Dell Inspiron Mini 12 review

Price when reviewed

Dell’s Inspiron Mini 9 might have turned up fashionably late to the netbook party, but that’s not to say it was unwelcome. While other manufacturers had all but abandoned the netbook’s original tiny footprint in favour of 10 inch screens and keyboards you could touch-type on, Dell’s little wonder reminded us why we liked netbooks in the first place. Compact, light, portable and almost comfortable to use; Dell did a very good job with its first attempt.

Dell Inspiron Mini 12 review

It’s a success that Dell would no doubt like to replicate with its latest addition to the Mini range – the Inspiron Mini 12. Leaving a convenient, 10 inch sized gap in Dell’s netbook line-up, soon to be filled by the recently-announced Mini 10, the 12’s most significant novelty is its screen size. Where other netbooks make do with native resolutions of just 1,024 x 600, the Mini 12 stretches a comparatively generous 1,280 x 800 pixels across a bright, 12.1 inch display.

Paying the price

There is a penalty to pay for the Mini 12’s ample screen, but it’s not as severe as you might expect. It’s impressively svelte considering that ample display, tipping the scales at just 1.23kg; a figure that makes it lighter than Samsung’s NC10 and not much heavier than even its tiny cousin, the Mini 9.

It is considerably larger than any of its ilk, but think of it more as an ultra-low-cost ultraportable than a netbook and it begins to make a bit more sense. It stands 23mm proud of the desk at its thinnest point, a figure that swells to just 28mm at its rear and, what’s more, it’s sturdy. For a laptop costing just £286 exc VAT, that’s a cracking achievement.

The looks aren’t quite such a resounding success, however. Where Dell’s Mini 9 had a cutesy charm, which allowed it get away with a dowdy grey and black physique, Dell has done little to adapt the look to its larger machine. Sit the Mini 12 on a desk with its lid firmly shut and its glossy black lid looks smart; tilt back that fingerprint magnet, however, and it’s a different story. It’s as if a Mini 9 has been placed under a particularly powerful magnifying glass, and it’s not a pretty sight. The wide, glossy grey wristrest and matte black accents leave the Mini 12 bordering on plain ugly.

Missing the point

Cast the larger screen aside for a moment, and the Mini 12 isn’t the ergonomic success we were hoping for either. With all that chassis to work with, we would have expected Dell to capitalise on the extra space, but it hasn’t. Instead, a two centimetre strip flanks the keyboard on each side and results in a needlessly cramped layout.

The excessively light, indistinct key action is compounded by a noticeable flexiness on the left half of the keyboard’s base, and if you were hoping that the trackpad might offer some consolation, it doesn’t. Cursor control is smooth and precise but the accompanying buttons are as spongy and indistinct feeling as the keyboard. It’s a far cry from Samsung’s NC10 and, in all honesty, a desperate misfire for a laptop that should have shown the average netbook what’s what when it came to usability.

Thankfully, the 12.1in display is enough to restore a little of our customary cheer, with clean, bright whites and vibrant colour reproduction. Viewing angles aren’t the best, but they’re good enough and the 1,280 x 800 pixel resolution is a huge relief after working with the cramped 1,024 x 600 confines of other netbooks. The problem is the Mini 12’s inability to do its display justice in other key areas of its specification.

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