Dell Inspiron Mini 9, not an Eee-killer but the price is right

 

Dell's long awaited entry into the Eee-class notebook market is a top effort, though not perfect.

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If you've wandered into a Harvey Norman lately (or any big electronics retailer), you'll have enountered the wall o' mini notebooks. On our latest visit, we counted at least six, including the MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One, Eee PC 901, HP Mini Note, and Lenovo S10.

The good news for anyone that jumped into the mini-notebook fray with the original Eee 701, is that things have improved. Major annoyances like screen size, impossible to use keyboards and battery life are largely being resolved.

Out of the box, our first impressions of the Inspiron Mini 9 are positive. For the most part the Dell does its job - you won't go wrong if all you need is a portable machine for Web and email.

That's not to say it's perfect - the most noticeable consideration being the lack of Linux as an option in the initial launch model. Something to keep in mind if you're set on a Linux portable.

[UPDATE: We've posted a photo gallery showing the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 side by side with the Acer Aspire One]

Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 - about the same size as the Acer Aspire One
Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 - about the same size as the Acer Aspire One


Performance
Our only major worry after our initial test. The Dell handles XP, but our review sample was laggy, struggling to cope opening more than a couple of IE tabs at any one time. We've found similar lag with Atom on other XP laptops, such as the Wind. It's not a huge problem, but it is annoying.

The Inspiron Mini 9 has three USB ports, though no ExpressCard
The Inspiron Mini 9 has three USB ports, though no ExpressCard


Screen
The 8.9inch screen is good, better than the Eee 701. Still, it's not as big as the Wind or Acer Aspire One, which both have bigger screens. For some reason Dell has also gone with a gloss screen - we're wondering if a matte finish might have been a better choice for a machine that'd bound to be used in a variety of lighting conditions.

Storage
Anther big difference between the Dell and some rivals. Here you get 16GB SSD. Competing machines come with either SSD (like the Lenovo S10) or a hard drive option - 80GB for the Lenovo S10, 120GB for the Acer Aspire One, or 80GB for the MSI Wind.

Keyboard
Another tricky challenge for the Dell, considering the tiny size of the Inspiron Mini 9. They've done a good job, eliminating the Fn keys and squeezing in a keyboard with oversized keys that maxmises the width and height available. Still, it's not as easy to type on as larger keyboard like that on the HP Mini Note or MSI Wind (our personal favourite).

Not especially roomy, but Dell's done a good job on this keyboard with limited space
Not especially roomy, but Dell's done a good job on this keyboard with limited space


Price
Perhaps one of the Inspiron Mini 9's strongest points. The $599 RRP stacks up relatively well against the RRP of competing laptops. The Acer Aspire One comes in at $599 for Linux, or $699 for XP. The Eee 901 launched at $649, while the MSI Wind started at $699.

OS
Another big one for mini-notebook buyers. At this stage the Inspiron Mini 9 is XP-only, not a problem if like me you prefer the advantage of Windows app-compatiblity. If however you'd rather have your trusty favourite Linux OS under your arm, you'd be advised to look at the Eee 901 or Acer Aspire One.

Interestingly Dell has bundled free 2GB of online storage with Box.net for Inspiron Miin 9 owners - upgradeable to 25GB. Great if you're on WiFi, but you'd want to watch the data bills on 3G.

Price Check: Check out the latest prices for the Inspiron Mini 9 www.dell.com.au


 
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