Dell Inspiron Mini 12 First Impressions; The $600 MacBook Air??

A few months ago, even before Dell released its Inspiron Mini 9, I got a chance to take a peek at the Inspiron Mini line, including the Mini 12. At a meeting in San Fransisco with SightSpeed, a LAPTOP Editor’s Choice video calling service which also powers Dell’s VideoChat software, I was shown an early build of the 12-inch netbook. The model I saw was running Dell’s tailored version of Ubuntu. The Mini 12 I got my hands on was nowhere near final production status; the lid wasn’t yet branded with the Dell logo, some tape was holding the screen together, and the touch pad buttons were gray while the entire system was a glossy black. With that said I couldn’t put the Mini 12 through the usual hands-on paces, but I was able to form some early impressions of the unique “netbook.” At less than an inch thick (according to Dell its .92-inches at its thinnest point) and weighing 2.7 pounds, I couldn’t help but look at the Mini 12 and think of $1,500+ ultraportables like the MacBook Air and Voodoo Envy 133. The Inspiron Mini 12 was just about the same thickness as the Lenovo ThinkPad x200 I had brought to the meeting, and only a bit thicker than the .76-inch MacBook Air that one of the meeting attendees had on the table (see the photos in the gallery below). But that extra girth buys the Dell more ports – 3 USB, full-size VGA out, a 3-in-1 card reader, along with a mic and headphone jack. Under the hood I was greeted by an almost full sized keyboard that was much larger than the one found on the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, but with black matte keys that felt more or less the same. There was a dedicated row of function keys lining the top of the system, unlike the Dell Mini 9. The trackpad was spacious and both it and the dedicated right and left mouse buttons were covered with a smooth plastic. Above the keyboard was a glossy and bright 12.1-inch screen; Dell’s Ubuntu desktop and its orange background looked bright. If a 8.9-inch screen, like that on the Acer Aspire one, is a kiddie pool, the Mini 12’s is a large lap pool. While the 12-inch screen is only 2 inches larger than the popular 10-inch netbooks, it makes a world of difference. Connected to a hardline Ethernet connection, I was able to quickly navigate to Websites and keep two Web browsing windows open side-by-side on the screen. The expanded display and the resulting larger chassis will make for a more comfortable work experience compared to a 10-inch netbook. Starting at under $600, those who have dreamed of owning a seriously thin laptop will be tempted by the Dell Inspiron Mini 12. We don’t expect this netbook to perform like a MacBook Air (especially now with its upgrade to NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics), but we do expect it to be able to handle e-mail, Web browsing, video calling, music, and browsing photos just as well as the number of other Intel Atom netbooks we have tested. The Inspiron Mini 12 will fit in a manila envelope and run you at least $500 less than any high-end ultraportable on the market.

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  1. Sakib Says:

    wow! an excellent laptop finally. i’m loving it.

    thanks Joanna Stern for the great review and to share with us.

  2. steph Says:

    Nice! Does anybody know whether (or when) this will be available in Europe?

  3. richard Says:

    what??! Are you guys all joking??

    700 dollars (once you get a decent battery in there) for a NETBOOK with an ATOM processor running VISTA??

    Incidently, the machine is permanently capped at 1gb! A maximum of 1gb with Vista!

    I think this was a monumental design disaster! Just being thin does not equate to being “good” or in this case “adequate”! Dell’s only chance is dupe enough people with the look alone. It is effectively LESS powerful than any netbook out there and it’s price puts in competition with some real 12-13 inch laptops.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    this last guy is dumb he might not even know a thing but i rebuild and repair computers for a living and it is a pretty good notebook for the price and the macbook air isn’t that great it only gets about 2 hours of life and if you want more you have to lug around a power block which in my opinion is the oppisite of portable

  5. Nonoy Says:

    I have read a great deal of reviews. And I have been one of the first buyers of Asus and Acer netbooks. If I base my buying decision on price and specifications among netbook contenders, I’d rather not go for this Dell Mini 12.

    The reason is: the price is staggering — considering that a netbook is only a netbook. Also, designs and models and brands and specifications change too fast. Hold your breath for a few months and another batch of new models will come out. The extra 250/300 dollars you save from NOT buying this Dell will get you a much better netbook after 6 months.

  6. sarah Says:

    Richard hit it right on the head, the specs for this computer are whack! It’s for people who jsut want the look of the Mac air….pretty lame!

