Micro Fondles: hp Mini, HTC Shift, Asus EeePC

I was in the area this morning and stopped in J&R to see what I could lay my fondling fingers on.

I’d just noticed earlier in the week that the HTC Shift was listed on their site, so I went looking for that first.

And there it was, added to the area where the OQO, Fujitsu, and Samsung Q1U sadly hang out, an aisle away from the main notebook action.

It was attached to a fugly brown wrap-around pleather case that I couldn’t get to disengage so I could hold the unit by itself to test weight.

Then I tried to do its shift and was afraid I’d break the damned thing! After three tries, I got it to work (I think).

J&R now has this nasty security on all their demo devices. You have to know the password to get in to try it. Which — what a coincidence! — means summoning a salesdroid over. Uh, no. I don’t want that. Sometimes, but not all the time, they also have a Guest account with Enter as the password. But that was not the case with the Shift.

Anyway, all I had to do is look at that keyboard and see it was sad. Then I actually tried to press a key and it was downright tragic. Although it’s a real keyboard, the keys are too tiny even for my thin hands. Label it absolutely worthless. There’s practically no way to hit one key without also engaging another. And I thought the Asus EeePC was bad in that respect! The Shift is just worse. The keyboard on the OQO, because of the way that unit is held, is better than the Shift’s.

Overall, I also didn’t like the thickness of the device. It was just a fugly brick.

I’d had, like most people I think, high hopes for the Shift. It was smaller than any other UMPC and had a built-in keyboard.

Then the fondle reports and actual reviews came out and the battery life was stunningly bad. And hardly anyone liked the keyboard.

So there it sits in J&R with a $1,500.00(!!!) or so pricetag, silently crying to itself because people look at that price and mock it. (No, not even a price slash to $500.00 would make it a buy.)

Next up was the big surprise — the hp Mini Note!

What a strange set of proportions it has. The keyboard sits there all large, looking like some bizarre mouth. And since the demo unit is right next to a line-up of four Asus EeePCs, the contrast is even more startling.

That keyboard: not so bad, not so good, either. The one notebook keyboard that acts as if it was tailor-made for the typing trajectory of my fingertips is the one on the Apple MacBook. It’s just downright eerie how I can make zero errors on it without looking at the keys at all. It’s as if the keyboard had ESP and was able to move each key to be directly beneath my fingers.

Not so with the hp Mini. I had a few typos, mainly with keys off to the left — I think the Shift key and A key gave me some trouble. Other than that, it was pretty good for typing in terms of the keys being where I expected them to be underneath my fingers. The keyboard felt roomy. The keys also aren’t flat. There is a slight curve to them and they have an OK texture.

However, there is a very short travel distance to the keys and the feedback is not as soft as I’d like it to be. I can foresee that keyboard reactivating a very bad case of RSI I developed from having to use an IBM ThinkPad in very hard full-bore use for several months a few years ago.

I didn’t have any problem with the trackpad. And I didn’t mind the side placements of the mouse buttons at all. My left thumb naturally went to the left button without my having to think about it.

The shell has a nice metallic finish. I’m not entirely sure the bottom is metal, but the outside top — the back of the screen — sure feels like it. It feels like a tool, not a toy.

The screen is bright — although the Vista Business wallpaper was using pretty sickening nearly-translucent colors that appeared diluted. I had no problems with reflections on the screen itself. It wasn’t until looking at it again that I noticed some reflectiveness from the black bezel surrounding the screen. I guess any screen reflection will — Duh! Alert — depend on angle and ambient lighting. I didn’t have any reflection of my face to distract me from my test typing into WordPad.

Picking up the hp Mini Note was one dealbreaker. It has serious weight. And the demo model was without a battery in it! Having this in my shoulder bag would be the weight equivalent of a serious non-fiction hardcover book. Worse: due to the nice finish of its shell, I’d probably want to protect it with something, so that’d mean even more weight.

It’s also strangely bulky. I say strangely because I compared its thickness with the Asus EeePC right next to it and there wasn’t a ginormous difference in their depth.

In terms of size, the pictures that have been circulating of an Asus EeePC sitting atop a Mini are deceptive. I did that comparison for myself with both units and was surprised at how much larger the Mini was compared to the EeePC (the 7xx model; J&R hasn’t gotten the e900 yet). It’s a bigger difference than the photos led me to believe.

But, of course, the original dealbreaker with the hp Mini is its VIA CPU. As it is, I wind up cursing at my desktop PC slowing down. It’s a 1.8GHz Celeron (shut up!). I’ve been told the performance of the VIA chip is worse than what I have at my desktop. So, I’d probably have little joy using it and much frustration. Which, given its price, is not an experience I want to have.

I then went back to test typing on the EeePC again. This time I carefully looked at the keyboard and forced myself to really aim at the key I wanted. And I found my typos dropped drastically. Like the Mini, I also had problems at the left side, with Shift and A (As kept not being registered).

