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.

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