- Compact and lightweight
- excellent battery life
- bright, high-quality display
- generous multimedia-orientated software bundle
- Moderate performance
- meagre standard RAM complement
- unattractive bolt-on battery
- no video-out port, VGA connector is on external port replicator
- no Bluetooth
- cramped keyboard
Ultraportable notebooks are often caught between a rock and a hard place. Clearly they must be small and light, but they also need to remain usable. This requires a screen and keyboard of reasonable size, and enough connectivity within the chassis. JVC has been through three iterations of its Mini Note system: does this fourth one hit the sweet spot?
This is definitely a small piece of kit. It measures 23.5cm wide by 21.4cm deep by 4.32cm high with the battery, and 23.5cm by 17.7cm by 3.15cm without it. There's no room inside for the battery, so it bolts onto the back of the system. With the battery in place, the system weighs just 1.47kg. In terms of looks, the battery grates somewhat against the sleek black-and-silver design of the rest of the unit. An external battery may have been a necessary evil, but JVC could have made a better job of its design. The right-hand edge of the system accommodates a PC Card slot and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive. The latter looks oversized when slid open, as the bay occupies almost all of the length of the chassis -- it's clear why the battery has to be external. This side is also home to the mains power jack and a FireWire connector. The left-hand edge houses a lengthy list of switches, ports and connectors: on/off switch for the built-in 802.11b/g wireless module; volume wheel; reset button; Ethernet and modem ports; two USB 2.0 ports; microphone and headphone connectors; and an SD card slot. There's just enough space on the left-hand side for a dedicated connector for the supplied port replicator that provides four further USB connectors, an Ethernet port, an optical digital out and a VGA monitor connector. On the front edge are controllers for navigating the contents of optical media -- cycling through the tracks on an audio CD, for example. These are locked and unlocked using a button that sits above the keyboard. The space between the hinges has two buttons for controlling screen brightness, plus one labelled ‘surround’ that turns on and off a virtual surround sound system. The keyboard is really very small: all the usual keys are present, including both a number row and a (smaller) function key row, but the keys are somewhat cramped. There's a trackpoint between the G, H and B keys and a pair of mouse buttons beneath the keyboard. These are separated by a scroll lock button that turns the trackpoint into a scroller.
The Mini Note MP-XV841 is built around Intel's 1GHz Ultra Low Voltage Pentium M processor, which is far from the quickest in the range. The system's 256MB of system RAM is on the low side, too -- especially as up to 64MB of it is required by the 855GME chipset's integrated graphics module. The hard drive is a 40GB unit, which, considering that JVC is pushing this system as a video editing platform, is perhaps on the small side. JVC bundles a strong software suite, including a version of Pinnacle Studio 9, Windows Movie Maker 2, and B’s Recorder Gold Basic. You also get a copy of Norton AntiVirus 2004. The screen measures 8.9in. across the diagonal and has a native resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels. This widescreen aspect ratio is ideal for DVD playback, but its lack of height may make working with documents and spreadsheets a little challenging. The display has a coating designed to add extra definition to video playback which we found to be very effective. But the trade-off is heightened reflectivity, which can make it difficult to work in bright lighting conditions.
Performance & battery life
The Mini Note MP-XV841 is generally a pleasure to use. The screen delivers superb-quality output, and we found watching DVD movies particularly satisfying. However, when it comes to professional work such as writing documents the screen's 600-pixel depth is restrictive. The keyboard’s small size took a bit of getting used to, but with experience we did mange to touch type at a good speed. However, people with large hands may not get on so well. You also tend to feel more hunched up when typing on the Mini Note MP-XV84 than with a mainstream or desktop replacement system. The Mini Note MP-XV841 could be improved by adding support for more media card formats -- perhaps on the port replicator, as chassis space is pretty much used up -- and adding Bluetooth, which would make it possible to use a (Bluetooth) mobile phone as a modem. As far as the Mini Note MP-XV841's benchmarks are concerned, its MobileMark 2002 productivity score of 122 confirms that this is no speed demon (top notebook performers score well over 200). If you really are going to use this system for video editing, then you'll probably want to boost the 256MB of RAM closer to the 768MB ceiling, which will obviously add extra cost. Battery life is good though, thanks in part to that ultra-low-voltage processor: MobileMark 2002 reported 4 hours 31 minutes, which is among the longest we've tested on a single battery.
We can’t help liking the Mini Note MP-XV841, even though it's expensive, not especially easy to use and a moderate performer. But it's sleek, has good multimedia features and excellent battery life, and will appeal to people who like their gadgets and can afford to pay for them.