For a manufacturer that prides itself on value, Dell's first few entrants into the netbook market have been as much miss as hit. We welcomed the Mini 9 (web ID: 122900) for its build quality and looks, while the Mini 12 came in for criticism of its keyboard and poor battery life.
The Mini 10 is Dell's chance to get it right. It's pleasingly small. The Mini 10 weighs only 1.2kg and, at just 261mm wide and 183mm deep, it has less impact on your luggage than an A4 notepad.
Our review sample was powered by the 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z530. The Z530 has an incredibly low maximum TDP of just 2W, but the downside is performance. Along with 1GB of 533MHz RAM, it produced an overall benchmark score of 0.33 - lower than most current netbooks.
Even leaving aside demanding applications, the Mini 10 occasionally struggled during daily use. It handles Google Mail and Docs fine, but stuttered badly when we tried to watch a video on Blip.tv in full-screen mode. Vimeo HD videos didn't even play in Firefox properly, let alone at full-screen.
But even if the Mini 10 could handle high-definition playback without grinding to a halt, we still wouldn't be happy recommending it to daily travellers on account of its battery life.
As with the Mini 12, Dell has opted for a three-cell battery that doesn't disrupt the Mini 10's smooth lines, but the sacrifice is longevity. With the machine unplugged and running at full tilt in our benchmarks, the Mini 10 succumbed after 2hrs 4mins.
Under very light use it only ran for a little over an hour more. In a world in which the top netbooks - such as the BenQ Joybook U101 - can run for more than seven hours, a machine that manages less than half that is hardly cause for celebration.
The lack of video performance and battery life is a shame, because the Mini 10 is otherwise well suited to a spot of on-the-train entertainment. It has a mechanical 160GB hard disk, which is plenty for a decent media library (you can get 250GB for an additional $80), and the screen is good too.
It's bright and clear, and proved an adept performer in our DisplayMate tests. Colour ramps were uninterrupted and there's no backlight bleed.
There's also a decent contrast range, with a good amount of detail in shady scenes. The only drawback to the 10.1in panel is its unusual 1024 x 576 resolution, which occasionally allows Windows XP's dialog boxes to vanish off the bottom of the screen.
The thick bezel is ugly - it's almost a 12in netbook with a 10in screen - but it does at least allow Dell to get the keyboard right. With a little practice we were flying along in Word documents, and although the keys are rattly, the base of the keyboard is solid. We also like the styling of the Mini 10's keyboard, which recalls the looks of HP's attractive Mini-Note series.
But it all falls apart when you try to use the mouse. The buttons are integrated into the trackpad, which makes it possible to accidentally right-click when you're doing something on the right-hand side of the pad. And, both buttons lack definition: there's no clear click when you press them, so you occasionally need to give them a couple of tries before getting the desired result.
The chassis offers some decent expandability: three USB ports are all most people need on a netbook, while an MMC/SDHC card slot allows you to expand the Mini 10's already decent storage. Finally, there's an an integrated TV tuner, HDMI port and wired Ethernet to complement the integrated 802.11bgn wireless.
It comes supplied with Microsoft Works 9.0, but you can upgrade to Office 2007 Basic for $255.20. If you're a student, it's cheaper to buy the Student and Teacher edition.
Unfortunately, the Mini 10 cements Dell's current position as an also-ran in the netbook stakes. Its battery life is disappointing, and it suffers in comparison with the Samsung NC10, which is just as portable and has a better keyboard.
The NC10 is also the better performer, as well as offering that staggering seven-hour battery life. The only real advantage held by the Mini 10 is its configurability - for instance, you can choose from six different lid colours (Cherry Red inexplicably costs an additional $81) or opt for decals ($145) - but the NC10 is better in all the ways that matter. It's possible Dell will come up with a world-beating netbook, but this isn't it.