HP pioneered the notion of transforming a netbook into a corporate raider. The idea seems like a budget-conscious no-brainer now, but 18 months ago the HP 2133 Mini-Note was a wolf pack of one. Since then, the netbook market has evolved - and so have HP's entries in it. The HP Mini 5101 is a smart update, with slickly styled lines, a batch of business-ready apps, and finally a serviceable touchpad.

The gunmetal black magnesium alloy casing on the HP Mini 5101 stands in stark contrast to the shiny, silvery sloped exteriors of previous Minis. The unit measures 261x180x23mm and weighs about 1.17kg, making it an ideal traveling companion.

Two other big changes await you beneath the lid. First, the flat, wide keys of earlier HP Mini models are gone, replaced by cut-out keys that float like tiny, springy islands amidst a sea of black plastic (the keyboard configuration resembles that of the HP Probook 4510s). The coated, 95-percent-of-full-size keys are textured enough to permit comfortable typing (abetted by the rubberized textures around the wrist pad), and they don't smudge easily. Camping atop the keyboard are two lit-up quick-launch buttons and the power button.

The second major change: HP moved the mouse buttons from their old location flanking the touchpad to a position below it. That may not seem like a big deal, until you cut and paste documents for a while. HP was the only netbook maker that hadn't dropped the older style (presumably because the company's designers needed so much room for the huge keyboards on their netbooks). The mouse buttons feel great, too: firm and rubbery-textured. If the touchpad were a little larger, the input system would be perfect. (The Toshiba NB205-310 has shown everyone how a netbook touchpad should be designed.)

Under the hood, beyond the 1GB (upgradable to 2GB) of RAM and the 1.6GHz Intel Atom N280 CPU, lie a couple of tasty tidbits. First, the default hard drives spin at 7200 rpm (or you can upgrade to solid-state drives). That performance upgrade could mean a couple of extra points on WorldBench 6 test results. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to run the rig through all of its paces yet; but when we do, we'll report how well the HP Mini 5101 fared - and how long its six-cell battery lasted (HP's claims a battery life of 9 hours; we'll see about that). Already we know that the machine does a decent job of dissipating heat. It won't light your lap on fire.

The default HP Mini 5101 screen uses a 1024-by-600-pixel, 10.1-inch LCD panel, but you can upgrade 1366-by-768-pixel, 10.1-inch screen. Images on the latter looked razor-sharp, though the fonts and icons seemed almost microscopic. The resolution is certainly precise enough for viewing high-definition content onscreen. Some 720p test video took a second or two to start, but looked immaculate once in motion. And the colours, though a little muted, popped with enough clarity that we could make out inky shadows in dark corners.

The HP Mini 5101 handles audio through front-firing speakers. Though a little tinny, they have enough gusto that you won't mind listening (foe a while) without headphones. The remaining I/O ports consist of a VGA-out, three USB ports, an SD card slot, headphone and mic jacks, an ethernet jack, and a 2-megapixel webcam.

HP has gathered a fairly robust collection of business-friendly hardware and software features for the Mini 5101. One of the three USB ports is a pass-through charger, which lets you charge gear while your netbook is powered off. HP Fast Charge reloads the standard battery to 90 percent of capacity within 90 minutes. The company's 3D DriveGuard accelerometer protects the hard drive. Security tools enable you to scrub data from prying eyes. HP also throws in Corel Home Office suite, which includes word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation apps.

OUR VERDICT

Until UK pricing is known, it's difficult to offer a definitive verdict on the HP Mini 5101, but it's fair to say that HP has succeeded in delivering a smarter netbook.