Editors' note: This review is part of our 2010 retail laptop and desktop back-to-school roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
Dell makes basic mainstream laptops about as well as anyone in the industry, and the company's line of Mini-branded Netbooks--a moniker also used by HP and others--is a typically workman-like example of the genre.
However, in the very competitive Netbook landscape, being merely workman-like isn't really enough any more, and this specific fixed-configuration retail version, the Dell Inspiron Mini iM1012-1091OBK, feels too much like the previous generation of systems with a dated design and awkward touch pad. That said, it does bring one important new feature to the table--this is the first Netbook we've seen with a WiMax antenna built in.
Now, whether spending the extra $100 for a WiMax antenna is worth it depends on your need for faster-than-3G Web surfing speeds, as well as where you plan to take your Netbook. WiMax, like all 4G networks, is currently only available in select small to midsize markets, such as Salt Lake City and Baltimore. Clearwire, the service provider for this specific model, doesn't offer service in New York City, for example. As Clearwire's WiMax service costs between $40 and $55 per month, comparable to a 3G data plan, it's important to make sure you'll be able to get service where you are.
As a bonus, this Dell Mini 10 also has the best battery life in our current roundup of back-to-school retail Netbooks. But if you don't need (or can't use) the WiMax capability, systems such as the Asus Eee PC 1018 cost less and have better designs, while still offering more than enough battery life.
|Price as reviewed||$399|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Atom N450|
|Memory||1GB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150 (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Starter|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.5x7.8 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.0/3.4 pounds|
Dell's design for this Netbook is probably the least interesting of the four retail Netbooks in our 2010 back-to-school roundup. It's essentially the same basic glossy black system with a set-in rear hinge that we've seen in the previous few generations of the Mini 10. By way of contrast, the redesigned Asus Eee PC 1018 is slimmer and has a brushed metal lid; while the Samsung N150 and HP Mini 210-1199DX both have distinctive graphical designs.
Still, we like 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. In many other Netbooks, the island-style keys are spaced somewhat widely apart--here they're more tightly packed at the base of each key, with a slight taper leading up to the flat key face.
The Dell's touch pad is wide but short, resembling the elongated pad found on older HP Netbooks. There's a reason we don't see too many of these wide touch pads any more--they're a hassle to use, especially when scrolling up and down long Web pages. The bottom left and right corners of the touch pad act as mouse buttons, leaving even less surface area for navigation.
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 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. Also included is a Clearwire WiMax control panel that can turn the adapter off and on (it can't be used at the same time as the Wi-Fi antenna), and connect you to the service provider.
The 10.1-inch display has the typical 1,024x600-pixel native resolution you'd find on most low-cost Netbooks. However, for $399 we'd expect to get the better 1,366x768-pixel resolution found on Netbooks in this price range, especially if that WiMax connection will be used for streaming Web video.
|Dell Inspiron Mini iM1012-1091OBK||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, WiMax||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Along with standard 802.11n Wi-Fi, this model also includes the first WiMax antenna we've seen in a Netbook. Unfortunately, New York isn't wired for 4G service yet, so we haven't been able to test its faster Internet connection speeds.
That said, this model performed slightly slower in our benchmark tests than comparable systems, all of which had Intel Atom N450 (or 455) processors, Windows 7 Starter, and 1GB of RAM, leaving the new WiMax hardware as the main difference--although the HP Mini 210 has newer DDR3 RAM. The real-world differences would be hard to spot when running a single app, but in our multitasking test, the difference was noticeable. Still, in anecdotal use, the Dell Mini 10 felt average for a Netbook, with occasional slowdown and stuttering, but nothing we're not used to from years of Netbook testing.