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.