Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Dell Inspiron Mini 12
The not-so mini Mini: is a regular notebook or a netbook?
- Large display, light and thin, good build quality, well-designed keyboard
- A little large for a netbook, poor battery life, mediocre speakers, 1GB RAM limit
Dell's Mini 12 is the first netbook that breaks the 10in screen barrier, while still managing to remain thin and light. The 1GB RAM limit is disappointing and some will scoff at a 12in notebook being dubbed a netbook, but the Mini 12 is reasonably priced and should appeal to plenty of users.
Price$ 849.00 (AUD)
Joining the Inspiron Mini 9 is the Dell Inspiron Mini 12: boasting a much larger display than its baby brother, it still manages to remain less than 1.1in thick and under 1.3kg in weight. If you are looking for a netbook but don't want a cramped keypad or a small screen, the Dell Inspiron Mini 12 is for you.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 12 possesses a similar style to the Mini 9. Despite being quite thin and light, it's fairly well built and looks stylish. This model is available in black and white colour schemes, with a minimalist but classy black and silver theme when flipped open. Build quality is excellent — the Mini 12's hinges feel sturdy and the display exhibits minimal flex when twisted. All in all this is a well-built machine considering its price tag.
The 12.1in display is impressive; it's bright and clear, although its glossy surface does tend to reflect fluorescent lighting. However, both horizontal and vertical viewing angles are excellent and the native 1280x800 resolution is significantly higher than smaller netbooks.
We can't help but feel the Dell Inspiron Mini 12 just doesn't quite know what it wants to be though. On one hand, it has the specifications and limitations of a netbook, but on the other, it's large enough to be compared in size to Dell's low-end Vostro models. We tend to think of the Mini 12 as a slightly larger netbook — it's still extremely thin and fairly light, but it has a larger display and a more comfortable keypad than most other netbooks.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the otherwise impressive Mini 9 was its keyboard — it was cramped, some keys were misplaced and others were left out altogether. There are no such problems with the Dell Inspiron Mini 12. Aside from tiny comma and full stop keys (which do take quite some time to get used to), the Mini 12's keyboard is comfortable and well designed. It's also quiet, so you can punch out documents early in the morning without fear of waking your neighbours.
The touchpad is a mixed bag. We liked the surface, which isn't glossy like the palmrest, but the buttons sat almost flush with the palmrest and travelled below it a little too far when pressed.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 12 runs Windows XP Home Edition, which is good news for the ever-growing anti-Vista brigade. The specifications are quite standard for a netbook, with an Intel Atom Z530 1.6GHz processor, 1GB DDR2 RAM and an 80GB hard drive. The lack of an option for a solid-state hard drive is disappointing, and there is no option of upgrading the fairly paltry amount of RAM. The Mini 12 boasts three USB ports, a D-Sub port, 10/100 Ethernet, headphone and microphone jacks, a 3-in-1 media card reader and a Kensington lock-slot.
In our iTunes test, the Mini 12 took 8min 28sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192kbps MP3s; this is 31sec quicker than the Mini 9. The Mini 12 also trounced the Mini 9 in hard drive speed, recording an average transfer rate of 14.32 megabytes per second. This is a reasonable result, but it's slightly slower than the MSI Wind U100 and the ASUS Eee PC 1000H.
The underside of the case did get a little warm during prolonged use, but it wasn't uncomfortable. A big downside is that unlike the Mini 9, the Mini 12 lacks a handy compartment that can be opened to access the internal components and upgrade them.
The Mini 12's speaker is mediocre, so if you plan to listen to music we suggest purchasing a compact set of desktop speakers. The notebook's mono speaker is housed just above the keyboard and lacks punch.
Battery life is also an issue. Dell only includes a 3-cell battery with the Mini 12 and it lasted just 1hr 41min in our battery test, where we loop a video file with the screen brightness at its highest setting. This is significantly less than the Mini 9's 2hr 23min (using a 4-cell battery). Thankfully, Dell plans to offer an optional 6-cell battery in Australia, but availability and pricing are yet to be confirmed.
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