Dell’s netbooks have always been in the middle of the pack. They’ve typically offered sleek designs and plenty of customization options, but not the best ergonomics or battery life. This time around Dell took full advantage of Intel’s new Atom N450 processor (Pine Trail) to give its Inspiron Mini 10 a major boost of endurance. Thanks in part to this more efficient CPU, the Mini 10 offers over 9 hours of battery life without a bulging battery. We especially like the more distinctive look, not to mention the several fun color options. You also get a 250GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM, and Windows 7 Starter Edition. At $369, the Mini 10 is fiscally attractive, too. But has Dell done enough to catch up to the likes of Acer, ASUS, and Toshiba?
Dell’s new Mini 10 is a fairly dramatic departure from its predecessor. This netbook sports a wedge-shape design with a lid that sits on top of the deck instead of dropping down behind the body. When closed, the rear of the deck is exposed, bringing to mind the design of Dell’s original high-priced Adamo. The black deck is also imprinted with a crosshatch pattern that adds a nice texture. At 10.5 x 7.7 x 1.3 inches, the Mini 10 is a shade larger than the Toshiba mini NB305, and is also larger than the older Mini 10 (10.3 x 7.2 x 1.3 inches). Weighing 3.0 pounds even, this model is also slightly heavier than the netbook norm of 2.8 pounds.
The shell of our Mini 10 was made of white plastic, which hides fingerprints well despite having a glossy finish. Other color options include black, blue, green, pink, purple, and red. Users will also have the option to select one of 229 different lids from the Dell Design Studio, ranging from a New York Yankees pattern to artists’ designs and lipstick colors. Personalization doesn’t come cheap however; these options cost $85.
After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes at full screen, the Mini 10 got toasty. The touchpad measured 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys was 100 degrees, and the center of the underside measured 108 degrees. The right section of the underside towards the front measured a disturbing 120 degrees after this test, but in the 104- to 108-degree range with little to no activity. We consider anything higher than 100 degrees to be unpleasant.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The style of the Mini 10’s keyboard has also changed. Instead of being completely flat, the keys are now terraced so that the top is smaller than the base, but still wide enough for us to type comfortably for extended stretches. Some may prefer the Toshiba mini NB305’s metal island-style keyboard because it has more space in between the keys, but the Mini 10 beats that system when it comes to its more solid feedback.
Unfortunately, Dell kept its touchpad with integrated mouse buttons. On the plus side, this allowed the company to keep the Mini 10’s touchpad large at 3.0 x 1.4 inches. However, the buttons are quite small, and not as usable as a traditional setup. Since the last Mini 10 (and 11z), Dell has switched from an Elantech to a Synaptics driver, and no longer supports multitouch gestures such as rotating, two-finger scrolling, and pinching to zoom. This may be a good thing, since those gestures were tricky to use on the previous Mini 10s. Still, those who concurrently use both their right and left hands on the touchpad will find it more difficult to use; the cursor would sometimes move before we clicked down, which was annoying. Overall, we prefer larger touchpads with discrete touchpad buttons, which is exactly what you’ll find on such systems as the Toshiba mini NB305.
Display and Audio
The 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel resolution panel on the Mini 10 was crisp and bright when watching videos streamed over the Web. Viewing angles were adequate; while we could see the screen clearly from nearly 180 degrees horizontally, images washed out quickly when we tilted the screen past its optimal viewing angle—about 15 degrees past vertical.
The speakers on the Mini 10 were positively booming—for a netbook, that is—when playing Arcade Fire’s “Keep the Car Running.” While quality was slightly echo-y, and the bass was a little weak, we liked that we could tweak the settings using the Realtek HD Audio Manager.
Ports and Webcam
On its left side, the Mini 10 has two USB ports, a VGA port, and a 3-in-1 memory card reader. On the right is Ethernet, USB, and headphone and mic ports. Absent is an HDMI port, which makes sense for this configuration. Too bad the higher-end version of this netbook, which offers Broadcom’s video accelerator (enabling high-definition video playback), lacks this feature.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam on the Mini 10 offered acceptable colors; our face was a bit washed out, but not terribly so. Dell’s Webcam Central utility allowed us to adjust color, gamma, and backlight settings to achieve the best quality. Additionally, this netbook has a face tracking feature that was fairly responsive when we moved our mug around in front of thes screen. The Mini 10’s microphone picked up our voice well when we used the system to make Skype calls.
