Their 12.1-inch WXGA 1,280x800-pixel displays are pretty good, though. They offer slightly more screen real estate than the 1,024x600-pixel screens seen on most other netbooks and they're physically larger, so they're more comfortable to look at for long periods. The only slight drawback is that the backlight is uneven, so some areas of the screen will appear lighter than others -- an effect that becomes more noticeable when watching movies with dimly lit scenes.
No self-respecting netbook would be caught dead without some form of wireless connectivity and the Mini 12 is no different. It ships with an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi adaptor that allows connectivity to the most common form of wireless network. Unfortunately, it's not compliant with high-speed 801.11n Wi-Fi. That in itself isn't the end of the world, but those who connect their Mini 12 to their existing 100Mbps 802.11n network will force the entire infrastructure to revert to 54Mbps 802.11g.
The final piece of bad news is that the Mini 12 ships with a relatively modest 2,200mAh battery, which doesn't instill us with confidence about the machine's ability to go long periods away from the mains. For reference, the Eee PC 901 ships with a 6,600mAh battery.
Dell sent us the Ubuntu version of the Mini 12 for review. This, as we've already stressed, uses the 1.3GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU and 1GB of RAM. During our time with it, the machine coped fairly well with mundane desktop activities, launching and running productivity applications without batting an eyelid.
It became unstuck, however, when asked to perform more demanding tasks. We were particularly amazed when it failed to run Flash videos in full screen at the full frame rate. BBC iPlayer videos, for example, juddered continuously, skipping more frames than we could tolerate. Given that the Mini 12 is being sold as a netbook and is incapable of performing one of the most popular Net-related functions, we'd suggest you think twice before making a purchase.
Our final gripe was battery life. As suspected, the low-capacity battery was only good enough to power the Ubuntu edition of the Mini 12 for 2 hours 37 minutes of continuous Web-connected usage. Battery life on the Vista edition may be slightly different, as Vista has different power-management capabilities, but we're willing to bet that it too would be the wrong side of mediocre.
The Mini 12 might appeal to users who want a netbook with a slightly larger display. We'd think twice about buying the Ubuntu version, however -- it's simply too slow. The Vista model is noticeably quicker, but we can think of half a dozen other netbooks that offer better features and value for money. We'd suggest you start with the stylish, but slightly more expensive, Eee PC S101 and the much cheaper MSI Wind.
Edited by Nick Hide