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Our review sample features a high-resolution 10-inch display and a meaty six-cell lithium-ion battery that Dell reckons will net us over 9 hours of battery life. On paper there's much to like here, but for £300 we're expecting something pretty special. It's available now direct from Dell's Web site.
Dell has given the Mini an overhaul in the design department, and we have to say, we're impressed. A wide selection of colourful designs is on offer, though each model features a pure white lower half. Any colour more exciting than black will set you back another £35.
Despite being plastic all over, sturdy construction and a healthy dollop of gloss mean this netbook looks the business, and avoids the cheap plasticky look that afflicts so many similar machines. The hinge is smooth and feels secure, and is set just a little away from the back of the 1012, creating a lip where the battery is housed, a design choice we thoroughly approve of. Opening the 1012 up, we're confronted with a black textured finish on the wrist rest, and a black gloss frame surrounding the display.
The 1012 weighs in at a healthy 1.37kg. We've seen lighter netbooks, but this is far from heavy, and will happily squat in your rucksack without putting any undue pressure on your spine. We're very impressed with the build quality -- the whole package feels solid and durable, and the central hinge feels secure.
The display looks great too -- that 10-inch, 1,366x768-pixel LCD screen is bright and clear, and while the resolution is high, the screen itself is just big enough that on-screen text won't show up in squint-inducing microvision.
While a high-resolution screen does make photos and Web pages look extremely pretty, however, be warned this netbook isn't powerful enough to play much high-resolution video. When we tested out some 720p content, our HD video ended up looking more like a slideshow. The viewing angle wasn't too impressive either -- you'll have to be checking out this screen from directly in front if you want to see it at its best, but if you're positioned correctly, this is a really good-looking display.
The 1012 sports a surprisingly large isolated keyboard. Its individual keys feel springy and responsive and that large textured wrist rest helps make typing really comfortable.
The trackpad is another matter, however. We've taken issue with Dell Mini trackpads before, and while this isn't as bad as the one in the original Dell Mini 10, its tiny dimensions mean there simply isn't enough room to use one finger to move the cursor and your thumb to click.
We had better luck using the index finger of one hand to move the cursor and another hand to click. The good news is that the trackpad surface itself is very responsive, and thankfully tapping the trackpad surface to click works really well -- only a light tap is needed to register your input.
Dell reckons you'll net 9 hours 30 minutes of battery life, thanks to the chunky six-cell lithium-ion battery jammed into the 1012's rear. When we subjected it to the CPU-pulverising Battery Eater Classic test, the 1012 held out for an impressive 4 hours and 47 minutes, so expect to get that much battery life at the very least. When we tested the 1012 with the Battery Eater Reader test, which simulates light computing tasks, the battery lasted exactly 7 hours 30 minutes, predictably much less than the claimed figure.
Under the hood
Lifting the bonnet, the 1012 is running on an Intel Atom N450 CPU, clocked at 1.66GHz, backed up by 1GB of RAM. It's standard netbook fare, and while it's pretty sluggish, the 1012 did an admirable job of keeping up with our Web-browsing adventures. It earned itself a PCMark05 score of 1,420 during our benchmarking tests, which is very much in line with other netbooks.
Around the sides of the 1012 you'll find a VGA out, three USB ports, an Ethernet port and a memory-card slot that supports cards of the SD, MS and MMC variety. Our review model came with a meaty 250GB, 5400rpm, SATA hard drive, though if you fancy shaving a few pounds off the overall price, lower capacity drives are available.
Similarly, our review model came loaded with Windows 7 Starter Edition (the most basic version of Windows 7), but XP Home Edition is also available on one of the cheaper models offered by Dell if you want to save a few more quid. If you do this, expect to lose features elsewhere too, such as that tasty hi-res display, so read the spec sheet carefully before hitting 'buy'.
The Dell Mini 2012 is par for the netbook course in almost every respect, but a few great features make it stand just a little taller than the horde of similar devices competing for your attention. A good quality screen, impressive battery life, a decent-sized keyboard and really satisfying build quality are its chief accomplishments.
It's a shame the trackpad isn't more comfortable though, and at £300 you will find cheaper netbooks out there. There's very little to dislike about the Mini 1012 though -- if you're fresh on the netbook scene or looking for something new, by all means check this out. If it's a little too pricey for you, we recommend the Samsung N140, which offers similarly impressive battery life but doesn't cost quite as much.
Edited by Nick Hide