The netbook category is epitomised by small, light, cheap and barely functional enough mini-notebooks that are suitable for getting a couple of light jobs, like e-mail, web browsing and word processing done while out on the road.
So when vendors like HP and Acer noticed how a healthy number of their notebooks were getting left on the shelves of retail stores like lonely puppies, in favour of cheaper, no frills alternatives like the Asus Eee PC, they had no choice to respond.
HP is the first vendor to make an alternative available locally, and with its take on this new category, it looks like it is praying that vastly superior looks, 8,9-inch screen and somewhat superior features will seduce those that were in the market for an Eee PC.
Those differences come with a big trade-off, however - price.
And since cost is one of the reasons so many people were attracted to the netbook category in the first place, it will be interesting to see how HP does with its 2133 mini-notebook.
Slower processor + Vista = disappointing performance
Specification wise, HP has gone a rather different route to the conventional road paved by Asus.
Where the Eee PC makes use of an Intel processor and relatively industry standard componentry, HP has opted for the Via C7-M platform that is available at a clock speed of anywhere between 1 GHz and 1,6 GHz. It also comes with 2 GB memory which is shared with the also VIA graphics card.
Clock speed is an irrelevant measure of performance in the netbook category however. You really just want a machine that is as responsive as possible. And this is where difference number two comes into play.
The Eee PC's primary operating system is Linux, but it is available with Windows XP as an alternative. The HP 2133 is however available with Windows Vista as a primary choice and Linux as an alternative.
The model we were sent uses (or rather, is misused by) Vista Business - something that in all likelihood is the real reason it is substantially less responsive than the Eee PC.
More storage, more pretty
The third major difference (besides looks) is that that Eee PC (and most netbooks for that matter) uses solid-state storage, resulting in a substantial speed boost and reduction in power consumption.
The HP 2133 however uses a conventional 120 GB hard disk for storage, so while you get more storage space, you theoretically sacrifice performance and potentially some battery life.
Worth mentioning however is the 2133's battery life - we got a healthy 3 hours and 42 minutes out of the six-cell battery that came with the unit we tested. And that was with the lighting on the screen about halfway up and the WiFi active for the entire time. Not bad at all.
While the HP 2133 definitely feels slower to use than the Eee PC and costs about R1500 to R2000 more (if early indications of price from distributors, Tarsus are anything to go on) it has a couple of things going for it that make it very appealing.
It is not an entirely shabby media player and handles the playback of digital music and entry-level quality video without too much hassle - because these files tend to take up quite a bit of storage, the 120 GB of disk space is a nice benefit.
Next up, it absolutely slays the Eee PC when it comes to battery life - with real world reports from users showing no more than an hour to an hour and half's worth of life from the Eee PC's battery, the HP 2133 is far better suited to the mobile executive's needs.
And then lastly, there is looks. Try as I might, I cannot get over how primitive and juvenile the Eee PC looks and how small the 701's screen is. I would honestly not be all that comfortable taking it into a serious business meeting with me.
With its 8,9-inch screen, sleek lines and shiny black surfaces the HP 2133 looks the part - and that could make all the difference when it comes to business buyers.
* VIA C7-M ULV processor (up to 1,6 GHz).
* 2 GB DDR2 SDRAM (up to 2 GB).
* 120 GB hard disk.
* 8,9-inch WXGA (1280x768) display.
* Express card and SD-Card slot.
* 802.11b/g WiFi.
* 640x480 Webcam.
* Three or six-cell Lithium-Ion battery.