Editors' note: This review is part of our spring 2010 retail laptop and desktop roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
This retail store configuration of Dell's popular Inspiron Mini 10 looks identical to the two direct-from-Dell models we've reviewed recently, but you'll have to do some careful sleuthing to figure out which model and price is right for you. The $409 high-definition Mini 10 we looked at previously included an HD display and a video accelerator graphics chip, and another $369 direct version was largely identical to this one, but had a bigger 250GB hard drive.
That makes the $349 Dell iM1012-687OBK the least expensive of the three versions of this system we've seen this year. At the same time, you can configure a similar system, with the same Intel Atom N450 CPU and 160GB hard drive, plus upgrade to 802.11n Wi-Fi, for $299 through Dell's online configurator. Though it's hard to recommend paying more, retail laptops have the distinct advantage of instant gratification, and the $50 may be worth it if you need a system right away and can't wait for one to ship (order that $299 configuration from Dell's Web site today, and the estimated shipping date is 10 days from now).
Though the Dell is largely similar, compared with two other current Netbooks you'll find on retail store shelves, we generally thought the Samsung NP-N210-JA02US had the best touch pad and the Asus 1005PEB had the best keyboard.
|Price as reviewed||$349|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Atom N450|
|Memory||1GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Starter|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.6 x 7.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.0/3.4 pounds|
The design for the current Dell Mini 10 line is one of the more distinctive in this category. Notably, the display hinge is set in from the rear of the system slightly, and the entire chassis gently slopes forward, making it quite thin in the front. The keyboard tray and wrist rest have a subtle raised texture that looks better than flat, glossy plastic, and the system's gently rounded corners give it a relaxed, consumer-friendly silhouette.
We have no complaints about the general keyboard layout, and the Shift, Tab, and other important keys get the full-size (relative to the rest of the keyboard) treatment they deserve. Many other current Netbook keyboards are moving to an island style keyboard, which we prefer, if only slightly. In those cases, the flat-topped keys are spaced somewhat widely apart, rather than the more tightly packed ones on the Dell.
The touch pad is wide but short, resembling the elongated pad found on many HP Netbooks (and which that company has all but abandoned). The bottom left and right corners of the touch pad act as mouse buttons, which isn't as tactile an option as having actual buttons. The shortened height also made scrolling with the touch pad a tricky proposition.
The system, like many current Dells, has a Mac-like software dock that defaults to the top edge of the screen. It's not a must-have, but in a cramped Netbook environment, we started to appreciate its easy access to networking, security, and other control panels. There's a default selection of apps it can launch, but you can add your own (Firefox instead of IE, for example).
The 10.1-inch display has the same typical 1,024x600-pixel native resolution as you'd find on most low-cost Netbooks. We're starting to see more 11-inch and even some 10-inch systems with the better 1,366x768-pixel resolution, including some that cost as little as $399.
|Dell Inspiron Mini iM1012-687OBK||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Dell offers a typical selection of connections on its Mini 10, but both the Asus and Samsung models had 802.11n Wi-Fi, which the Dell Mini 10 lacked. All three were missing Bluetooth--which can be forgivable in a $299 Netbook, but at $349 or more, it's less so.
With a standard load of a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450, 1GB of RAM, and Windows 7 Starter Edition, it's not going to come as a shock that our three retail Netbooks offered about the same level of performance. In fact, the benchmark scores were so close that we'd call them as good as identical. Each will give you a solid experience, as long as you keep our standard Netbook admonitions in mind and stick to basic Web surfing, e-mail, and light multimedia playback.