The Dell Mini 10’s performance fell squarely in the middle range of netbooks. Its 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and 1GB of RAM combined to produce a score of 1,326 in PCMark05; that’s about equal to the Acer Aspire One 532h, but about 150 points below the netbook category average and approximately 85 points below the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P (Seashell). Its Geekbench score of 902, while about 60 points higher than the netbook average, is around 25 points lower than the Toshiba mini NB305-N410.
The 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive booted to Windows 7 Starter Edition in 1 minute and 20 seconds. That’s over 20 seconds longer than the average netbook; we attribute this lag to the loading of McAfee antivirus software and the Dell Dock. However, the Mini 10 copied a 4.97GB folder of multimedia files at a rate of 22.9 MBps, which is 7.2 MBps faster than the netbook average, nearly equal to the Aspire One 532h (22.4 MBps), and 3.5 MBps slower than the 1005PE-P (26.4 MBps).
When transcoding a 114MB MPEG4 file to AVI using Oxelon Media Converter, the Mini 10 took 6 minutes and 14 seconds. That showing is about 25 seconds slower than the Aspire One 532h, and around 10 seconds slower than the mini NB305.
The Mini 10’s 3DMark06 score of 157 was just two points shy of the mini NB305. Surprisingly, an episode of How I Met Your Mother streamed smoothly at full screen; audio and video synced perfectly throughout, and there was no stuttering. As mentioned above, the Mini 10 will also be offered in late February 2010 with a Broadcom HD video accelerator (a $30 option), which promises even better video performance when streaming HD video over the Web using Adobe Flash Player 10.1.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The six-cell, 5600-mAh battery in the Mini 10 performed very well, lasting for 9 hours and 3 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (Web Surfing via Wi-Fi). That’s a marked improvement over the previous Mini 10 (5:17), about 3 hours longer than the six-cell netbook average, and approximately 25 minutes longer than the Toshiba mini NB305. The only other Pine Trail netbooks that have outlasted the Mini 10 thus far are the Eee PC 1005PE-P (10:36) and HP Mini 5102 (10:08).
The 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio in the Mini 10 notched decent speeds in our wireless tests. At 15 feet from our access point, its throughput of 19.4 Mbps was a little under the average (21.0 Mbps); at 50 feet, its speed of 17.6 Mbps was a hair above average (17.3 Mbps).
Aside from the different color options ($40), Dell will offer the Mini 10 with a Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator and a high-res, 1366 x 768 display starting in the second half of February. Users can also add built-in mobile broadband (AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon Wireless) for $125. Less expensive options include Windows XP Home and a 160GB hard drive for $299, and Windows 7 Starter Edition and a 160GB hard drive for $329. Users cannot configure the Mini 10 with additional RAM via Dell's website, so you’ll have to add your own.
Dell will also offer pre-configured Mini 10 models beginning in the second half of February that include Media HD, HDTV, and GPS. All will include a high-res, 1366x768 display with the Broadcom Crystal HD media accelerator, and SRS Surround Sound, and the latter two will include a built-in digital TV tuner or built-in GPS with location aware services. These models will start at $425.
The Mini 10 comes with the Dell Dock, a customizable panel that sits on the top of the screen and allows quick access to various programs and utilities. It’s easier than digging through the Start menu, and we appreciate having the oversized icons on the dock (especially on a 10-inch screen), even though you can pin programs to the taskbar. Other software includes McAfee SecurityCenter and Microsoft Works.
The Inspiron Mini 10 is a solid netbook, especially for those who want to customize the look of their systems and trick it out with plenty of options. It offers a more attractive chassis than its predecessor, better audio and video performance, and over 9 hours of battery life—nearly double the previous generation. Plus, the $369 configuration is cheaper than most other Pine Trail netbooks, with the Acer Aspire One 532h ($349) being the exception. However, the Mini 10’s integrated touchpad buttons and excess heat give us pause. We’d rather spend the extra $30 on the more ergonomically sound Toshiba mini NB305, but the Mini 10 has style and substance.