It took some time, but Dell has finally come out with a netbook of its own in the form of the Dell Inspiron Mini 9. The 8.9", 2.3lb subnotebook carries a 1.6GHz Intel® Atom Processor® N270, and our model came with 1GB RAM and an 8GB SSD. Despite having so little space to work with, Dell gave their Mini an integrated webcam and a decent amount of connectivity ports. While Dell couldn’t solve everything - the keyboard is still scrunched and the Atom powered unit does run warm. If you’re looking for an extremely portable computer that still has a little kick, look no further than the Dell Inspiron Mini 9.
The first word that comes to mind when you look at the Inspiron Mini is glossy. The screen is glossy, the lid is glossy, and even the plam rest and the silver border surrounding the keyboard and screen on either side is glossy. While this all looks very nice, it means just about the only things that won’t track fingerprints within the first ten minutes of use are the keyboard and the trackpad (although the silver borders don’t track nearly as much as the lid, which is entirely black but for a grey Dell logo at its center). In addition to the glossy rim of silver, the LCD has an interior border of black in which the integrated webcam is housed above and two speaker bays on either side of a shiny Dell logo are housed below. The keyboard is standard black matte and the trackpad and buttons are the same silver as the palm rest, blending nicely.
Size and Weight
It wouldn’t be a netbook without a miniscule size and weight, and the Inspiron Mini fits right in with the rest of the class. With a weight of 2.3lbs and dimensions of just 9.1"x6.8"x1.3", the Mini feels comfortable on your lap, and as long as the warm underbody doesn’t bother you the laptop will never be a distraction there. Placing both hands on either side of the laptop’s keyboard we were able to balance it conveniently on one knee, although for obvious reasons we recommend scrunching those legs together to balance it on both legs when not typing. The AC adapter doesn’t add much weight either, for a combined weight of 2.6lbs that’s easy to throw into a small bag or case.
If the size and weight are the main attraction of a netbook, the keyboard is almost by necessity one of the main minuses. Dell actually does an very decent job of fitting as much of a keyboard as it can into such a small area, but it is far from perfect. All keys above the numbers have been removed, with F1-F10 still accessible by pressing function and the middle row of keys. But some keys are just gone, such as F11, F12, and scroll/num lock. We don’t really miss scroll lock and we can understand not having a number pad or num lock, but F11 is a useful key for putting browser windows into full screen. More frustrating than the occasional missing key, however, is the fraction of an inch allowed to such keys as tab, right shift, the period and the comma, and others. The keyboard is sufficiently crowded that touch typing is nearly impossible, and we found ourselves looking down and jabbing the keyboard with one or two fingers in order to avoid making mistakes. We had to expect this out of a netbook, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, and if you’re thinking about making this a primary computer we highly recommend an external keyboard.
The trackpad leaves less to complain about. The left-click is about the same size as the right-click and neither make an annoying sound when you press them, which is nice. The trackpad itself is a decent size, and our only complaint is that the horizontal scroll is a bit sensitive. We found ourselves pressing from right to left almost halfway up the trackpad and instead of moving the mouse, our window attempted to scroll. While the trackpad is serviceable, we also recommend an external mouse for everyday use.
With an 8.9" LCD and a resolution of 1024x600, the Dell Mini has a reasonable amount of screen real estate for such a small unit, with just enough room to view the webpages or documents you need. The glossy finish makes the colors sharp, but adds glare, and viewing the screen outdoors was difficult. Indoors, however, there was no problem at all, and with minimal horizontal distortion the viewing angles are good enough that more than one person could crowd around to watch a video. The vertical angles are not as good, but viewing from underneath is noticeably better than viewing from above.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 actually features a good amount of connectivity for a unit so small, although you won’t find any HD ports such as DisplayPort or HDMI. Like with most netbooks, you also won’t find an optical drive. Still, it’s as much as you can expect from a netbook, if not a little bit more.
The LCD pivots not just above but behind the keyboard, which means the power cord, usually located on the back, is pushed to the left side instead. Also on the left side are 2 USB ports as well as a multicard reader.
The right side contains headphone/microphone jacks, a third USB port, VGA out and Ethernet. There is a tiny and relatively ineffective exhaust between the microphone jack and the USB port.
No ports on the front, although we do have a power indicator light as well as a battery indicator light.
Dell has actually made this unit fairly upgradable. As always with a Dell there is a reasonable amount of customization available through their website, and you can choose between Linux and Windows XP, 512MB RAM or 1GB, 4GB, 8GB or 16GB SSD, webcam or no webcam, and even a choice of color between alpine white (which might track fewer prints) and obsidian black. It’s also easier to manually upgrade than most other netbooks, with most of the upgradable parts grouped together directly underneath a simple access panel in front of the battery.
The Inspiron Mini doesn’t really have room for too many surprise features, but it does have a few nice touches. First is the optional integrated Bluetooth, which is in a lot of notebooks but not everywhere and certainly comes in handy on a portable unit like this. It also has the optional integrated webcam, with options of .3MP or 1.3MP, and a multicard reader. Most interesting, however, is the internal mobile broadband antennae. Vodaphone recently announced it would offer a mobile broadband plan for Dell Mini users in the UK, and it is expected that more information for US users will surface soon.
Performance and Conclusion
WorldBench: The testing didn't complete and kept throwing a faiilure message.
WPrime: 32M 124.125sec
General Usage: 187 minutes
Recharge Time: 122 minutes
Not having seen one in a while, having a netbook readily at hand again was certainly convenient. The Dell Mini is small and light enough to pretty much travel with anywhere, whether you’re putting it down on the coffee table, on your lap, or next to the old CRT monitor your desktop is still plugged into on your desk (where you can marvel that a whole computer takes up just a fraction of the space that hulking mass of hardware does). After the novelty of having a computer we could pick up and put down casually with one hand wore off, the limitations of the unit began to shine through. The keyboard is too cramped to touch type, and if you’re used to that, pretty much everything you do becomes slower when you have to hunt-and-peck. The hard drive, at 8GB, can house a few movies and music albums but can hardly store a collection. The base of the unit also ran fairly warm, not to the point where we had to shift it from leg to leg, but to the point where we could feel it. Eventually, we realized it is what it is - an economical ultraportable notebook designed for secondary use on undemanding tasks such as surfing the internet, light word processing, and viewing the occasional movie on the road (albeit without an optical drive). Viewed in that light it was easy to accept the shortcomings with the strengths and really appreciate the Mini.
Overall, we found we enjoyed the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, so long as we viewed it realistically. The 8.9" screen size and 1024x600 resolution was adequate for viewing websites and video clips and had some pretty awesome color reproduction. Combined with the 2.3lb weight it was extremely easy to move the unit around. As long as we were performing light tasks the 1GB RAM and 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor served perfectly well, and the 8GB SSD was very quiet. You won’t be watching Blu-Ray on the Mini and if you need to type more than a few lines in a row it becomes tedious, but for a lightly used secondary computer it serves just fine. We wish it didn’t run so warm, but with Linux models starting at only $349, we can accept a few limitations. The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is perfect for travelers who want to check their email on the road, desktop users who want to be able to access the internet anywhere in the house, and even as a primary computer for people who really don’t use a computer very often but want internet access to be available when they need it. As long as you know you want a netbook, the Dell Mini is an excellent choice for anyone.