I have an idiosyncratic typing style, never having had any formal typing course and never having used any typing tutor software. I taught myself on a portable manual typewriter (see this picture for the exact one! — my god! I just recalled reloading ribbons! what a horror!) — when those were considered laptops! In defense of my typing style, let me say that I never, ever had problems on the classic IBM Selectric keyboard; wow, could I bang out text on that — and keep everyone in the building awake overnight!

Having seen that I can severely curb typos on an Asus EeePC if I concentrate, I guess I’ll have to rethink my skepticism over the keyboard assertion in that Redfly review.

The weight of the Asus is also its charm. Really, it weighs nothing. Of course, the demo unit lacked the battery, but I can’t think adding it would put it anywhere near the hp Mini without its battery. Also, the size of the EeePC is just perfect for plopping into my shoulder bag. Given comments I’ve had from EeePC owners, they simply close it and drop it in their bags; the finish has been practically scratch-resistant.

The initial excitement I had over the EeePC was this: My god! A real computer I can actually tote around for just $400!

Then Everex came along and muddied those clear waters by seemingly upping the ante with its Cloudbook and its hard drive. It was the Cloudbook that first began the drumbeat against the VIA CPU in cheap subnotes. (Yes, there was carping from the UMPC camp well before then, but only addicts would shell out the big bucks for those expensive items to begin with.)

Then hp saw that bet and raised it with the Mini. But it’s a cheat of a raise. The SSD version of the Mini seemingly puts it up against the Asus EeePC, but that’s not the only configuration available. Inevitably one says: Well, if I’m going to pay $50 more for a better keyboard, why not a few dollars more for a hard drive? And so the price creep begins — along with complaints over the VIA CPU MHz speed and the lack of built-in Bluetooth! — and the original appeal of the Asus EeePC is lost in a fog.

So I sit here half telling myself to throw off all other considerations and just get a $400 EeePC that has XP installed on it. Then another half of me says, no, maybe the e900, so I have some leeway for the future. Then another half of me (shut up, I contain multitudes!) tells me that’s jacking the price up by one hundred and fifty dollars. And if I’m going to do that, yet another half of me says I should then not compromise at all and just add yet another $50 and get the MSI Wind, with its larger screen (10″!) and bigger keyboard (hp Mini sized?) and hard drive.

There. The war within me goes from $400 to $549 to $610 (approximate prices, not including NYC sales tax!).

What about you? Am I the only person spinning like a top over this?

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4 Comments on “Micro Fondles: hp Mini, HTC Shift, Asus EeePC”

  1. papergraffiti Says:

    I forced myself to concentrate on the price/size/weight appeal of the eeePC and all else fell away. I got mine a few months ago (the 701 4G), added an 8GB SDHC card, installed Ubuntu on it, and got a 250GB external drive for the few instances that I need hefty storage. I have NOT looked back. I find myself preaching the greatness of my eeePC all over the Internet! LOL

    I have had a few moments of almost-remorse when I see the HP Mini-Note and others, but I remind myself of some of your excellent points above: 1) They’re not going to be as cheap, 2) They’re not going to be as light, and 3) When they get bigger and have options to make them faster, have more storage, etc., the point of having a small, cheap sub-notebook starts to get lost.

    Hope you are able to decide soon!

  2. Nate Says:

    No. You aren’t, Mike. Fifty bucks here, fifty bucks there, and pretty soon we’re talking real money.

    I’d say I’ve thought, virtually, the same things you have about everyone of these devices.

    For my money (which I’ve put directly where my mouth is on both the 701 Eee and the Mini-Note) the Mini-Note is the superior machine because of the keyboard, LCD and hard drive, most notable being the keyboard.

    For me, and I have pretty small hands for a guy, the Eee keyboard got worse over time. Early on, I didn’t see why people were complaining. As time went on, I began to develop stiffness in my forearms and hands, presumably from the way I had to contort my hands to get my fingers to fit properly on the tiny keys. Because of this, I’ve discontinued use of the Eee Pc.

  3. mikecane Says:

    >>>As time went on, I began to develop stiffness in my forearms and hands, presumably from the way I had to contort my hands to get my fingers to fit properly on the tiny keys

    Do you type the way people are “supposed” to — fingers over the Home row and all that?

    I primarily use my right hand (one finger, thumb on spacebar — although that’s usually the left thumb doing that) with some assistance from my left. People have literally marveled at my mutant style. (Still, it did not prevent RSI from a ThinkPad!)

  4. Nate Says:

    Yep, I type as nature intended, on the home row.

    I will say, I had no issues with typos or speed typing on the Eee keyboard. Like I said, I have pretty small hands, and I’m sure that helps quite a bit on that small pad.

    I think what the real problem , for me, was that the size of the keys forced me to hold my fingers closer together than I would on a normal keyboard. The Mini-Note resolves this, for me.

    Believe me. I understand the appeal of the Eee Pc, and I’m a huge backer of the machine. I’d never tell anyone not to buy one. I’m the only person I’ve heard of mentioning RSI issues with it. Truthfully, I type on these machines for more hours out of the day than any normal human being should.


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