Traditionalists will tell you that netbooks are super-small, super-light versions of their ultraportable cousins. The folks at Dell, however, disagree. Its new Inspiron Mini 12 combines a large 12.1-inch display with traditional netbook-style components, meaning it straddles the fence between the two classifications. Does this progressive design have a place in your shopping cart? Or is this £329 machine taking the market somewhere it doesn't need to go?
The Mini 12 doesn't look like your average netbook, mainly because it's so big. It measures 299mm by 229mm by 28mm, so it's in a similar size bracket to machines like the MacBook Air or Samsung X360 -- so slightly more awkward to carry than traditional netbooks.
That's not to say the Mini 12 is unwieldy. It's exceptionally thin at the sides and tips the scales at a mere 1.2kg, so it's actually lighter than 10-inch netbooks such as the Samsung NC10 and Eee PC 1000, both of which weigh 1.4kg. Carry the device in a bag and you'll barely notice its presence.
Bizarrely, Dell has chosen not to utilise the extra space afforded by the Mini 12's wide chassis. Sure, it packs three USB ports, Ethernet, mic and headphone jacks, plus an SD card reader, and there's even a 1.3-megapixel webcam above the screen, but that's all par for the course on a netbook. Depending on your viewpoint, you'll either think it's perfectly minimalist, or merely rather bland.
Dell has sensibly fitted the Mini 12 with a large mouse trackpad. While its keyboard is larger than those on many of its rivals, however, it's certainly not as comfortable. Our main concern was the lack of travel in each key, and their clunky, cheap feel. The full-stop and backslash keys are particular bones of contention -- attempts to press these usually involve mashing at least one other adjacent button. This, as you can imagine, is particularly infuriating when entering URLs -- not ideal on a netbook.
The Mini 12 comes in two guises. The first is an Ubuntu-equipped model that uses a 1.3GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU -- a cheaper, slower alternative to the more commonplace 1.6GHz Atom N270 seen in models such as the Eee PC 1000. This model also uses 1GB of RAM and a paltry 40GB hard drive, all for £329.
The second model ships with Windows Vista Home Basic and uses the slightly quicker Atom Z530 CPU, which runs at 1.6GHz. This CPU is theoretically superior to the N270, as it has a slightly lower thermal design power (TDP), which should promote longer battery life. This model also packs 1GB of RAM and a more substantial 80GB hard drive, all for £399.
The two are identical in all other areas. They share the same integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500, so they're both pretty useless -- the slower Ubuntu version especially -- at running graphically intensive applications.