HP is once again targeting the education market with its new Mini 1103 netbook. Unlike the kid-focused Mini 100e, this netbook looks and acts like a consumer model, but keeps the price low for cash-strapped schools and other institutions. Though not the flashiest system on the block, the $299 Mini 1103 combines very long battery life with decent performance for $50 to $100 less than many competitors.
The HP Mini 1103's design is basic yet attractive. The overall aesthetic is closer to the Pavilion dm1 and dm3 rather than high-end business netbooks such as the Mini 5103. The glossy black lid and display bezel pick up smudges, but thankfully the rest of the netbook features matte plastic. As with the Pavilion dm1 and the Mini 210, the bottom of the unit is a smooth line with just one panel to remove. This makes it easier to upgrade or repair internal components, such as the RAM or hard drive.
For the target market, the non-descript yet functional design of the Mini 1103 is just right. You won't find the same flair as other HP models, but it's not as toy-looking as the Mini 100e, which is geared toward younger students. However, the Toshiba mini NB505 offers bright color options and a more eye-catching design.
The top of the Mini 1103 stayed pretty cool, with the touchpad measuring only 85 degrees after playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes. The space between the G and H keys was about the same: 86 degrees. The underside of the netbook got up to 92 degrees, which is within our acceptable range.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Mini 1103 doesn't have the modern chiclet-style layout of the Mini 210. However, the keys are well sized and placed, and we like the terraced treatment, which provides a better grip. We like that the media and system controls are one touch away, while the Function keys are secondary.
The 3.1 x 1.25-inch touchpad on the Mini 1103 has a fairly small surface when compared to other recent netbooks and even other HP models. This is due to the system having separate mouse buttons instead of integrated ones, as with a clickpad. The buttons are fairly large as well. Users who prefer physical buttons will likely not mind sacrificing some of the touch surface.
Display and Audio
One curious aspect of the 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel resolution screen on the Mini 1103 is that users can open it a full 180 degrees, allowing the entire netbook to lie flat. However, the viewing angles on the anti-glare display are somewhat narrow. Two people sitting side by side can share the screen, but sit any further away, and you'll encounter color distortion.
The 1103's volume was surprisingly strong from the narrow speaker just under the netbook's front lip. We were able to fill a medium-sized room with audio with the volume on 70 percent. When watching Hulu videos, we didn't need to crank it up to hear. Sound was somewhat flat and a little tinny at the at the max, but that's to be expected.
Ports and Webcam
The Mini 1103 comes with the typical netbook port spread: power, VGA, one USB and a combo head-phone/mic port on the left; a covered Ethernet port, lock slot, two USBs, and the memory card slot on the right.
The included webcam didn't impress. The captured images were dark and lacked color depth. However, our Skype friend didn't notice much blurring when we initiated a video call.
To keep costs down, HP equipped the Mini 1103 with a single-core 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N455 CPU and the standard 1GB of RAM. This combo earned the netbook a score of 1,473 on PCMark05, which is just slightly above the netbook average. It fared better than other netbooks in this price range, such as the ASUS Eee PC 1001P (1,384) and the Toshiba mini NB255 (1,393), and even the costlier Samsung N150 Plus (1,300). It also compares favorably to HP's other educational model, the Mini 100e (1,330). However, the dual-core Samsung NF310 scored almost 200 marks more (1,646).
The 250GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive was predictably speedy, completing our File Transfer test in just under 3 minutes for a score of 28.6 Mbps. This is well above the average netbook (19.5) and the competition, all of which use 5,400-rpm drives. It's no surprise that the 52-second boot time is also speedier than most netbooks, which take 66 seconds on average. As with many HP notebooks, the Mini 1103 wakes from sleep automatically upon opening the lid. It doesn't wake as quickly as the N150 Plus, but at less than 10 seconds you'll start working in short order.
The Mini 1103 converted a 5:05 MPEG-4 video clip (114MB) to the AVI format in 6 minutes and 13 seconds with Oxelon. That's slower than the cate-gory average by around 30 seconds, but on a par with other netbooks in this price range. The Eee PC 1001P took 6:02 and the Mini NB255 took 6:06. The Mini 100e did slightly better at 5:57, and the dual-core NF310 completed the test 1.5 times faster (3:50).
With nothing but Intel's integrated graphics on board, the Mini 1103's 3DMark06 lowly score of 149 wasn't shocking. The Mini 100e got the same score, and the Eee PC 1001P and the N150 Plus weren't that much ahead, each earning 155 marks. Even the NF310 scored about the same (147).
During testing, 720p videos played from the hard drive showed smooth motion and only slight pixela-tion. However, 720p web video from Vimeo and YouTube at full screen wasn't as smooth; the Mini 1103 had a hard time keeping video and audio in sync.
The Mini 1103 could handle some casual, Flash-based games such as Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. Still, Farmville and Pet Society played very slow.
Battery and Wi-Fi
The six-cell battery on the Mini 1103 lasted for 8 hours and 27 minutes, about 2 hours above the netbook average. This machine beats out the HP Mini 100e and Samsung NF310 (both 6:32), the Toshiba Mini NB255 (6:41) and the Samsung N150 Plus (7:12) and comes in just a few minutes behind the ASUS Eee PC 1001P (8:40).
The Ralink RT3090 wireless radio delivered strong throughput at 15 feet from our router (35.8 Mbps) but at 50 feet the signal dropped to just 12.4 Mbps. The latter score is well below the netbook average (18.5) and behind the Mini 100e (17.9). This issue may not not be a problem so long as the router is nearby.
Software and Warranty
HP bundles the Mini 1103 with a good assortment of useful software. You'll find HP's Support Assistant and the Wireless Assistant, plus the QuickWeb in-stant-on environment. The company includes some security features as well, including a Power-On password option and support for Computrace LoJack Pro for HP ProtectTools.
For the webcam, the company went with the Arcsoft Camera Suite, which not only captures video and still images, but also provides a simple editor for captured clips. On the productivity side there's Evernote and Skype. You'll also see an icon for the HP Barnes & Noble Desktop eReader, but it leads to the website, where users are prompted to download.
We were happy to see the full Corel Office Suite included alongside Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition. Word and Excel Starter are fine for basic writing, but for students who need a productive office suite, Corel is the better choice.
HP offers a limited one-year standard parts and labor warranty and toll-free 24/7 hardware technical phone support plus a one- year limited warranty on the primary battery. To see how HP fared in our Tech Support Showdown, click here.
Configurations and Upgrades
On the consumer side, HP only offers one configu-ration (the same as our review unit) for purchase. For institutions, there's a small range of options available, including a more powerful 1.83-GHz Atom N475 CPU, 2GB of RAM, hard drives ranging from 160GB to 320GB, a three-cell battery, and a choice of SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 or FreeDOS operating systems. HP Mobile Broadband and GPS are also available as options, as are alternate wireless radios from Atheros and Broadcom.
Pricing on all options will vary based on bulk orders.
Though consumers won't be able to customize their configuration online, easy access to the netbook's innards make upgrading the RAM and hard drive easy.
For $299, the HP Mini 1103 delivers a solid keyboard, long battery life and a good software bundle for students. This netbook holds its own against the ASUS Eee PC 1001P, which beats the HP in the style department but lags slightly behind in most performance tests. Educational institutions and indi-vidual students looking for maximum value will find much to like in the HP Mini 1103.