Geeks.com, home of cheap netbooks, sent us in the HP 1120NR netbook, running a modified version of Ubuntu Linux. Check inside to read our experience with it.
According to its spec page, the netbook came in with the following:
# HP Mobile internet (Mi) software built on Linux
# Intel Atom Processor N270 1.60 GHz processor
# 1 GB memory (2 GB memory max.)
# 16 GB SSD hard drive
# No Optical drive
# Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 (up to 128 MB video memory)
# Integrated HD Audio with built-in stereo speakers
# Integrated Microphone
# Integrated 10/100 Ethernet LAN
# 802.11b/g Wireless LAN
# HP Webcam
# 82-key Keyboard with Touchpad
# 10.1-inch Diagonal SD LED BrightView Infinity Widescreen Display (1024 x 576)
# 2-in-1 integrated Digital Media Reader for SDHC cards & MMC cards
# Two USB 2.0 ports
# One proprietary internal USB port
# One notebook expansion port
# One RJ-45 Ethernet port
# One Headphone out/Microphone-in combo jack
# 0.99 x 10.3 x 6.56-inches (H x W x D, approximate)
# Weight: 2.45 lbs
Things I liked
The 1120NR feels great in the hands and in the lap. It’s small and light, but without losing on the ease of use and typing. In fact, I had a very easy time typing on its keyboard than I had on the Acer Aspire One. The touchpad and keys are pretty well designed too.
The screen is gorgeous, and easy to view from multiple angles.
The speakers and mic do their job as they are supposed to, no good or bad surprises here.
The processor is plenty fast for most operations for the kind of software it ships with. It only falls short when trying to playback 720/30p Flash h.264 HD video from Vimeo or YouTube. VGA Flash video works fine though.
Solid machine, well built, and the software is stable too. No ugly surprises there.
Battery life was so-so, at around 2.5 hours, with WiFi ON. The netbook can “stay alive” up to 3 days in sleep mode.
HP has licensed a netbook-friendly UI from a Linux company and has modified it. Underneath, it runs Ubuntu 8.04. It takes about 1 minute to load.
You can view a walk-through of the UI below. Video by notebooks.com:
Things I did not like: Software
The all-black user interface is horrendous. It’s extremely difficult to operate it, not only because the usability is not really that great, but because of the all-black color where it makes extremely difficult to figure out where is what. The theme dialogs have been removed from the OS.
The screen resolution is a major disappointment at 1024×576 instead of 1024×600. The reason being, not only because many Gnome apps just don’t fit in that space, but also the special interface that HP worked on was DESIGNED for 600 px height as minimum! At 576px there are places where the UI doesn’t fit, or it is forced to have scrollbars, and the difference is that of about 25 px. This feels like engineers made all their work and testing on a 600px screen, and one day, a product manager comes in, takes his coat off, faces them all, and says: “Gentlemen, we want to be different. We are going for 576px height instead”. I believe the engineers’ faces would have been priceless to see that day.
The custom multimedia UI leaves a lot to be desired (bugs, uncomfortable usability). Unfortunately, the UI won’t let me install Totem. It pulls Totem as a “dummy” package and won’t let me use its actual UI.
The various Gnome panel icons or addons are disabled. Only the “notification area” icons are enabled in this custom UI.
The UI wouldn’t let me add a second user. I had to pull the terminal out and add it manually. They have explicitly removed the functionality from the “Users” app you see, this is not a matter of not having the feature implemented.
There was no way to disable the horizontal scrolling in the touchpad (which I personally hate). Newer Ubuntu versions had that fixed since WSJ’s Mossberg did that review of Ubuntu over a year ago mentioning the exact same gripe. But this HP version does not have the fix in it. I had to disable the horizontal scrolling the old fashioned way, by editing the xorg.conf file.
Things I did not like: Hardware
The wireless icon won’t report reception percentage with my new router, while it would with my older Netgear router. It will also take up to 1 minute to even start try to connect to a network — be it after a wake up or a full reboot, and with any of the two routers. On my Mac and Windows laptops, if I was connected before the laptop went to sleep, the wireless tries to connect immediately afterward. Not so here (and it doesn’t let you connect manually either because it won’t provide you with a list of networks). That’s a few minutes lost every day.
The ethernet port is not full sized, and so older-styled Ethernet cables do NOT fit. None of our ethernet cables here fit (this was the first device ever that had this problem with our cables, and there have been countless devices in my hands through the years), we had to buy a new one at Frys, one that had a slimmer plastic protection around the main connector.
The web cam is one of the worst I have ever seen in my life. I have had many QVGA or VGA front-cams on cellphones over the years, and while they all sucked, this HP one takes the cake. Unless you are outside, under a strong sun, don’t expect to be “seen” by that webcam. Dynamic range is a disaster. In the beginning I even thought that the webcam doesn’t work because all I could see was black! And speaking about this webcam, Ekiga (from the official repository) failed to recognize it, while the pre-installed Skype and Cheese apps did work with it (if you happened to be in Apollo’s carriage that is, chasing the sun).
Its SSD is very slow. Installing the Ubuntu updates took 4x to 5x the time it would normally take to install them on such a machine with a hard drive. While this is normal and to be expected, it’s still a negative point.
The “expansion port” that the netbook comes with is a complete joke. It requires a proprietary adapter to connect VGA-out, and get this: apparently this connector is super-difficult to find from what I read, and many people had to order it from… New Zealand. HP has no excuse for not including a normal VGA or HDMI connector there.
The recessed USB port is another joke. HP is trying to sell you the “HP mini-bay adapter” for another 8 GBs of storage. Instead of giving us a 3rd USB port, or just a second SDHC slot, they try to sell you overpriced proprietary gadgets.
And, no Bluetooth.
Maybe that’s a good product for my mom, after I have re-installed some normal Ubuntu or Ubuntu-Remix in it. But definitely not as-is, and definitely not for me. HP needs to get real and innovate where it counts.
Overall Rating: 4/10
It sounds like HP did everything they possibly could to cripple this product, from the slightly smaller than everyone else screen resolution, to the proprietary connectors and the hacked up older version of ubuntu…
A lot of these linux based netbooks seem intentionally half assed, all the ones i’ve seen have come with very broken and difficult to manage linux installs… Replacing them with the netbook version of ubuntu breathes whole new life into the machines..
So it begs the question, why can’t these manufacturers work on ubuntu netbook and ship that with the machines instead?