Dell tries bringing netbooks upscale and succeeds in some ways. (March 8th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Dell
Price: $399 (base), $449 (with 1.6GHz Atom)
- Excellent keyboard and trackpad.
- Pleasing visual design and display.
- HDMi video output.
- Great Wi-Fi reception (at least on 802.11n).
- 160GB hard drive standard.
- 2GB RAM and HD screen options coming.
- Lid personalization a nice touch.
- Short 2.5-hour battery life; no 6-cell option yet.
- Trackpad doesn't work perfectly for multi-touch.
- Hampered by typical netbook specs; rivals have an edge.
- No accessible RAM slot or option for 2GB on initial models.
the keyboard and multi-touch trackpad
An increasing focus of the netbook industry, and arguably its biggest concern, is the comfort of the keyboard. Many of the mini notebooks, even those with 10-inch screens, often have cramped keyboards that can be genuinely painful to use beyond the few minutes at a time that are expected for the role.
Thankfully, the Mini 10's keyboard not only skirts around that problem but is arguably the highlight of the system. Dell claims the keyboard is 92 percent that of a full-size model, and it feels that way. There's no unnatural hand positions, and all the important keys (including the sometimes-neglected Shift keys) are large enough to strike without conscious thought. Key travel is also shorter and actually more pleasant than on much larger systems like the Studio 15, which often require more deliberate presses. Dell even claims the near-gapless design is spill-resistant, though that's not something we're prepared to test here.
In fact, using the system up to the end of its battery life was surprisingly enjoyable, even with large amounts of text involved; this is one of the few systems we'd recommend (with caveats) for someone who considers note taking or report writing an important factor.
The trackpad also does promise a minor revolution for netbooks, or at least those made by Dell. Virtually every netbook is hindered by limited area for the trackpad; the move often pushes the buttons to the lip of the system or else the sides. Here, the buttons are hidden underneath the corners of a flat surface. That gives a full trackpad area without making clicks unfamiliar, even if the area is still somewhat constrained.
More important, though, is that Dell has for the first time put multi-touch in one of its netbooks. Like Apple's MacBooks or more recent ASUS Eee PC models, users can use two fingers to scroll; there's an unusual but easily accepted change which lets users middle-click by tapping two fingers and right-clicking with three. It's also possible to pinch to zoom in, to rotate images, to swipe back and forwards through web pages, and to bring up shortcuts like favorite apps and the desktop.
There are times when clicking and dragging objects are awkward, but they aren't enough to prove a problem. If anything, the real issues are with the more advanced gestures. At least with the test sample, gesturing couldn't reliably be done with more than pinching; rotation and the shortcut gestures didn't often work. Dell also faces the same problem that Apple does in that some, if not most, apps won't recognize all the special commands; Internet Explorer doesn't seem to recognize swipe gestures for page navigation, as an example. Still, we'd rather have a half implementation with some components that work very well than none at all.