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It's a mega-mini--Dell's Inspiron Mini 12

Dell adds a 12-inch version of its Inspiron Mini Netbook.

Dell's new Mini 12. We assume the pen is there for scale.

We first got a glimpse of Dell's 12-inch take on the Netbook behind closed doors a few months ago. After that, it kind of vanished from our radar screens, only to pop up Sunday, in an announcement that the system is making its debut in Japan.

It's an interesting hybrid of the ultraportable and Netbook formats, combining a 12-inch laptop chassis with the basic heart of a Netbook, namely the Intel Atom CPU. Most Netbooks have a 9- or 10-inch display, so the jump to 12 inches makes for a very different experience. Less portable, to be sure, but perhaps just big enough to win over those who say tiny Netbooks are too small and too hard to use, even for a quick trip to the coffee shop. Even with the bigger footprint, it still starts at 2.7 pounds and tapers from 0.92 to 1.09 inches.

We're already big fans of Dell's current Netbook, the Inspiron Mini 9--it's pretty much the same as almost every other Netbook out there, but Dell offers more configuration options than most. The new 12-inch version has a few notable differences--the hard drives are traditional 60GB and 80GB platter drives, not the SSD drives found in the Mini 9, and the OS choices have been expanded from XP and Ubuntu Linux to also include Windows Vista Basic (in fact, Vista Basic is the launch OS, XP and Linux are expected by the end of the year).

At first, the Mini 12 is only going to be available at select retail outlets in Japan, but it should show up stateside by late November, for less than $600.