Dell’s is a late bloomer into the growing trend of mini laptops with its 8.9 inch Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (with a larger ‘Mini 12’ also included in the series). It looks much like any other Dell laptop – functional – and to an extent it is. There’s nothing radically new about the Mini 9, it has what most other 9 inch laptops have, in short, Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and a glossy 8.9 inch screen with 1024×600 resolution.
Size wise, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is overall quite impressive. It’s a hairs breath larger than the original Eee PC 701, and slim enough to weigh barely over a kilo. That’s lighter the Eee PC 901 – our #1 mini laptop.
Connectivity has the usual bells and whistles, Bluetooth and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, although the inclusion of HSDPA is a major plus. The only problem is you’re bound by a contract with Vodafone – there’s no “unlocked” option like the Advent 4213, so far anyway. More of that later…
Battery life, whilst better than the 3-cell MSI Wind, is pretty poor compared to competing 6-cell Eee PCs and the likes. Dell promises around 4 hours battery life; reasonable, but not a patch on the same sized Eee PC 901. In a bid to keep the laptop compact, the battery pack eats into the keyboard area, wiping out the whole line of F1-F12 keys, and leaving the depth of the keys pretty shallow anyway. The keyboard doesn’t extend right to the edges either, so it’s not bigger like it looks. Overall, both the battery and keyboard are somewhat compromised. The touchpad’s nice though, with mouse buttons underneath, not to the side like the HP mini-note or Acer Aspire One.
Looks are again disappointing, as with most Dell computers – or is that Dull? The interface looks boring and apart from the slight tapering to the edges – it’s a box. And it’s only available in black in the UK. Smart perhaps, but for the consumer, something more imaginative would certainly be appreciated! This is especially unfair since some mini 9’s are appearing in the States with Dell Studio 15esque schemes. Surely these would go down a hit – a hit anyway compared with black, black, black. Rumour has it a white one is one the way though.
At £299 for the 8GB XP model (or £269 for the 4GB Linux) it’s a tad expensive considering what Acer are selling for, although thanks to Vodafone, you can get it free on contract. The cheapest contract, at time of publishing, is £21.27 per month for 24 months – to put it bluntly and undo all Vodafone’s soft marketing – your “free” Dell will cost you a straight £600.
Oh, and that’s only for 1GB broadband, enough (Vodafone claim) to download 60 large attachments and 30 video clips, send 600 emails and surf for 30 hours. And don’t you dare try and take your Dell Inspiron Mini 9 abroad on Vodafone – £9.99 per 24 hours or £4.99 per MB, perhaps put the money to better use.
On the subject of mini laptops on contract, there are quite a few companies offering services – the Carphone Warehouse for example. Currently, the rates seem relatively appalling, even if you do chip in for the computer in the first place, and with comparatively download speeds. Expect this to improve as more and bigger companies enter the market.
The solid state storage and passive cooling system (eg. No fan) give a pretty silent machine, a nice characteristic. The storage system itself is a tad on the small side, 8GB for the XP version – half that for the Linux, particularly after Windows and pre-installed programs are taken into account.
Looks, keyboard and battery life troubles aside, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is a very good computer. As much as we slam Dell, they’re a reliable and familiar brand – which can only be a good thing when downsizing everything. But aside from the Vodafone contract, there are other 9″ netbooks which are worth considering, and even 10 inchers in the same price bracket, namely:
– Asus Eee PC 901 – Our #1 mini laptop
– Acer Aspire One
– Samsung NC10
– HP 2133 mini-note
The Vodafone option is certainly worth looking at if you want internet wherever and whenever, even if download speeds are somewhat restrictive. If you can make it work moneywise, then it’s an excellent option. It’s worth bearing in mind though, before signing yourself away for 24 months that several laptop manufacturers (Sony and Apple are the distinct two) and mobile phone providers are yet to hitch onto the netbook bandwagon – so better netbooks, with 3G, ‘unlocked’, may be just around the corner.
Dell have managed to go and produce a bigger brother for the Inspiron Mini 9 – the Inspiron Mini 12. It’s already out in Japan, soon to hit the UK with Linux, XP as well as Vista. Problem is they’re trying to run Vista with 1GB ram and the same Intel Atom – clumsy move – Asus have their top of the range N10 10 inch netbook on Atom, with it’s big brother N20 on an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor.