by Jerry Jackson
Business professionals have always wanted a computer that is small enough to take everywhere yet powerful enough to do basic business tasks without all the bulk and weight of a regular laptop. Over the last few years as the global economy took a turn for the worse, road warriors started wanting a low-cost solution as well. HP and Sony each developed their own solutions for this market, the HP Mini 2140 and the Sony VAIO P. These, compact, lightweight, and low-cost computers use the same technology found in cheap $400 netbooks and add the superior build quality and connectivity features you expect in a premium business notebook.
Which one of these travel companions is right for you? Which one did our editors like most in a Head to Headcomparison? Keep reading and you’ll find out.
Build and Design
Anyone who reads the reviews of netbooks (low-cost, compact laptops) on NotebookReview.com knows that most of these bottom-rung laptops look and feel cheap. All-plastic construction, horribly small keyboards, and tiny screens with low resolution add up to a rather unimpressive user experience. This is why our editorial staff loves both the HP Mini 2140 and the Sony VAIO P. These computers might share much of the same internals as netbooks but both of these tiny laptops look and feel like premium electronics. Pick up either of these computers and you immediately understand why neither HP nor Sony want people to call them netbooks.
HP was the first notebook manufacturer to come out with what could be described as a premium netbook in 2008 when they released the HP Mini-note 2133. The 2133 was a remarkable little laptop with the best build quality and the best keyboard we had ever seen in a notebook that small, but in order to bring the price down well below $1,000 HP decided to use a low-power processor and low-performing graphics. The combination of amazing design combined with sub-par performance made the old 2133 a failure in the eyes of most journalists and consumers alike. This year, when the HP Mini 2140 was announced, it was clear that HP learned a valuable lesson and was committed to making a true premium business netbook.
HP Mini 2140
Conversely, the Sony VAIO P has all the style and sexiness of … well … a Sony.
Sony VAIO P
Sony’s VAIO notebooks have long been considered some of the most stylish laptops on the planet. Even Apple has been known to borrow a few ideas from Sony designers over the years. If there’s one thing Sony knows how to do it’s design electronics that people want to buy. It’s no surprise then that Sony makes the coolest looking netbook on the market. In fact, with its slim design that fits into your back pocket or your purse, the VAIO P is labeled as a Lifestyle PC rather than a netbook on the SonyStyle website.
That said, the VAIO P suffers from some of the same limitations of low-cost netbooks: limited port selection, a tiny keyboard, and a physically small screen. Sure, every member of our staff agrees they would rather own a Sony VAIO P than a MSI Wind netbook, but both computers have strikingly similar features and performance.
At the end of the day, both the Mini 2140 and VAIO P are among the best-built netbooks on the market. These laptops are so much better than the average netbook that it almost makes you consider not calling them netbooks … almost. That said, the larger keyboard, touchpad, and aluminum and magnesium alloy construction elements of the HP Mini 2140 place it head and shoulders above the VAIO P despite the sexy appeal of the Sony.
Advantage: HP Mini 2140
Features and Specs
The fact that both HP and Sony hate the tem netbook should serve as some indication that these ultramobile laptops are loaded with reasonably impressive specs. For starters, the HP Mini 2140 is one of the only Atom-based notebooks currently on the market that features an ExpressCard slot for expansion. Most netbooks only have USB ports for connecting accessories, so the fact that the HP offers an ExpressCard slot makes this product stand out. The ExpressCard slot means you can add eSATA, FireWire, additional USB ports, or any number of other adapter cards or broadband wireless cards to the Mini 2140. Bottom line, the ExpressCard slot opens up a world of possibilities you won’t find in other netbooks.
Unfortunately, HP doesn’t offer the Mini 2140 with built-in 3G mobile broadband, so you have to use the ExpressCard slot or a USB port to connect your notebook to a broadband wireless network like Verizon or AT&T.
Sony, on the other hand, includes the option of built-in 3G mobile broadband, GPS, and even has two memory card slots (a nice way to transfer photos or other files and use the other slot for Windows ReadyBoost). The other primary advantage that the Sony VAIO P has over the HP Mini 2140 in terms of features and specs is the screen. The Sony features an 8-inch display with a resolution of 1600 x 768. The base model of the Mini 2140 features a 10.1-inch screen with a meager resolution of only 1024 x 576. The screen on the VAIO might be physically smaller, but you can fit more text and more images on the VAIO’s screen. Websites look normal on the VAIO P while the bottom of your favorite home pages might get cut off on the HP Mini 2140.
In short, the combination of wireless features and superior screen resolution make the Sony VAIO P a stronger candidate in terms of features and specs. The ExpressCard slot on the Mini 2140 is fantastic, but the base model needs a higher resolution screen.
Advantage: Sony VAIO P
Ease of Use
There are a number of factors to consider when you talk about ease of use but one of the most important is the keyboard. Let’s face it, everyone loves the idea of a small and lightweight travel laptop, but nobody wants a tiny keyboard that is painful to use. Netbooks are infamous for having painfully small keyboards with bad layouts, but both the HP and the Sony offer viable alternatives to typical netbook keyboards.
