By Chris Nicholls

SYDNEY: HP has released its first entry into the ultra-portable laptop market, with its 8.9-inch screened $899 Mini-Note. 

The 1.19 kg Mini-Note is priced several hundred dollars above what many would perceive as its obvious rival, the Asus Eee PC, but comes with a larger screen, vastly bigger hard drive (120GB compared with 4GB for the Eee PC), aluminium body and a keyboard only 10 per cent smaller than a full-sized laptop keyboard.

The Mini-Note is available overseas in various other specifications, including a 4GB hard drive version selling for US$499 that puts it in direct competition, but HP Australia Notebooks market development manager, Jerel Chong, said the local arm decided to import the higher-spec model after market analysis.

“We based our decision to import the higher-end model based on feedback about what we think will sell the most volume. We spoke to a number of our customers and this was something that they wanted to see in their range of products that they offer, and we settled on this particular specification because of that.” said Chong.

However, Chong did not rule out a change to the initial model selection strategy, based on feedback and sales in the first four weeks of sales.

“We’re also looking at making available a way of configuring whatever specification customers want,” he said, noting any such system would not be available for another two months or so.

HP could not confirm whether the configuration system would just be limited to online sales, as is so far the case in the US, or would expand into the retail store-level, though.

While the Mini-Note comes with a video-out port, VPN connectivity and is equipped with Windows Vista Business as standard (other options are available) , it will be marketed at both business and consumer users, Chong said.

“What we’re seeing from our focus groups is that the product can sit in a variety of spaces,” he said.

“Definitely, business users will find this a very attractive device, but we’re also seeing applications in education, because it takes up so much less room in a bag … and the fact that it’s tamper-proof, it’s also something IT managers will take to … so there are wide applications, not only in education and business, but also consumers,” he said.

The Mini-Note comes with a VIA C7-M ULV Processor (up to 1.6 GHz & 800MHz FSB, 128  KB L2 cache), webcam, a three cell battery as standard with a six-cell battery as a cost option (price not decided at time of publication). It also has a hard drive guard feature.

WiFi and Bluetooth are included, but Chong said he could not be sure about any future inclusion of HSDPA connectivity.

Chong also said more such devices would be developed in the near future, similar to Asus’ expansion of their Eee PC line-up.