Colourful inside and out, the Mini's 10.1-inch display showcases bright, vivid colours, making it a huge selling point.
Before we get to performance, let's talk about the bits and bobs around the side of this netbook. In the interests of saving space, things are a bit minimal -- three USB ports, VGA out, a multi-format card reader and a solitary 3.5mm jack for some headphones. There's no extra port for a microphone, so if you're always on Skype, that's something to think about before throwing down your cash.The 15.6-inch Pavilion dv6-3085ea entertainment laptop is pretty similar to some other machines in HP's range -- most notably the Pavilion dm4-1050ea -- from the price tag, right down to the pre-installed software. Does it have anything unique to offer? Let's find out.Cosmetically, the dv6-3085ea fits right in among HP's current line-up. It has a coppery-pink, metal-edged chassis, with an intricate rope design on the lid and a minimalist keyboard with isolated keys.The sturdy build quality of this machine means it's not the most portable laptop we've ever seen. That said, measuring 378 by 36 by 245mm, and weighing 2.5kg, it's still reasonably portable. One benefit of its chunky construction is that this laptop is less likely than some rivals to sustain damage while nestled in your rucksack, and you won't be plagued by pieces of plastic snapping off the whole time.
The dv6-3085ea's keyboard is comfortable and the trackpad is very large. The trackpad's click buttons are also touch-sensitive, however, so you might find yourself accidentally nudging the cursor when all you want to do is click.
Around the edges of this machine, you'll find VGA and HDMI outputs, an Ethernet port, an eSATA/USB port, a multi-format card reader, 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic, three more USB ports and a DVD rewritable drive. There's a 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive on-board too. The dv6-3085ea runs on the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium. This laptop differs from certain of its HP brethren in some pleasing ways. Firstly, the arrow keys aren't incredibly small -- they're big and perfectly usable. Secondly, there's a row of shortcut keys down the left-hand side of the keyboard, which will enable you to jump to particular services, such as email, your Web browser or a calculator.
The dv6-3085ea's coppery-pink lid is similar to that of numerous other HP laptops. It's a good 'un.
These shortcuts are useful for the most part, but, because they look exactly like normal keys, anyone used to reaching for the bottom-left of the keyboard to hit Ctrl, for example, will probably be flummoxed initially. The Qwerty keyboard layout is sacred, and adding extra buttons is something that requires careful consideration by manufacturers.
The 15.6-inch, 1,366x768-pixel display is fine, but it didn't blow us away. Colours are vibrant, but there's nothing really outstanding about this screen.Ever so recently, we reviewed the HP Envy 17-1050ea, a truly luxurious machine that offers a rather spiffy design and more grunt than a grizzled old oil-rig worker. If you like the look of that machine but fancy dialling down the extravagance, the 17.3-inch HP Pavilion dv7-4050ea might be for you. It'll set you back around £900.In terms of style, the dv7-4050ea borrows a great deal from other machines in HP's laptop range. We've seen the coppery-salmon metal chassis and intricate rope design on the lid and wrist rest before, on the HP Pavilion dm4-1050ea. Around the edges of this machine, you'll find VGA and HDMI outputs, an Ethernet jack, an eSATA/USB port, a multi-format card reader, two 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic, and three standard USB ports. There's a rewritable DVD drive present too, and a 500GB hard drive inside. The whole caboodle ships with the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Professional.The dv7-4050ea's got connectivity options well covered, but we're a little dismayed that there's no Blu-ray drive in this machine. It's something we'd like to have seen considering the high cost of this laptop.
In terms of usability, the dv7-4050ea retains a few of the problems we saw in the Envy 17-1050ea. For instance, while the keyboard has plenty of space to sit in the chassis, the up and down arrow keys are hopelessly stubby, and wrapping your fingers around them is rather tricky. The rest of the keyboard is alright, however, and it's big and comfy enough that typing for extended periods should be relatively painless.The trackpad is absolutely massive, which is great, and it's satisfyingly sensitive. As with the Envy 17-1050ea, the click buttons are also touch-sensitive, so you might find yourself accidentally adjusting the cursor when all you want to do is click.The display is a strong point. Pleasingly bright, this 17.3-inch display has a maximum resolution of 1,600x900 pixels. We like seeing laptops with a 'Full HD', 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution but, that said, this particular display isn't likely to disappoint. It's bright and colours seem vivid.Ah, netbooks. In just a few short years, these popular and portable mini laptops have firmly established themselves in the modern computing hierarchy, and yet we still haven't found one with the perfect blend of battery life, a comfortable trackpad and a display that makes us cry tears of joy. Next up in our netbook auditions is the Samsung N220, available now for around £300.
The N220 makes a good first impression, thanks to its highly attractive glossy red lid, which is embossed with a Samsung logo, and finished with a tasteful chrome stripe around the edge. We reckon extracting this little beauty from your satchel will turn a few heads in the coffee shop. The machine's build quality is also excellent -- the whole package feels solid.On the inside, everything looks very... matte. There's a matte black plastic frame surrounding a matte black trackpad and keyboard, and a 10.1-inch matte display to top it all off.The display sports a maximum resolution of 1,024x600 pixels, which isn't as high as that of some similar devices. That means Web pages will render larger than they would on other displays, which in turn means you'll have to do plenty of scrolling to see the entire page. On the bright side, the matte coating on the screen really does keep reflections at bay, allowing you to keep your eyes on the action without the pesky sun spoiling your nerdy fun when you're outside.
