Recently, I was able to get my hands on an HP Mini 311 netbook. This is the first time I have ever had a chance to work with a netbook, and I will say right up front, it was not the best experience I have had. The HP Mini 311 was loaned to me by Verizon Wireless for review purposes. During my review, I ran into multiple problems and concerns, which I will describe in detail below.
The HP Mini 311 features an 11.6″ LED HD BrightView widescreen display, Nvidia’s ION gfx chip, a 160GB HHD, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, an HP Broadband Wireless (3G) modem, and 802.11a-n WLAN. The specs on this little machine are impressive, for such a small package. The device, which measures in around 11.5″ x 8″ x 1.25″, features a stylish design with a wide range of ports on both sides. For me, the best thing about the HP Mini 311, is the beautiful high-definition screen, which is paired with the Nvidia ION. The screen on this device is great for watching movies through iTunes, via DVD, or through many of the HD video (non-Flash; more info in the Software section) sites that are on the net today.
The ports on this device are another strong point. On the right side of the device, you have an Ethernet port, VGA, audio out, two USB 2.0 ports and a media card reader. On the left side, you have the security lock, power connector, one USB 2.0 port, and one HDMI out. Yes, you read it right: This netbook features HDMI out, which is an impressive feature for a device in this genre. I tested the HDMI output and was very impressed with the quality.
The Nvidia ION gfx chip and the 11.6″ HD screen are impressive, but there are a few hardware aspects that affected my review in a negative way. First, the touchpad on this device is made of the same material as the rest of the body with no texture difference. I found this very annoying, and I much prefer the textured style touchpad that comes on the unibody MacBook Pro. The second negative I came across with the HP Mini 311 was the keyboard. I found the keys to be to be very cheap feeling, and they wiggle a bit when you touch them.
The HP Mini 311 comes with Windows 7 Home Premium and all kinds of HP software pre-installed. The software that comes pre-installed on the device is what turned me off from this device completely. First is the HP software products. I don’t know why hardware developers feel the need to fill their machines with horrible clunky software that ruins the usability of the device. When you start up the device, you are prompted with five — yes, five — popups asking you to activate and pay for something, register something, or run something in the background. The HP assistant software that tells you if your computer is “healthy” or not pops up and scans for a few minutes every time you wake the device.
The Verizon Wireless VZAccess Manager, which is the software you use to connect to the Verizon Wireless 3G network, is very bulky and slow-moving. When you open the software, it takes 45 seconds to a minute before you can do anything; then there is another 15 to 30 second wait while it “detects devices”??? While the software does what it is supposed to, it also takes over control of your WiFi connection. My contact described this as a convenient feature, but I found it more annoying and somewhat inconvenient. I would much rather just use Windows 7’s built-in WiFi controller.
Flash performance on the device was not great either. I found Flash video playback from sites like Hulu and HBO GO to be very choppy and unwatchable. I did some research and found that this occurs partly because Flash did a hack job at integrating with the NVIDIA ION chipset. I also think the bulky, memory-hogging HP software played a part in the poor Flash performance.
The Verizon Network
This section is where I have to cut my review short. Halfway through my review of the device, the Verizon 3G network started giving me authentication errors, which hindered my ability to fully review the 3G performance and run speed tests. I reached out to my contact at Verizon, who was unable to assist me with this issue.
The HP Mini 311 features a very impressive set of hardware specs for a netbook device. The HD BrightView screen is one of the best I have seen on a laptop computer, and the addition of HDMI is a very welcome component. The software is where this device takes a turn for the worse. The HP pre-installed software is annoying and bogs down the performance of the computer. The VZAccess Manager from Verizon Wireless, is very slow-moving and not the most user-friendly mobile connect software package I have worked with. My final verdict for the HP Mini 311, is SKIP IT!
Have you ever used a Netbook? Which one did you use, and was it a favorable experience?