- Compact, lightweight system unit
- reasonable performance with mainstream applications
- very good battery life with second battery fitted
- cramped keyboard, awkward pointing stick
- external port replicator and DVD/CD drive require separate power supplies
JVC entered the notebook market in 2002 with its ultra-compact Mini-Note series. The range has just been updated with a new model, bringing the specifications up to date. The Mini-Note MP-XP731’s 1GHz Intel Pentium M processor and 40GB hard drive may not set the pulse racing; nor will its 8.9in. TFT display do justice to your PowerPoint presentations or DVD movies. But this system’s key selling point is its diminutive size and light weight: in fact, its near-A5 footprint and sub-1kg weight make the Mini-Note MP-XP731 almost pocket sized.
It is the small size of the Mini-Note MP-XP731 that first captures the attention. In fact, it’s remarkable how JVC has managed to make a fully working Windows XP notebook quite so tiny. The actual dimensions, for the record, are 22.5cm wide by 15.2cm deep by 2.95cm high. The depth increases to 17.7cm if you use the provided second external power cell, which clips onto the back of the casing. It adds 170g to the overall weight too, which without the second battery is just 905g. The screen has a slightly more letterbox look than usual, delivering a native 1,024 by 600 pixels, rising to a maximum of 2,048 by 1,536 if you don’t mind panning around the screen. We always have difficulty finding real uses for panning a notebook screen, but it is possible to send these resolutions to an external monitor, which makes a lot more sense. The keyboard, even for relatively small hands is fiddly to use. It’s difficult to get accustomed to the small keys, and we suspect that anyone with larger than average hands will find typing at any kind of speed pretty much impossible. JVC has used all the available width and made the keys as large as possible -- but in our opinion they are just not quite large enough. A tiny stick embedded between the G, H and B keys controls the mouse pointer, although we found this awkward to use, too. As with other very small notebooks we’ve reviewed, the diminutive size of the screen made us hanker for it to be touch-sensitive. In front of the keyboard is the tiniest of wrist rests housing two speakers and a trio of decent-sized buttons for left and right mouse clicks and scrolling. All notebooks take knocks when on the move, and the Mini-Note MP-XP731 might be expected to take more than most, since it begs to be carried in an ordinary bag rather than a special laptop case. Sadly, it’s not particularly robust: the lid in particular feels a little flimsy, although it does have a very strong hinge that should prevent accidental opening during transport.
The Mini-Note MP-XP731 is based around an Ultra Low-Voltage Intel Pentium M processor running at 1GHz. This is not the fastest processor you will find in a notebook, but it’s perfectly adequate for the basic tasks a business user will want to carry out. It’s a Centrino system, with 802.11b wireless networking built in The standard memory complement is, expandable to just 512MB. The hard drive is 40GB in size, which may prove a little small if you intend this to be your only PC and need to accommodate a fair amount of software alongside plenty of data. The 8.9in. screen is driven by Intel’s integrated 855GM module, which is adequate as long as you don’t feel the need to push its capabilities with 3D games or other demanding applications. The 855GM can commandeer up to 64MB of system memory dynamically for graphics purposes. JVC provides a range of expansion and I/O options on the Mini-Note MP-XP731. The back of the casing is reserved for connecting the spare battery, and the front edge is also clean. The left side houses a single PC Card socket, a mini FireWire connector, and an on/off switch for the built-in Wi-Fi (802.11b) wireless. The right-hand side houses the mains power jack, RJ-11 (modem) and RJ-45 (10/100 Ethernet) sockets, VGA out connector, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, and headphone and speaker jacks. Although the Mini-Note MP-XP731 can function as a standalone device, it also comes with a range of add-ons and extras. As well as the external battery, you get a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive and a port replicator which connects via one of the USB ports. This provides two further USB connectors, external PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, and serial and parallel ports. You also get a USB SD card reader/writer. Between them the range of available connectors is comprehensive, and it’s good to see them included within the base price. But note that both the DVD/CD drive and the port replicator require their own power supplies. If you want to carry the entire package, you’ll need rather more bag space than you might at first think. JVC includes a range of software, much of which is multimedia-oriented -- JVC DV camcorder drivers, Pinnacle Studio 8 SE, ImageMixer. You also get Norton AntiVirus 2003, but there’s not even a basic productivity suite among the bundle.
Performance and battery life
With its 1GHz Pentium M processor, 256MB of RAM and 855GM integrated graphics, you wouldn’t expect great performance from the Mini-Note MP-XP731, but you do get enough to handle mainstream business applications comfortably enough. In fact, the MP-XP731 Business Winstone 2001 score of 44.5 beats several faster-clocked Pentium M systems we’ve reviewed in the past. With an ultraportable system, battery life is often more important than performance, as the ability to run the odd presentation is about as demanding as things get in terms of processor usage. If you want anything like a normal working day out of the Mini-Note MP-XP731 you will need to use the supplied second battery: with the internal battery only, BatteryMark 4.01 reported just 1 hour 38 minutes, rising to a very respectable 4 hours 29 minutes with the second battery fitted. Note that our battery life tests are conducted with the system in desktop mode (full power, high screen brightness); more conservative power management settings will improve these results.
In its publicity material, JVC seems to be pushing the Mini-Note MP-XP731 towards multimedia usage -- viewing video captured with digital camcorders, or looking at DVDs, for example. It’s certainly capable of these activities -- but then so are a lot of other notebooks you can get for a lot less money. It seems to us that the Mini-Note MP-XP731’s biggest appeal is to professionals who need to travel frequently with a notebook, and who want to do so as light as possible. However, JVC needs to address a number of drawbacks with the MP-XP731, namely: the price, which is quite steep; the need for separate power supplies for the port replicator and the DVD/CD-ROM drive; and the cramped keyboard.