As the successor to one of our favourite netbooks, the HP Mini 5102 has some pretty big shoes to fill. It wasn't HP's choice in components that we liked about its 10-inch Mini 5101 business-line system -- after all, most 2009 netbooks shared a very uniform set of parts -- it was the overall design and build quality of the netbook that impressed us.
With a body made of aluminium and magnesium alloy, the 5101 felt significantly more rugged than many of the plastic netbooks it was competing with, and its excellent keyboard layout made typing a breeze. The 5102 offers minor cosmetic tweaks but also more configuration options, including a touchscreen. That means you can create a fairly compelling netbook, but it'll also be an expensive one, as anything above the base configuration will add significantly to the cost. HP has yet to announce UK pricing, but you can expect to pay a premium rate for this machine when it's available in March.
Slick, not a brick
Very similar in appearance to the 5101, the 5102 has a black, brushed-metal lid and matte black keyboard and keyboard tray, offset by a glossy touchpad. The overall look of the netbook is definitely on the business side of the equation, but it's also sleek enough to hold its own at a hipster coffee shop. Although it's not the thinnest or lightest netbook ever, it feels solid and durable, without being a brick.
We were concerned when HP ditched its previous wide, flat keys for a redesigned, pebble-style keyboard on the 5101. The 5102 keeps this new design, and time has shown it to be a good one, although we still have a soft spot for the older design. Important keys, like Shift, are large. Controlling the volume, screen brightness and so on are the primary functions of the top row of function keys, while the somewhat more obscure F-key functions require you to hold down the Fn key. This change from the usual is something we've seen on a few laptops recently, and it seems like a generally good idea.
The 5102's touchpad is of a traditional type, with the mouse buttons located below. We prefer this style to the side-mounted mouse buttons and elongated touchpads found on older HP netbooks, but, at the same time, the touchpad itself is small and its slick surface attracts fingerprints like nothing we've ever seen before. Consequently, it often looks dingy.
The 10.1-inch wide-screen display has a 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, which is the norm for low-end netbooks. As a premium system with an anticipated premium price, we'd expect to see a high-definition, 1,366x768-pixel screen by default (it will be available as an optional upgrade).
Our base-model configuration of the 5102 omits Bluetooth, but otherwise offers a standard set of ports and connections for a netbook. While HP's configuration options aren't live yet, the system will offer a built-in 3G connection. More interesting is the option for a touchscreen. This may be of limited practical use for most people, but it shows the increasing deployment of touch technology in the laptop industry.