I’ve been pricing and checking out netbooks for over a year and a half, planning for my eldest daughter’s high school graduation. I’ve reviewed at least one for the GeekDad and played with a number of others in various retail stores.
While they’re nice little machines in general, I have remained dubious at what they can offer for the price. It seems to me that paying a couple hundred more for a full-size laptop with far greater computing power might be the better investment of my funds, especially since I can get a good used laptop at a local store with all the bells and whistles for about $400.
But I’ve been test driving the HP Mini 100e for the last three weeks and I think I’ve changed my mind. I know my eldest daughter has because she’s pestering me to find some way not to send the review netbook that we have back to HP. (Alas, no, we can’t keep it.)
Unfortunately for her and other students, the 100e, available beginning in July, wasn’t developed for the retail market. It was designed and crafted specifically for the world-wide educational market, with a low price, $299, and a design that reflects that.
What I liked about the 100e is likely what many educators will like. It’s extremely sturdy, very solid, and is more portable that many netbooks because of the cleverly placed handle and the strong hinges that ensure the netbook doesn’t spring open.
The hard shell is the first element of the 100e that caught my attention. After examination, I noticed the hinges and the handle and the raised letters on the keyboard that prevent them from rubbing off. The touchpad is nicely responsive but also feels very solid. HP also says the keyboard is designed to be spill-resistant but I didn’t test that.
My daughter, a high school senior, has found it easy to carry in her backpack and it certainly seems to be able to take the pounding and pressure it receives from being carted around all day.
Kyle Thornton of the Hewett-Packard’s 100e design team said his product wasn’t a direct competitor to the Intels’ Project Classmate but likely would inevitably be compared to it. The basic difference, he said, is that HP provides customer support for their mini.
“General purpose netbooks usually don’t have features that education customers are looking for. The carrying handle, spill resistant keyboard, other options available on the hard drive — even though individually these are very small features but as a total package, they’re unique to the education market.
“Most importantly, we were able to include these features at a very affordable price point and provide tier 1 service and support.”
Another small element specifically for education customers is a little LED on the back panel, right above HP logo, that signals if the user is connected wirelessly. With the LED, an instructor can tell with a glance if the student is using the network. It’s valuable if they’re supposed to working off-line or the opposite, if they’re web-surfing or if they’re supposed to be doing an online activity and they’re actually off-line and not paying attention. (Also valuable for parents, as I could quickly glance across the table and find out if my daughter was answering email or writing a paper.)
The unit I reviewed had a three-cell battery that lasted approximately four to five hours. However, there is a six cell battery available for the 100e which fits in exactly the same space as the three-cell.
The software of the model I had is basic. It does have the abbreviated verb of MS word and a generic security program. HP will add various educational programs depending on their customers needs, including MS Math and Learning Essentials, among others.
I wish I could buy this was available for retail purchase but I suspect the $299 price tag would be considerably higher if it wasn’t being sold on bulk contracts. At the very least, it’s given me a roadmap for the kind of features I want in whatever I do end up buying my kids for use in school.