The specifications are largely the same as most netbooks, with a 16GB flash memory hard disk, 1GB of RAM and the inevitable Atom processor. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. In terms of look and feel, the Inspiron Mini 9 is a convincing effort. It weighs a light 1.08kg, with the compact charger adding only 200g. The 8.9in screen means that the Mini 9 is a similar size to Asus’ Eee PC 901, and noticeably smaller than MSI’s Wind. Crucially, the build is reassuringly sturdy.
Battery life doesn’t tread on the heels of the best netbooks – take a bow Asus Eee PC 1000H and MSI’s Wind – but with four hours of light use under its cutely proportioned belt, it isn’t bad at all. Watching video is a pleasure, too, since the Dell’s good looks and quality build are matched by its 8.9in display.
As with most of its ilk, the Mini 9 settles for a resolution of 1024 x 600, but controversially Dell has opted for a glossy finish. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, though, and thanks to the screen’s ample brightness we never had any problems with reflections.
On the flipside, the glossy screen bestows images with a pleasing vivacity and depth – traits that only serve to emphasise the panel’s surprisingly neutral colour reproduction.
Performance is sufficient. The Atom N270 processor is partnered with 1GB of memory, and scored a modest 0.34 in our benchmarks.
The final ingredients of any netbook are a comfy keyboard and trackpad combination, but the Dell delivers only half the recipe. The Mini 9’s trackpad is one of the best we’ve encountered. It’s wide, accurate and blessed with two distinct buttons. Unfortunately, that’s where things start to go sour.
The most positive thing you can say about the Mini 9’s keyboard is that it isn’t as bad as that of Asus’ 8.9in Eees. Dell has even gone as far as removing the Function keys, relegating them instead to secondary FN key functions along the middle ASD row. Alas, unlike MSI’s Wind, Dell has left about 10mm of fallow chassis on either side, leaving the keys tall but awkwardly narrow.
If you can live with that keyboard, and you want to buy Dell’s Inspiron Mini 9, you’ll also need to factor in Dell’s usual habit of adding plenty of third-party software – on a regular notebook, these can, at a pinch, be seen as bonus extras, but on a netbook it just seems like a tragic waste of precious storage.
The long gestation of the Mini 9 suggested that Dell was carefully scrutinising the opposition; preparing to pounce with the perfect distillation of the netbook formula, but it hasn’t capitalised on the opportunity. The Mini 9 isn’t a bad netbook by any means – we much prefer it to Asus’ 8.9in Eees – but it doesn’t quite do enough to pull ahead of the competition.
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Dell’s long-awaited netbook has much to recommend it, but it’s far from the perfect product.
• Dell: www.s2d6.com
• Price: 540 • CPU model/brand: Intel Atom N270 • CPU speed: 1.6Ghz • Memory capacity: 1GB • Hard drive capacity: 16GB SSD • Graphics type: Intel GMA 950 • Screen size: 10.2" • Screen resolution: 1024 x 600 TFT • Weight: 1.08kg • Dimensions WDH: 232 x 172 x 32mm • Ethernet: Yes • Wi-Fi: Yes • Bluetooth ports: Yes • Operating system: Windows XP • Manufacturer: Dell • Supplier: Dell • Warranty: 1yr C&R