The keyboard on the VAIO P is less cramped than what we’ve seen on the 7-inch and 8.9-inch netbooks, but the Sony keyboard is still verycompact. You still want to use the hunt and peck method of typing with the VAIO P, but since the keys have more spacing in between them it’s a little easier to use standard touch typing methods. Bottom line, you can type long emails or reports without too much discomfort … but you’ll probably want to invest in an external keyboard if you plan to use this as your primary office computer.
In contrast, the keyboard on the Mini 2140 is simply fantastic. Last year we said the keyboard on the Mini-note 2133 is the best keyboard we’ve seen on a notebook this small. That statement holds true for the new Mini 2140 as well. Sure, you can find better keyboards on larger notebooks, but HP currently has the best keyboard we’ve tested on 10-inch and smaller netbooks. The keys have the silver HP DuraKeys finish that makes them resist dirt and makes the letters printed on the keys last longer over time. The surface of the keys is also smooth to the touch.
The second part of the ease of use section probably needs to be dedicated to the touchpad. Most people find using the touchpad on the Mini 2140 a little awkward. The right and left click buttons are what catch you off guard. The buttons are located on the sides of the touchpad and it’s easy to forget where they are located if you’re used to a regular touchpad. I would have liked the palm rest area to be a little bigger so the buttons could have been relocated below the touchpad like on standard notebooks and most netbooks. The button above the touchpad is a convenient feature that turns the touchpad off and makes it inactive when you are typing or using an external mouse.
The Sony VAIO P actually doesn’t have a touchpad at all and uses at touchpoint or trackpoint similar to what you find on many business notebooks. The trackpoint is quite sensitive and easy to use, and even though I usually prefer to use touchpads I found the trackpoint to be very enjoyable. The left and right touchpoint buttons are located in the correct position beneath the space bar and have a shallow feedback and produce a light click when pressed.
At the end of the day it all boils down to the keyboard in this section. Although I understand that Sony had to use a smaller keyboard to make the VAIO P fit in your pocket, the HP Mini 2140 simply has the best keyboard we’ve used in a laptop this small.
Advantage: HP Mini 2140
Every Intel Atom-based netbook we’ve reviewed since the Intel Atom processor first arrived in 2008 has virtually identical performance. The synthetic benchmark charts we use to judge performance look painfully boring whenever you compare netbooks. Any Atom processor has enough performance for basic tasks like web browsing or working in Microsoft Office … you just can’t expect to use them for multimedia entertainment beyond playing audio files or low-resolution video.
That said, neither the HP Mini 2140 nor the Sony VAIO P scored particularly high among netbooks. In fact, they’re both among the lowest scoring Atom-based computers we’ve reviewed. Nevertheless, both the HP and the Sony felt as fast as any other Atom-based laptop in real-world use. Although the Sony VAIO P feels a little sluggish under Windows Vista, it also benefits from the new Sony XRoss operating system … a Linux-based OS that allows for virtually instant access to the web, email, and multimedia applications.
Our full reviews of both models have detailed performance information and synthetic benchmarks if you need more information. Be sure to check out the links to the full reviews at the end of this article.
Obviously, either of these computers is more than capable of browsing the web, checking email, typing a Word document, or giving a PowerPoint presentation. Given the fact that the Sony VAIO P offers built-in 3G broadband, GPS, and a quick-start operating system that allows you to instantly jump online, share photos or listen to music, my preference leans toward the Sony. Yes, the Mini 2140 offers an ExpressCard slot, has better synthetic benchmark numbers and comes pre-installed with Windows XP rather than Vista, but in real-world use the VAIO P just seems to take the top spot.
Advantage: Sony VAIO P
Price and Value
If there’s one area where the HP Mini 2140 absolutely destroys the Sony VAIO P, it’s price. There’s just no way to say the Sony VAIO P has a better price and value than the HP Mini 2140 when the base price is $400 more expensive. True, the Sony can fit in your pocket and offers a higher resolution screen than the HP. However, the difference between $499 and $899 is pretty huge in today’s economy. If you’re still looking for a reason to pick one over the other, the Mini 2140 gets our pick in terms of value in this comparison.
Advantage: HP Mini 2140
The staff at NotebookReview.com follows a very simple philosophy: There’s a notebook for every buyer and a buyer for every notebook. We believe that no matter what you’re looking for there is a notebook that’s perfect for you. Likewise, regardless of whether you think a notebook is great or a piece of junk, there’s someone out there who thinks that notebook is perfect. That’s why it’s so hard to pick a winner in comparisons like these.
Both of these computers are perfect … for somebody.
That said, if we make a decision (based solely on the categories above) for the average consumer about which premium netbook to buy, we would have to ultimately choose the winner as the HP Mini 2140. The build quality, ease of use, and price are all strong reasons to suggest the Mini 2140 if you’re an average Joe or Jane looking for a premium netbook for business travel. Just keep in mind that the Sony VAIO P has some strong advantages of its own.
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