The N220 rocks an isolated keyboard. The keys themselves are on the petite side, but the wide gaps between each button mean you're unlikely to hit the wrong one too frequently. We found typing at speed to be a perfectly pleasant experience.The trackpad is the real pièce de résistance. After handling a slew of netbooks with tiny, unresponsive, cramp-inducing trackpads, the N220's offering seemed a vision of loveliness. We appreciated the broad dimensions and sensitive surface of the trackpad, as well as its super-comfortable click buttons. It's a long time since we've used a trackpad this pleasant on a netbook.The N220's port selection includes an Ethernet jack, three USB ports, 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a microphone, a VGA output and a multi-format memory-card slot.We never expected to see Hannspree entering the netbook market, but, by golly, that's what it's gone and done. If you can track the Hannsbook down, you'll find that it offers a 10.1-inch screen, a 160GB hard drive and an Intel Atom CPU for around £250.
The Hannsbook scores highly when it comes to portability. All netbooks are designed to be portable, but this model is especially suited to being hurled into a rucksack and toted around on your daily adventures. That's because it measures a lean 265 by 31 by 230mm and weighs only 1.3kg.This netbook also looks pretty darn stylish. Our review sample sported a tasteful, cherry-coloured lid, with a chrome finish around the edge. Inside, it looks equally classy. It's black all over, and Hannspree has gone mental with the glossy coating, making for an interior so shiny we can only describe it as a 'shinesplosion'.Crucially, however, there's no glossy coating on the Hannsbook's 10.1-inch, 1,024x600-pixel display. This means that, when you're using this machine, you won't be bothered by annoying screen reflections caused by the sun and other light sources. Indeed, this display is very bright, so seeing what you're doing shouldn't be a problem.
The Hannsbook's keyboard is pretty large, and Hannspree hasn't opted for a crazy, space-saving layout, which is always good to see. The trackpad is on the small side, although its smooth plastic surface is more responsive than we expected.
Around the edges of the Hannsbook, you'll find a VGA output, multi-format card reader, three USB ports, an Ethernet jack and two 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic. There's also a 1.3-megapixel webcam built into the top of the display's frame. This netbook ships with Windows 7 Starter. A 160GB hard drive takes care of storage. That's slightly weedy, with many competing netbooks offering 250GB of storage for a similar price.
At first glance, there's a lot to like about the thin Asus UL80J-BBK5. A 14-inch screen, Core i3 processor, Nvidia Optimus graphics switching, and a DVD burner suggest a complete package in one of the thinner mainstream laptops we've seen, all for $799. There are, unfortunately, some big drawbacks. That Core i3 processor we mentioned is actually a Core i3 ULV, which operates at about half the speed as a normal Core i3. And the Nvidia Optimus graphics technology, which switches on the fly between a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU and integrated Intel graphics, is supposed to greatly enhance battery life--and yet, the UL80J didn't do significantly better than other standard-voltage Core i3 laptops.
For gamers, this could be a strong alternative to an Alienware M11x as a consideration for a compact laptop with some gaming muscle, but for anyone else it's likely to not offer enough beyond its gaming performance for the money. The Samsung Q430-11 is a Core i5 screamer by comparison, comes with dedicated Nvidia graphics, and costs nearly the same despite outperforming the UL80J in nearly all categories.
The Asus UL80J falls into a familiar line of Asus laptops seen in previous retail laptop roundups, and we've always appreciated its slim design. Crisp angles and a combination of black plastic and aluminum give this laptop a sharp but smudge-collecting profile. The thin brushed-aluminum lid has glossy plastic on its interior surrounding the inset screen. A thin strip of brushed metal accents the otherwise plastic lower deck surrounding the keyboard. A chrome bar above the raised keyboard has dual start-up buttons, the left bringing up a Quick Start OS, the right booting Windows 7.Though the raised keyboard is efficiently laid out and has good key spacing, there's some major flex during typing. It doesn't severely affect typing quality, but the flexy feel is jarring enough to put us off the UL80J as a typer's machine. It's particularly surprising since we haven't encountered this level of flex on other Asus UL-series laptops before.
A medium-size square multitouch trackpad shares a slick brushed-metal feel, and though it controls well, it collects smudges, too. Two small, convex buttons beneath have a subtle click strength and are a bit too narrow for our tastes.The 14-inch wide-screen LED-backlit display offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, standard for 14-inch laptops. Brightness and sharpness on the display were above average in quality, but we found the viewing angles to suffer when tilting the screen to share a video with others. It's suitable for movies and games, but we didn't find it exceptional.Stereo Altec Lansing speakers situated below the keyboard on a front-angled edge projected sound well and had fair range, although they couldn't hold a candle to the speaker system on the Alienware M11x.
Due largely to its size, the Asus UL80J-BBK5 doesn't have a whole lot of ports other than the standard trio of USB 2.0 and VGA/HDMI. There's no built-in Bluetooth, either. It would have been a nice addition, especially for compatibility with wireless mice and game controllers.