HP Mini 311 — Design
Moving on to our pictorial overview, here's our gallery of the HP Mini 311 along with the included accessories.
The HP Mini 311 is available in either a black or white swirl pattern. We received the black version, and the white casing is an extra $20. If we were purchasing this for ourselves, we'd be inclined to go with the white model, simply because it's not as likely to show fingerprints as the black casing — and the black model definitely picks up fingerprints, with the typical glossy plastic finish found on many laptops these days. Thankfully, the palm rest and keyboard are silver instead of black and they don't have a glossy finish, so they don't show smudges very much at all by comparison. The LCD is also glossy (reflective), but we really didn't expect anything else considering the last time we saw a matte LCD in a laptop was several years back. (Yes, I know, a few companies like Apple still offer it as an option on higher end notebooks.) The LCD also has a low contrast ratio, similar to most other budget laptops/netbooks.
While the overall appearance is good, the design and construction warrant a few criticisms. For one, the placement of the touchpad with the buttons on the edge of the chassis is not something we like. Others may disagree, but the button placement in particular just wasn't something that we got used to during the course of testing. It's not a horrible touchpad by any means, but we've seen better. The touchpad also lacks gestures/multi-touch support, though it does include a vertical scrollbar along the right.
Like the touchpad, we also had concerns with the keyboard. The feel of the keys just isn't very good, with several wobbly keys on our test unit. (And this is actually the second test unit; the first one had a space bar that didn't work properly to the point where I asked NVIDIA to send a different unit!) The buttons on the keyboard and touchpad just don't have a precise fit in the casing. Over time, we expect that the keys would become even looser. I ran through some typing tests and definitely couldn't reach my normal ~60 WPM on the Mini 311; I managed 53 WPM and accuracy dropped from nearly 100% to around 95%. That's not a huge decrease, but comfort also comes into play; simply put, if you care about keyboard quality you should definitely think twice before purchasing the HP Mini 311 — or at least try it out in person.
Our overall impression of the HP Mini 311 is that it has a very good set of features, but the design and construction are lacking. If it were priced lower, we would be more forgiving, but the base model is priced about $100 higher than competing netbooks that don't use the NVIDIA ION chipset. The improved performance in certain tasks is good, but for this price we would like to see a better LCD (higher contrast ratio if nothing else), and the keyboard definitely needs some reworking. With a few minor upgrades, the price is very close to laptops like the Acer Timeline series with CULV processors and GMA 4500MHD graphics. Unlike the GMA 950 in most netbooks, the 4500MHD has video decoding support and the CPUs are generally more than twice as fast as the Atom offerings.