Editor’s Note: Portions of this review were taken from our original review of the Dell Mini 10.
When it comes to netbooks, most manufacturers compete ruthlessly with each other over pricing. A netbook costing $25 less than another, for example, will be more attractive to consumers looking to maximize their dollar. However, many netbooks offer a variety of amenities for those willing to splurge a little, and nowhere is that more evident than with the Dell Inspiron Mini 10. While pricing for the Mini 10 starts at $299, the configuration we tested has more bells and whistles. Costing $574, it’s outfitted with a high-resolution display, an integrated TV tuner, and a six-cell battery. These features may be worth the investment for those who value entertainment options, but we wish that the Mini 10 had a less awkward touchpad design.
The Mini 10 shares the same design genes as the Mini 9 and Mini 12; the edges are rounded, and the black keyboard is offset with a smooth silver palm rest and touchpad. The base model of the Dell Mini 10 comes with a glossy, fingerprint-prone lid; our model came adorned with a graffiti-esque pattern called “Stickers 2 in Blue,” and most of the iconography reminded us of corporate logos and characters from the 1980s. This design, as well as four others and five solid colors, can be had for an additional $40.
The Mini 10 is one of the most compact 10-inch netbooks on the market. Measuring 10.3 x 7.2 x 1.3 inches, it’s both thinner and shorter than the Samsung NC10 and the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE. It isn’t as thin or light as the 1-inch, 2.4-pound HP Mini 1000, but the 3-pound Mini 10 fit into a small messenger bag and with plenty of room to spare. Its 0.4-pound AC adapter is also more compact than most of its ilk. However, its six-cell battery angles downwards, tilting the netbook towards the user. This is a somewhat helpful ergonomic decision, but we prefer the nearly-flush battery of the ASUS Eee PC 1005HA.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Mini 10 has a keyboard that maximizes the available real estate on the chassis, and it’s 92 percent of full size. We also appreciate the relatively large right Shift key. Typing on the Mini 10’s flat keyboard was fairly comfortable, and the keys themselves offered good, springy feedback.
To save space, Dell integrated the right and left mouse buttons into the touchpad itself. The good news is that you’re not stuck with a single bar (like some netbooks) and that the left and right buttons are distinct. Unfortunately, the buttons are quite small, and not as usable as a traditional setup. In addition, the cursor would sometimes move before we clicked down, which was annoying.
Since the touchpad features Elantech’s multitouch gestures (including rotating, two-finger scrolling, and pinching to zoom), it has a bit of a learning curve. When we tried to left-click on the pad while inadvertently dragging another finger on it, we unintentionally zoomed in on a window. Disabling the pinch-and-zoom gesture in the settings helped solve the problem; it was then easier to scroll using two fingers. Nevertheless, we prefer larger touchpads with discrete touchpad buttons, which is what you’ll find on the Toshiba mini NB205.
Ports and Slots
The left side of the Mini 10 has (from back to front) a Kensington lock slot, one USB port, and a 3-in-1 memory card reader. The right side houses an Ethernet jack, two more USB ports, an HDMI port, and mic and headphone jacks. Though some may bemoan the lack of a VGA port for connecting the Mini 10 to projectors, the HDMI port helps future-proof this netbook somewhat.
While most netbooks have a resolution of 1024 x 600, this configuration has a a high-def glass display with a resolution of 1366 x 768. We especially like that the LCD goes from edge to edge, so the bezel looks flush with the screen. The 16:9 aspect ratio let us watch high-def TV channels and videos from Hulu without the black bars along the top and bottom of the screen. Despite its glossiness, the Mini 10’s screen didn’t exhibit too much glare; both vertical and horizontal viewing angles were very good, and the colors were excellent.
Webcam and Audio
Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel webcam, which provided clear images in a Skype video chat. A caller saw little motion blur when we waved, and said he could even make out our new haircut. The built-in stereo speakers, hidden below the front edge of the Mini 10, were not as loud or full as we would have liked. Nevertheless, we were easily able to hear music from across a small room.
Click to enlargeOur Dell Mini 10 came with an integrated digital TV tuner, which allowed us to watch TV both over the air and through our cable connection. A small port on the left side allows you to connect either a coaxial cable or a set of miniature rabbit ears to boost the signal, which are either quaintly retro or garishly awkward, depending on your point of view.
Once launched, the Dell Digital TV app takes a few minutes to scan for local stations. We took the netbook outside (a few blocks south of Times Square) and, without the aid of the antenna, were able to easily receive 22 stations; in addition to the major networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox), we also received some more more obscure channels, such as USports and Ion.
For the most part, image quality was very good. Channels broadcasting in high-definition automatically filled to fit the screen, and audio was usually in sync with video, which was only slightly choppy. Thanks to the recent transition to digital signals, there was no fuzziness or snow with any of the channels. However, getting good reception further than ten feet away from a window usually required plugging in the bulky external antenna, which you can attach to the the top of the screen.
There is a brief one- or two-second pause when you switch between stations, and the audio takes another few seconds to mesh with the video. While the app was very easy to use, it could benefit from a better on-screen remote control, along with a way to pause or record content.
