Ultraportable notebooks are small enough to fit inside briefcases, but they rarely offer integrated optical drives, instead sticking you with the hassle of packing a USB-connected peripheral. The 3.2-pound JVC Mobile Mini Note MP-XV841US, however, has a built-in DVD-ROM and CD-RW combo drive--and in fact, the notebook makes a decent DVD movie player. It took a couple of minutes for our disc to launch, perhaps because the Mini Note pulls video memory from main RAM, but after that the movie ran smoothly on the Mini Note's bright 8.9-inch screen. Sound from the stereo speaker outlets, located above the keyboard, was low but clear and adjustable via a side wheel. A set of small silver buttons on the front control track playbacks. With a battery life of 4.7 hours in our tests, the Mini Note would make a great addition to your carry-on for listening to CDs or watching DVDs with headphones on a long cross-country flight.
A typical subnotebook, the $2300 Mini Note measures 9.3 inches wide by 8.4 inches deep by a chunky (for a subnotebook) 1.7 inches tall. The small, stiff screen lid balks at opening, but the picture is bright and the native resolution of 1024 by 600 makes text easy to read. A heavy black battery pack takes up the rear and adds 2 inches to the footprint, though you can also get a compact battery. Most of the Mini Note's connections are stuffed onto the sides, including network and modem jacks, one PC Card slot, two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and an SD Card slot. The dual-band Wi-Fi is controlled by a left-side on/off switch, a nice extra. A short, bundled VGA adapter cable connects to a left-side mini-VGA port. Moderately upgradeable, the Mini Note comes with a base 256MB of RAM and a memory slot that will take an additional 256MB or 512MB module for a maximum of 768MB. The mini-VGA port also accepts a port replicator bar that adds four more USB ports for a total of six. On the downside, the unit's 4200-rpm 40GB hard drive is not user accessible.
The Mini Note comes with an ultra-low-voltage 1-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M processor for ultraportables. Considering that this CPU is slower than a standard notebook chip, the Mini Note performed well in our tests, earning a WorldBench 5 score of 52. That's about 31 percent slower than the average 1.6-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M-equipped notebook we've tested, but right on the average for ultraportables we've tested. The only truly bad news is the keyboard. It has some good points, such as Delete and Ctrl keys in opposite corners. But the Chiclet-size keys are crammed together and feel particularly shallow due to their 1.5mm keystroke, which is half the typical travel depth. We had to flog the spacebar with our thumbs, and we pressed Enter instead of the apostrophe, as well as PgUp instead of the right Shift. One wonders what the designers could have accomplished had they omitted the less-than-crucial Windows keys.
If mastering small keyboards is a challenge you can embrace, the Mini Note has a lot to offer. It provides basic connections, a small but bright readable screen, and an integrated combination drive. These features would make it a threat to the IBM ThinkPad X40 if not for its poor keyboard. Though the 2.8-pound X40 lacks an integrated drive, its keyboard is light years ahead of the Mini Note's in layout and comfort.