10 Ways Business Netbooks are Different than Consumer Netbooks

What separates a business class netbook like the HP Mini 5102 from its consumer oriented cousin the HP Mini 210? It might not be immediately apparent if you haven’t seen a business netbook in person, but after this post you’ll know what separates a business machine from a couch surfer’s gadget.

Figuring out which type of netbook, business or consumer, is best for you will ultimately come down to how you use the netbook and what your needs are. While it’s important to consider features only found in business netbooks, it doesn’t mean a business netbook is right for you.

For the comparison we tested the HP Mini 5102 business netbook and the popular HP Mini 210 netbook that’s designed for consumers. For more details on each of these netbooks read our HP Mini 5102 review and HP Mini 210 review.

Left HP Mini 210 Glossy Screen; Right HP Mini 5102 Matte Screen

Display: The display is one of the most important aspects of a netbook that will see a lot of use. While you will see various resolutions, 1024×600 up to 1366×768 on both types of netbooks; business netbooks often have a few more options to aid mobile workers. The most noticeable feature is the option for a matte screen.  As you can see in the comparison above, the matte screen on the HP Mini 5102 doesn’t reflect the sun and your surroundings, making it much easier to work outdoors or under harsh lighting. Additionally, the 5102 can be outfitted with a touchscreen option that is useful in education settings and for certain business uses.

Keyboard: Most netbook keyboards have improved greatly over the past year, but business class netbooks generally have better keyboards. In the case of the Mini 5102 versus the Mini 210, the keyboard on the 5102 is clearly much better.

Left Mini 210; Right Mini 5102

Not only does the Mini 5102 have a slightly bigger keyboard area that extends to the edge of the device, but the keys also have more feedback and a slight indentation that makes it easier to type. The keys also have a durable finish that keeps the keyboard looking new and keeps the white letters from wearing off. The HP Mini 210 had a good typing experience, but in back and forth testing, the keyboard on the 5102 clearly offered a better option for extended typing sessions.

Durability: On top of the Duracoat keyboard finish found on the 5102, most business class netbooks will feature aluminum or magnesium components that are more durable than the plastic components used on most consumer netbooks. This metallic case and sturdier hinges help the business netbooks handle the stresses of life on the road, stand up to scratches and survive minor drops and bumps. Many consumer notebooks, like the HP Pavilion line, have gone to metal cases in the latest generation so it’s possible that someday we’ll see an aluminum or magnesium case as the standard on consumer netbooks as well.

Another reason that business netbooks are more durable is that IT departments expect these netbooks to match the quality of business notebooks like the HP ProBook notebooks. Additionally, businesses typically expect computers to last 3-5 years while consumers will often upgrade faster.

Service and Support: In most cases if you call for the manufacturer for support on a consumer netbook or notebook you will be routed to a call center in another country which may or may not be able to solve your problem. Business class devices receive a higher level of support that includes 24/7 phone support based in the States, a 1 year battery warranty as well as the option to purchase warranty upgrades that include on-site service.

Battery Life: When you’re on the go and possibly miles from the closest outlet battery life is incredibly important. With this in mind, the battery life on business class netbooks s generally longer than that on consumer devices. Recent advances to the consumer netbooks that are arriving on the market today are closing this gap, but in our comparison of the HP Mini 210 to the HP Mini 5102, the 5102 was able to achieve almost double the battery life of the Mini 210; up to 10 hours with the extended battery. The Mini 5102 also has a battery life indicator LED so that users can quickly see how much life is left without turning on the netbook.

Operating System: Pick a consumer netbook, any consumer netbook, and odds are the device is running Windows 7 Starter. If you order direct from HP you can choose Windows XP or Windows 7 Home premium, but in the store the sole option is Windows 7 Starter. Business netbooks like the 5102 on the other hand comes with many more choices to fit different corporate environments and needs. When configuring the 5102 users can select one of seven operating systems including versions of Windows 7, Windows XP Home, Windows XP Professional, SUSE Linux and FreeDOS.

Style and Size: One edge that consumer netbooks have over most business oriented devices is that they tend to be slimmer and offer more colorful options. These two features are much more important to consumers than they are to business buyers. That said business netbooks aren’t relegated to the corporate black anymore. The HP Mini 5102 comes in black, blue or red and still looks nice, but consumer netbooks are still generally a little bit slimmer and a little better suited to the average consumer’s taste.

Entertainment: If you’re looking for entertainment options on a netbook then your first stop should be a consumer model. For HD video and even light gaming you can look for a netbook with NVIDIA ION technology that will provide more entertainment options than business class netbooks. You may even find an HDMI port on some consumer models tucked in with an HD accelerator for better HD video playback. In many cases you can configure a business class netbook with an HD accelerator but you won’t find ION or other premium netbook entertainment features.

Configurations: Another difference is that consumer netbooks are usually available in many different models and configurations, but they don’t offer the same build-to-order options that business netbooks offer. If purchased directly from the manufacturer consumer netbooks do offer some options, but when compared to the number and type of options available to customize a business class netbook to a company’s needs the difference is apparent.

See in person: If seeing a netbook, and getting your own hands on in a store, is important to you then consumer netbooks have a clear advantage. You can walk into Best Buy, Staples and other retail locations to see how you like the look and feel of a consumer netbook, comparing it to several other models. But you won’t find a business netbook like the 5102 on the shelf of your local big box electronics shop.

Price: Consumer netbooks are cheaper than business class netbooks. In our comparison the Mini 5102 starts at $458 while the Mini 210 can be purchased for $329 from HP or as low as $269 on Amazon.com. Many of the reasons mentioned like durability, support options and more play into the higher price of the business netbooks. If you’re considering a purchase, keep in mind that, the old adage, “you get what you pay for” holds true.

These are some of the most noticeable differences between consumer and business class netbooks. While these statements won’t hold true for every single consumer or business netbook you should have a better understanding of what each class offers. After you think about how and where you will use a netbook this information will help you figure out which better fits your needs. Just because you’re a traveling businessperson doesn’t mean an HP Mini 210 won’t be the best fit, nor does it mean that college students or average home users wouldn’t benefit from some business class features.

If you have additional questions about either netbook or the differences let us know in the comments. Stay tuned, later this month we will take a look at two similar 14″ notebooks, one for business users and the other for consumers, and see if the differences are the same.

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