Dell Mini 9: A Day In The Life

Colour me impressed. I managed well over four hours’ battery life today and found the Mini 9 a joy to use. I have encountered a snag, however, and it wasn’t one that I expected.

You see, I’m now sitting on the 21:30 train from London Kings Cross to Wakefield after having been in the big smoke for a day of meetings. I got onto an empty train and picked a seat with a table – I want to get some work done on the documents required after my meeting and I thought the space would be nice.

Great, except I’m on 17% battery charge as I wait for departure, and I can’t use the plug in the wall. As a result, I* have switched seats to a cramped airline seat, also next to a plug.

The problem is, the charger I so complimented in my previous post is too deep to plug into the socket by the table. The power cable won’t bend and there’s only about an inch between the socket and the table. Not enough to use the Dell charger.

So I now sit with the Mini 9 on a fold-down tray, and it fits quite well, I must say. One could even say it was made for it.

Anyway, the Mini performed like a champ. It was small enough not to get in the way during the meetings I had today, made no distracting noises as my other laptop is prone to do as it’s fans spin their merry dance, and just.. kept… working. Exactly what I asked it do do with no problems at all.

I wonder if Richard will notice if I don’t give him it back…?

First thoughts on the Dell Mini 9

I’m down in London tomorrow, and rather than lug my laptop on the train I’ve borrowed Richard’s shiny new Mini 9.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with it. I’m still not sure about the keyboard, even after a couple of hours typing away – the keys are small and some of them are smaller still, which makes typing an interesting experience. However, I’m sure I would get used to it with time. The thing is, a netbook is not aimed at being your everyday machine, so does a quirky keyboard become a barrier to use if that use is intermittent?

My wife saw it and immediately liked it for it’s size and weight. For a small, very capable device to use, for example, when down at the library researching our family tree the Mini 9 is a good fit. Long battery life (I’ve not charged it yet and I’ve racked up at least a couple of hours on about 50% charge) and robust design with no moving parts makes a good fit in a large handbag where you don’t want the charger.

The screen is nice and bright. I’ve not tried to use it outdoors yet, where I suspect the high gloss screen may be a disadvantage, but inside where I would use it most there is no issue with legibility. Resolution is tight at 1024×600, but you have to compromise somewhere. It will happily drive a second screen at higher resolution, however, so it may well find a place in my heart for roaming presentations at events. it’s also a perfect companion for conferences, at least for myself – not a dev needing the grunt of more power for Visual Studio work.

I have successfully coupled my Touch Diamond with the Dell and can use my 3G data connection when there is no available WiFi and I think that works well. I’ve not tried using bluetooth, cool though it may be, as I see no point in crippling the battery life of both devices. How hard was the pairing? Easy – installed ActiveSync 4.5 and start the Internet Connection app on my phone. Less than five minutes to get going, including the ActiveSync download!

My one annoyance is not really Dell’s fault. XP Home is most definitely not a good fit for corporate use, and the spec isn’t good enough for Vista. As an IT admin, I want to enable domain membership and disk encryption and group policies. Being a Gold Partner means I could install XP Pro, but not everybody has that option. Microsoft have really got themselves in a hole over this one – on the one hand they can’t extend the life of XP Pro any longer, but Vista isn’t lean enough for this sector and they don’t want to forfeit the market to Linux. In the olden days, the OS would have been Windows CE, but the market has already learned that for mass market appeal users need to run their existing applications, and in that regard CE just doesn’t cut the mustard.

I’ve not played much with the Acer Aspire one. I had a fiddle with one at the weekend (in Tescos, of all places) and I think being honest, the Acer has the edge for keyboard. However, the charger for the Dell is a bit like a phone charger on steroids, whereas the Acer has a traditional laptop-style cloverleaf cable and charger which is much bulkier and heavier to carry. Add to that the fact that to get XP you need to order the model with the standard hard drive and the lower battery life and I would probably choose the Dell over the Acer.

Could I use the Mini 9 as my only computer whilst travelling? The answer to that is a qualified yes. Ask me again after I’ve tried it on the train to London and I’ll give you a definitive answer.

So, pros and cons, before I go away and order one for myself!

Pro

  • Small and lightweight
  • No moving parts so less risk when travelling
  • Performance is great (after we decompressed the hard disk!)
  • Screen is excellent

Con

  • Keyboard is tricky. There are no separate function keys and even with the FN-key combination there’s no F11 or F12.
  • Upgradeable, but… Getting hold of PCIe SSD disks isn’t that easy, and Dell have left out the antenna and other bits for the WWAN.
  • Shiny case is sexy and impresses from a distance, but is a magnet for fingerprints.
  • XP Home. Need I say more.

Browsers are like buses

You wait around for ages and then two come along, all at once! No sooner have I downloaded IE8 beta 2 than Google announce Chrome!

I’ve been using IE8 for a few days and I’m quite impressed. I’ve just downloaded Chrome and I have to say, it’s a darn good browser. The feature I most wanted from any tab-based browser and one I’ve mentioned before in the context of IE is present in Chrome – tabs you can drag between windows.

Anyway, I was planning to post in greater detail about IE8 and my take on the new beta 2. I think I might change tack a bit and play with Chrome as well. Don’t be fooled by some of the hype – some of the ‘cool features’ are not unique to Chrome, but more choice in the browser market can only ever be a good thing for the end user.

My one worry when the first rumours started was that they might have created yet another render engine. It’s interesting that Google chose webkit rather than Gecko, given their existing close relationship with Firefox. However, having more than one webkit implementation on Windows is a real benefit for testing.