  7. chris Says:

    the mini 12 runs bad with vista but after installing xp it ran great.

    skip vista and load xp you will see a big differnce


  8. Evan Says:

    Why would anyone run Vista anyway? If you drop Vista you could easily cut $150-200. Plus, there is absolutely no benefit to running Vista over XP or Ubuntu.

    Ask any tech with serious experience in computing whether he/she would put Vista on a PC and you’ll get the same answers. It looks nice, “but the nicety of interface isn’t worth the drastic performance hit.” Or, “XP was better.”

    You’d be better off getting the serial off an unused or dead laptop and using it to install XP. Or buy it with Ubuntu installed and get the Wine package to run PC applications in Linux.

    Ubuntu could be considered a big step to people who have always used windows but it pays off in the long run. Imagine, typing one command to automatically download and update all of the software on your computer at once (Hint: type apt-update in the console). IMHO, that, combined with the massive software catalog of apps that you can download and use for free make it worth using.

  9. moochiku Says:

    I hate netbook for the price, its absurd considering the technology that was put into it. However, for those looking for an ultraportable machine to do some basic task, its the better product than those heavier and more expensive ultraportables … which you will still basically do the same basic thing(browsing, email etc.).

    As for those thrashing Vista, im a tech guy and Vista(minus vista basic) is actually a pretty damned good OS .. try the 64Bit Business or 64bit Ultimate with complete pc protection. Its even better than Acronis. Life’s never easier than that.

    As for this dell mini 12, I cant get it with ubuntu in Malaysia. That is a shame. Despite having the assembly line here, we never get the good stuff from Dell. Anyhow, i am going to get it cos I think its cheap for its hidden purposes which is basically a small, light, silent and portable apache server with linuxmint on top of it. PERFECTO! Now i can browse, and do presentations easier with clients .. and its superlight!.

    I hate thinking that I have to buy some expensive notebook for my presentations. My problems solved !

  10. Nir Friedman Says:

    Some of the people here are hating way too hard on this netbook. I do agree though that putting vista on a machine this weak is a terrible mistake. However for someone who’s reasonably computer savvy, putting Linux on this machine is a no brainer. Linux is more efficient than even windows XP, and b/c the Mini has the potential to ship with Ubuntu you are guaranteed to have full driver support (the traditional achilles heel of Linux). Some other netbooks aren’t guaranteed linux support, which is actually a disadvantage in my opinion.
    The thing is, compared to most other netbooks (10 inch), this one has many minor disadvantages: smaller hard drive, weaker performance, can’t put in an extra gig of ram, battery life (against the very top netbooks like the Samsung and Asus 1000 He), extra cost.
    But it has one good advantage and one huge one: the good one is the keyboard is another step closer to full size, but the truly undisputed massive advantage is not so much the screen size as the screen resolution. All other netbooks run in some cheesy resolution that is around 600×1000 (I don’t remember the exact numbers). This one runs at 1280×800. That is really huge. There are some web pages that might require horizontal scrolling on other netbooks (to give an example of something truly annoying), but not on the mini 12.
    There are other netbooks that are probably better for most people (again, the amazing N10 and 1000 he come to mind) but if the screen size, resolution and keyboard are really huge for you this is should be on your short list.

  11. CB Says:

    Each time I have seen one of the Dell netbooks at costco or another store, where they are clamped down with a security device, they have been bent by that device – as if the are quite flimsy. They won’t live long!

  12. Free apple tablet Says:

    at last the information i needed thank you.

  13. mini 12 user Says:

    Hi there,

    Ok first of all lets get something straight; Vista may be pretty but as far as a decent operating system is concerned it will only support students, home users and small business. XP is far better. It is true that you would be ruining the mini 12 by running it on Vista, Linux and XP are the better options.

    If you are after a PC to run your business then stop complaining that the mini 12 isn’t sufficient – no notebook, netbook or laptop would be. As far as portability goes, internet access, presentation preparation and presenting, basic diarising, financial planning and entertainment the mini 12 is perfect. The price is competative, comfortable to use (including a decent keyboard and graphics) and has decent hardware for a laptop this size. While it would be best to run home office, this laptop/netbook/notebook/whatever jargon you wish to apply will support other office suites including professional.

    I would recommend this PC for students and families as it will support what they require. It is a shame that that the hard drive cannot be increased in size, but an external drive will suffice for applications/items not used regularly or when away from home. It is also annoying that ram cannot be increased. But for basic computer users who needs more than 1 gig?

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