After months of rumors, Dell enters the mini-notebook market with its long-anticipated Inspiron Mini 9. Dell took its time releasing its own netbook, and it is clear they spent the extra days and hours getting (nearly) everything just right. With a small footprint, sleek industrial design, 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor, and a tailored version of Ubuntu (it’s also available with Windows XP) the Inspiron Mini 9, starting at $349, has all the specs to make it one of our favorite netbooks. Even better is the ability to configure the system, from the size of the solid state drive and RAM to the webcam resolution. However, we wish Dell had spent a bit more time on the Dell Laptop Keyboard .
The glossy black Inspiron Mini 9 (also available in white) we tested—despite its $399 price tag—looks and feels far from cheap. As with the Acer Aspire one and the ASUS Eee PC 901, the Inspiron Mini 9’s rounded lid sports a glossy finish that attracts light fingerprints and smudges. The classy look extends under the hood with a smooth-coated, silver palm rest and screen bezel.
Size definitely matters to Dell: The Inspiron Mini 9 is one of the smallest and lightest 8.9-inch mini-notebooks we've seen. Measuring 9.1 x 6.8 x 1.3 inches and weighing just 2.3 pounds, it is lighter than both the 2.4-pound Acer Aspire one and the 3.2-pound HP 2133 Mini-Note. When placed next to the Aspire one and HP Mini-Note, it was the shortest in length and width; the Aspire one, however, is 0.1 inch thinner. With a travel weight of 2.6 pounds with its AC adapter, the Inspiron Mini 9 felt almost nonexistent when we tossed it into a purse.
Glossy Screen, Loud Speaker Sound
The glossy 8.9-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel resolution screen provides enough space to fit windows to size and looked sharp from a variety of angles. When we watched an episode of The Office on Hulu.com and browsed through vacation pictures, colors were bright and not at all muted like we’ve seen on ASUS’ Eee PC 901. Horizontal viewing angles were fine for watching YouTube videos with a friend; tilting the screen back to its limit of 110 degrees didn’t cause glare.
Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel webcam (a $25 option, but the Inspiron Mini 9 is also available with a 0.3-MP cam for $15) that provided clear images when videoconferencing with a friend over Dell Video Chat, a client based on SightSpeed’s technology (which lets users have four-way video calls with Mac, PC, and Linux users). The camera provided clear images, though we saw a bit of motion blur when waving our hands to our caller.
Like the Sylvania g Netbook Meso, the Inspiron Mini 9’s speakers are below the screen on the bottom bezel. They were able to pump out Coldplay’s Life In Technicolor at a surprising volume, and lacked the typical tinniness of other small notebooks.
Awkward Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Keyboard, Solid Trackpad
The Dell Laptop Keyboard on the Inspiron Mini 9 is solidly built and provided good tactile feedback without too much flex. While the keys allowed for comfortable typing and didn’t severely cramp our hands, they are smaller than those found on the 89 percent–size keyboard on the Acer Aspire one. However, size is not as big an issue as is the awkward placement of a few keys on the Inspiron Mini 9. While we weren’t bothered by the missing function keys (the middle row of the keyboard now performs double duty), the right Shift key has been shrunk and moved to the right of the Up arrow button, and the apostrophe key is located on the bottom row of keys. Both changes will cause problems for touch typists until they’ve adjusted.
The touchpad, on the other hand, is the best we have seen on an 8.9-inch system. It is decently sized and offered a nice textured feel as we navigated around the desktop. We also like that the two mouse buttons are located below the touchpad, rather than straddling it like the Aspire one.
The Inspiron Mini 9 is stocked with the typical netbook ports, featuring three USB 2.0, VGA, and Ethernet, as well as a headphone and a microphone jack. It also has a Dell Laptop Keyboard . Alas, you won’t find an ExpressCard slot, but the Inspiron Mini 9’s free internal mini-PCI slot could be used for an integrated mobile broadband option. Dell plans to offer mobile broadband before the end of the year.