Click to enlargeWhile most netbooks to date have used the 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, Dell opted for the same 1.6-GHz Intel Atom Z530 Silverthorne-class processor it put in its Mini 12, which was designed for devices with smaller form factors. That, coupled with 1GB of RAM and Windows XP Home, provided acceptable but below-average performance.
We couldn’t run our usual PCMark05 test on the system, but on Geekbench (which measures CPU and RAM performance) the Mini 10 notched a score of 725, which is 88 points below the earlier Mini 10 we reviewed, and about 179 points below the 1.6-GHz Intel Atom-equipped Toshiba mini NB205.
In our hands-on experience, though, the Mini 10 was pretty snappy. Firefox and Windows Media Player opened quickly, and we saw no performance hit when we conducted video calls over Skype, surfed the Web, and wrote this review in Microsoft Works simultaneously. Application open times were a bit slow, with Firefox and Microsoft Works launching in 7 and 3 seconds, respectively.
Graphics and Video
While we could not get our standard graphics benchmarks to run on the Mini 10, transcoding a 5:05 114MB MPEG-4 clip to AVI using Handbrake took an agonizing 40:08, about 11 minutes longer than the netbook average.
The Intel GMA 500 chipset managed to handle streaming clips from Hulu.com without a problem, but playing back a 720p WMV video gave the Mini 10 some trouble. A video of Indy cars (“Super Speedway” from the Windows HD Content Showcase) stuttered along; while the audio played smoothly, video would stop every few frames. Outputting the video via HDMI to a 32-inch Samsung HDTV rendered it unplayable. Likewise, when we tried to use the Dell Digital TV app to watch shows on the Samsung monitor, the app would not load at all. However, this notebook is meant for on-the-go entertainment, and not as a media hub.
Hard Drive Performance
The Mini 10’s spacious 160GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive booted Windows XP in a standard 50 seconds, which is 5 seconds quicker than the netbook average. The LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media) took 6 minutes and 33 seconds, or a rate of 12.9 MBps, which is 2.0 MBps slower than the netbook average, and almost half that of the HP Mini 5101. For additional storage (or for backup), the Mini 10 comes with Box.net online storage.
Click to enlargeDuring our transcode test, the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 got uncomfortably hot; the underside of the system heated up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and the keyboard and touchpad warmed to about 95 degrees. While idle, the temperature between the G and H keys dropped to 88 degrees, but the bottom still remained a toasty 95 degrees.
Our configuration of the Dell Mini 10 came with a six-cell battery, which lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). While this is a decent runtime, it’s about 50 minutes short of the netbook average for six-cell batteries, and more than 4 hours less than the Toshiba mini NB205-N210, which notched an epic 9:41.
The 802.11g Wi-Fi card provided a rock-solid connection for working in the cloud. Delivering a strong 18.1 Mbps and 18.3 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively, we were able to maintain a strong signal far from our access point. Streaming video clips on YouTube and music over Slacker.com were void of any pauses. Although our unit did not come so equipped, customers can also opt for built-in mobile broadband ($125) and GPS ($70).
Software and Warranty
Dell bundles the Mini 10 with Microsoft Works Suite and Dell’s Video Chat (powered by SightSpeed). The system also comes with a 90-day trial of McAfee Anti-Virus. Dell backs this netbook with a standard one-year warranty and 24/7, toll-free phone support.
Click to enlargeFor those who think spending nearly $600 on a netbook might seem excessive, Dell sells a $299 low-cost version (the Mini 10v) that has a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 120GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM, 1024 x 600-pixel display, and three-cell battery.
When you select the $349 base model, configuration options include a 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU, or the Z530 for $50 more. Opting for 802.11g/n is an additional $25; integrated mobile broadband from AT&T or Verizon Wireless is a $125 option, and built-in GPS (which requires an HD display) costs $70. Dell warns on its site that choosing GPS may delay shipment. A three-cell battery is included in the base price; the six-cell option costs an extra $35.
When it comes to conserving energy, the Dell Mini 10 isn’t very efficient; it took 4 hours and 20 minutes to recharge its battery, and used an average of 29.1 watts during that time. The LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating (the total amount of watts it takes to charge divided by the battery life) of 23.9 is well above most other netbooks we’ve tested; the HP Mini 5101, for example, had a rating of 11.8. In fact, the Mini 10’s rating is high even for ultraportables, whose average is 20.8.
The Inspiron 1010 (Dell’s official name for the Mini 10) has an EPEAT Rating of just 4 (out of 28); considering the Dell Latitude 2100 notched a rating of 20, the Mini 10’s is abysmal.
At a time when some of the best netbooks cost between $349 and $399, paying $574 for the Dell Mini 10—almost the same price as the Gateway NV—seems too high. However, there is plenty of entertainment value in having a built-in TV tuner, especially if it means a backseat of quiet children on a long car ride. While we’re still nonplused with its finicky touchpad, we’re more than pleased with its excellent screen and keyboard. Factor in its lengthy battery life, and this Dell Mini 10 is a decent choice for those who want their TV on the go.