Dell Inspiron Mini 10 review

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For a manufacturer which prides itself on value, Dell’s first few entrants into the netbook market have been as much hit as miss. We welcomed the Mini 9 for its build quality and looks, while the Mini 12 came in for criticism of its keyboard and poor battery life. The Mini 10 is Dell’s chance to get it right.

It’s certainly pleasingly small. The Mini 10 weighs only 1.2kg, which compares well to the Samsung NC10 in terms of ease of carrying. And, at just 261mm wide and 183mm deep it has less impact in your luggage than an A4 notepad.

The Mini 10 is powered by the 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520. On the plus side the processor has an incredibly low maximum TDP of just 2W, which means it needs hardly any cooling, leaving more battery power for the screen. The downside is performance. Along with 1GB of 533MHz RAM, it produced an overall benchmark score of 0.32 – lower than most current netbooks.

Even leaving aside high-end applications such as Outlook and Photoshop, the Mini 10 occasionally struggled during daily use. For instance, it handles Google Mail and Docs fine, but when we tried to watch a video on in full-screen mode it stuttered badly. Vimeo HD videos didn’t even play in Firefox properly, let alone at full-screen.

But, even if the Mini 10 could handle high-definition playback without grinding to an infuriating halt, we still wouldn’t be happy recommending it to high-tech travelers on account of its battery life. As with the Mini 12, Dell has opted for a three-cell battery that doesn’t disrupt the Mini 10’s smooth lines, but the sacrifice is longevity.

With the machine unplugged and running at full tilt in our benchmarks, the Mini 10 succumbed after two hours and four minutes. Under very light use it only ran for a little over an hour extra. In a world in which the top netbooks – such as the Samsung NC10 – can run for more than seven hours under light use, a machine that manages less than half that is hardly cause for celebration.

It’s a shame, because the Mini 10 is otherwise well-suited to a spot of on-the-train entertainment. It has a mechanical 160GB hard disk, which is plenty for a decent media library, and the screen is decent too. It’s bright and clear, and proved an adept performer in our DisplayMate tests. Colour ramps were uninterrupted and there’s no backlight bleed. There’s also a decent contrast range, with a good amount of detail in shady scenes.

The only drawback to the 10.1in panel is its unusual 1,024 x 576 resolution, which occasionally allows Windows XP’s dialogue boxes to vanish off the bottom of the screen. The thick bezel – nearly an inch thick at the top – isn’t particularly good-looking, although it’s pleasing that Dell has managed to sneak in a 1.3 megapixel webcam.

This thick bezel – it’s almost a 12in netbook with a 10in screen – does at least allow Dell to get the keyboard right. With a little practice we were flying along in Word Documents, and although the keys are rattly, the base of the keyboard is satisfyingly solid. We also like the styling of the Mini 10’s keyboard, which recalls the looks of HP’s attractive Mini-note series, over Dell’s previous netbook efforts.

it_photo_27940But it all falls apart when you try to use the mouse. The buttons are integrated into the trackpad, which makes it possible to accidentally right-click when you’re doing something on the right-hand side of the pad. And, both buttons lack definition: there’s no clear click when you press them, which means you occasionally need to give them a couple of tries before getting the desired result.

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