the keyboard on the Mini-Note PC would be no less acceptable on a machine costing a lot more than the £350 needed to buy the Linux edition we're reviewing today. Indeed, in terms of layout and feel, it apes another Asus product, the 11.1in U2E-1P057E ultra-portable, quite comfortably. It has a large and friendly Return key, suffers from no obvious quirks and unlike the Eee PC its keys are no smaller than on any ordinary notebook. Vitally, the keys themselves also have a crisp level of travel and response that makes typing brisk and easy.